FX’s Minor Masterpiece Returns
The longer I watch Better Things, the more I begin to realize just how much I like Pamela Adlon. Adlon has been around television for a very long time. She was probably the only thing that made Californication worth watching, and her fine work on Louie seemed to be leading to a great collaborative process, until Louis C.K. disgrace caused her to cut ties with him two years ago. None of that has rubbed off on one of TV’s quiet masterpieces FX’s Better Things.
Adlon plays Sam Fox, a struggling actress still trying to make a living as she turns 50. The entire world has always seemed to be turned against her. Her rarely seen husband is a monster who torments her through her divorce. Phil, her mother (the incredible Celia Imrie) may be the single coldest maternal figure in television history. It’s not just that she doesn’t seem to care for her daughter; its that she seems incapable of caring for anyone or how her actions affect them. In the fourth season premiere, she clearly had what was some kind of cardiac episode that cause them to put a defibrillator on her. (No doubt this stunned those of us who have watched her, and were pretty certain she never had a heart at all.) The near death experience has just made her more careless to her own family. Sam’s three daughters are some of the most exceptional children in all of TV. Frankie is clearly a genius with a genuine eccentric style to her, who can barely tolerate her mother. Max went to college last year, and basically went through a long process where she seemed to drop out. Duke is by far the youngest, and at times the most compassionate of the children. All of them have their own way of being a joy and a curse to their mother — Frankie just turned fifteen and wants her first huge birthday party — a quinceanera. This irks Sam not only because her daughter is ‘too Jewish for this’ but tradition is the mother must invite the father — who as we’ve already established, is a prick.
Some might complain about the often glacial pace of so many episodes of Better Things — the entire fourth season premiere was basically a lazy vacation day for the Fox family. But in a world where even the best TV series rush along from event to event, Better Things lackadaisical pace is something to admire. As I have found as I rapidly approach the age of so many of the characters in this series, I find that life can move not only too fast but not fast enough any more. This isn’t a show about nothing, the way Seinfeld was, this is a show about the way life progresses even so little seems to happen. Shows have centered on Easter egg hunts, lazy parties, and how Pam has begun the process for that joyous event, a colostomy. They may not seem obviously funny, but they’re what life is about sometimes — the small incremental moments of it.
One of the bigger problems I had with last season’s Emmys was that there was no place at all for Pamela Adlon anywhere, among acting or writing. Granted there was a lot of solid competition — particularly among her fellow hyphenates — but it was still inexcusable. Considering that Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and (so far) Natasha Lyonne will not be present this year, there’s definitely going to be room for her this year. For their consideration, I submit Adlon and Better Things, currently the best female run comedy on the air — until Insecure returns next month.
My score: 4.25 stars.