Better Things: “Sam” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Six years ago, Louie came on the air, and brought a new age of sitcoms with it. Not since Seinfeld had we fallen in love with a comic playing himself (e.g. Maron, LegitMaster of None), but this show brought entire depths to what television had to offer. Shows like Bojack HorsemanCrazy Ex-Girlfriend, and even Man Seeking Woman would not exist without the advent of Louie. Louis C.K. brought a fun-house mirror to hold up to each and every one of us. He created a show that uses subtle situational hyperbole to show us the insanity of life, uses tragedy as effectively as comedy to retrieve humanity from the deepest cavities of our souls,  brazenly displays deeply flawed and controversial characters and motives that manage to divide us and unite us all at once discussion of what was and what should be.

Louis C.K. did not accomplish that feat alone. He created and wrote that show (as well as this show) with Pamela Adlon, who you would recognize as, yes, Pamela from Louie, but also: 101 Dalmatians, Bobby’s World, Pepper Ann, Boston Legal, Rugrats, Thundercats, and basically the rest of your childhood. If you know your Pamela Aldon roles, you know I was holding out her two most popular roles for dramatic effect: Ashley Spinelli of Recess and Bobby Hill of King of the Hill. Now she’s Sam Fox of Better Things.

The Characters

This series, much like Louie, is about a parent and their daughters. Unlike Louie, Sam (Pamela Adlon) is a single mother with three daughters. She’s a working mother with three daughters, two of them teenagers. I watched my own mother (in a similar situation) struggle with maintaining personal, dating, work, and family life, all while maintaining her identity as a woman. Sam also relates to my mother by having the stress of being away from home for days at a time—as Sam is a working actress. Trust me, her daughters do not make this easy on her.

Which brings us to Sam’s eldest daughter, Max (Mikey Madison). Max epitomizes, without exaggeration, this generation’s rebellious teenage girl. This does not mean studded belts and lots of black; this does not mean whiskey bottles, coke, and strange, thirty-something men spilling out of her bedroom on any given morning; this means boundary-pushing and questionable sleep-over tactics, as well as unsanctioned parties and cries of injustice when she doesn’t get her way. Currently, she’s terrible. I’m sure we’ll learn to love her.

Sound exhausting yet? No? Good, there’s more. Frankie (Hannah Alligood), could be described as middle-child syndrome personified. At the cusp of her own womanhood, she redefines the role—she opts for a more gender-fluid look than her older sister, or even her less-than-ladylike mother. While it feels like Sam and Frankie have much more in common than Sam does with Max, Frankie still does her best to put her own needs in front of her mother’s, exemplifying the self-serving attitude adolescents are famous for.

In need of a respite from the hormonal youth, as brought to puberty? Enter Duke (Olivia Edward), Sam’s youngest. Yes, she still selfishly demands of her mother, but in a way the world still finds cute and endearing.

The Conflict

Like Louie, the conflict in this show appears to be life. What bigger conflict is there? We’re all trying to survive it, and we’ve all failed at the end of it.

Sam’s relationship with her children seems just as likely to end in the same fashion. I’m already exhausted, and I’ve only seen two episodes. But there’s a good chance I’m suffering from PTSD, due to my struggle with my own sisters.

It also seems worth mentioning Sam has a gentleman friend who enjoys her company, and some dirty text messages, on sporadic occasions. Sex, as always, is most rife for conflict.

The Criticism

What Pamela Adlon did with Louie is the standard which I hold Better Things to. So far, I am not disappointed. I see no evidence Better Things will employ the absurdist story telling Louie uses, which suits me just fine.

Pamela tells a personal story here that strikes a chord from my own past. Her brand of comedy bases itself in truth. Louis C.K.’s writing style shines through a new lens—a more feminine lens. Better Things will most likely be the answer to the male-driven Louie.

The Conjecture

How does a series as myopic as Seinfeld end? Don’t get me wrong, I believe it’ll be great, but it follows an above-average life. The only forecast I could make would be all too obvious: Sam gets a boyfriend, her daughters grow to love her, she lands a job on a steady sitcom not unlike Better Things.

Sadly, the most likely ending is not happy one. I can see Better Things  ending as it began: Sam will be alone and horny, her daughters will leech from her withered (and metaphorical) breast, all the while her career outlook will continue on as uncertain as ever.

Regardless of whichever ending the runners take, I can promise Sam’s mom will die. There will be a strange, yet poignant and touching episode. It might even win an Emmy.

The Conclusion

Like a bitter pill someone put in a jar of jelly beans, Better Things will be more than you bargained for. This comedy examines the existential dread common in the monotony of day to day life, which most television programs are designed to distract from. So yeah, it’s worth a watch.

If you’re interested in the series, Better Things airs Tuesdays at  10PM PST on FX. If you’d like to see what else Cody is watching, you can check his Trakt page to keep up-to-date with all of his shows.

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