You might not recognize the name Pamela Adlon, but you’ve seen (or, at least, heard) her work in the past. With nearly two hundred (!) IMDb credits attached to her name, including dozens of voice acting appearances on shows such as King of the Hill, Recess, Bob’s Burgers, Adventure Time, Phineas and Ferb, Beavis and Butt-Head, Bobby’s World, Quack Pack and Teacher’s Pet, just to literally name a mere handful, Aldon is among the most consistently hard-working actresses in the business. She’s funny, she’s distinctive, she’s sharp and she’s very quick to impress. Even if you’re not familiar with her name, Adlon deserved her own show way before FX’s wonderfully heartfelt, sadly overlooked Better Things flew into peak television. She has done the work, and she has done it well. Quite well. It’s her time to shine. And shine she does. In fact, she positively radiates.
The series is co-created with Louis C.K., with whom Adlon had a fertile working relationship through HBO’s mistreated Lucky Louie and fellow FX standout Louie, where she served as an actor, co-writer, and producer. Better Things is poignant, brutally hilarious, and as prickly smart as anything associated with C.K.’s name these days. It centers around Sam Fox (Adlon), a struggling single mother and hardworking actress working in the heart of Los Angeles. The episodes range in focus, though they often center around the motherly duties of Sam, mixed with the frustrating work habits that come with being a middle-aged working actress in the heart of the topsy-turvy little town known as Hollywood.
It’s a tightwire act that any mother can likely relate to, even if some of the situations themselves are likely foreign-by-nature. What works best about Better Things isn’t just how it subverts expectations and allows dialogue-driven scenes to extend for minutes upon minutes of time, but how it uses these delicate-yet-tough-willed characters to show what it takes to raise a family in the twenty-first century. Even with the ongoing issues and the more progressive idealism, there will always be bickering, always be disagreements, and there will always be someone there to help you if you need a hug or a stern discussion. Better Things doesn’t revolutionize dramatically comedic TV as we know it. Unfortunately, it will never parallel Louie in that specific regard (although, with season two on the near horizon, perhaps I’ll need to bite my tongue soon enough). But that doesn’t make Better Things any less entertaining, any less endearing, any less lovable, any less involving or any less invigorating or lovable. It’s truly a special show.
Why You Should Watch
When Better Things premiered, it was sadly (if not unexpectedly, or undeservedly) overshadowed by the new television phenomenon that was Donald Glover’s Atlanta. Both were inspired heavily by Louie, to be clear, but Atlanta felt vibrant, necessary, unique and astounding in a way that Better Things (at least in its pilot) wasn’t.
But as it continued, Better Things only continued to impress. Its viewpoint was singular and yet entirely universal, and its comedy was punchy and enjoyably quirky. Soon, Better Things became quietly, almost shockingly, endearing and moving in its less-than-commonplace portrayal of motherhood, sisterhood, and dysfunctional families. Even Atlanta never quite had the emotional punch this show brought in its final episodes. Now that Glover’s brilliant new series is taking a year off while the actor/writer/director/creator/musician/producer works on several hundred projects, now is the perfect time for Better Things to excel. Especially since Adlon’s show promises to be even stronger, singular and more dynamic in its second season.
In addition to starring at the forefront of the series and writing nearly every episode, Adlon found even more inspiration from C.K. by directing every episode in this year’s block. That’s a level of commitment that’s not necessarily as shocking as it once was in the age of Sam Esmail, but it’s proof that Adlon intends to give the series a sense of perspective and keen insight that was already bubbling madly throughout last year. With mere days to go until Better Thing‘s second season hits the air, do yourself a favor and be sure to check out the show. It only, ahem, gets better as it continues along.
Better Things returns for its second season on September 14th at 10/9c on FX.