Better Things Season 2 Review
The series of comedies that have grown up around stand-up comics have never quite appealed to me the same way so many of the other comedies have. Stretching back to the days of Curb Your Enthusiasm to shows such as Louie, I have never been able to find them as truly funny as the rest of the world seems to have. So much of the laughs that come in these series are mined from general unpleasantness, and while I have been able to see the humor in mannerisms, I have generally preferred shows where there’s more consistency when it comes to storylines than that which center mainly on one character — series such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Life in Pieces have always been more appealing to me.
One could make the argument that a series such as Better Things, FX’s most recent comedy series in this vein, would therefore be flat and unappealing. The links to Louie are direct — the lead actress, writer and director is Pamela Adlon, a comedienne, voice-over artist, and writer, who penned and starred in many episodes of Louie, and indeed, Louie C.K. has produced and co-written many episodes of the series. Adlon’s character, Samantha Fox, plays an actress and voice-over artist, who has been struggling in her career, has been divorced with three daughters, and is struggling with way too many problems as a single mom, though many verge on insane. Last season ended with her eldest daughter, Duke, deciding to disobey her mother by dating a man twice her age. The season premiere began with a party at her house, where she tried to accommodate her, then ending with that man’s younger brother trying to pick her up, and the episode basically ended with Duke begging her mother to break up the relationship for her. It was a very agonizing episode, and I can’t deny it was very funny as well.
The series has a fair mix of comedy and awkwardness throughout. Last night, Samantha ended a relationship where she had been having sex with the beau before they went on their date, the man asked her if he actually liked her, and the relationship ended with a hysterical monologue in which she derided everything about him — sexual technique, his girlish behavior, and finished off with “This breakup is brought to you by Uber!” Then she took her youngest daughter, Max, off to be babysat for the weekend, and when Max asked her when Grandma will die, Samantha basically told her the woman would end up burying them all. (They do not have a good relationship) And the episode basically ended with her going off by herself to a motel, then apparently rented a car, picked up her two children, drove them back to the beach, played with them and seemed happy — and then we saw it was all just a fantasy.
Better Things is more intriguing then a lot of these comedies. Yes, there’s a lot of awkwardness and fumbling over foibles that made so many of the Seinfeld like comics so irritating to me. But Adlon is more appealing, even when she is at her absolute rudest, partly because she doesn’t seem the traditional protagonist, even among female centered comedies. She’s not a great mother, a good friend, and a pretty terrible date, but Adlon somehow makes her work. Part of this may be based on my own sympathy for Adlon as an actress, who had a similar career mostly laboring in series as Californication, and finally at this stage, had to create her own series. She has demonstrated considerable gifts as a hyphenate and maybe Better Things, which earned her a couple of Emmy nods and a Peabody, will be a ticket to, well, better things.
My score: 3.75 stars.