Missing Louie on FX? I won’t say BETTER THINGS, a new sitcom premiering soon, will fill all the holes created by that show’s absence, but it certainly ticks some of the boxes, while also being its own unique project.
Pamela Adlon (Californication) is Sam Fox, a single mother raising three daughters with three different, mostly absent fathers. Max (Mikey Madison, Bound for Greatness) wants her mom to score her some pot. Frankie (Hannah Alligood) will not stop pushing boundaries at the worst times. Duke (Olivia Edward) is the baby that just wants love and attention. This is the household that makes up BETTER THINGS.
And a crazy household it is, too. Sam not only has to care for all of the children, but she also needs to make a living. Her chosen profession is as an actress, which she seems to be successful enough at to support a family, but not so successful that she can stop. The uneven schedule seems to help her motherly duties, but over time, it’s sure to hinder them as well, which we see just a hint of in the pilot when Sam is doing housework when she’d rather be asleep.
Sam wants BETTER THINGS and that doesn’t make her a bad mother. She loves her kids, and they are her primary focus. But she’d also like some male companionship, not that she’d allow herself to be vulnerable enough to admit it to most people. And she’d like to not run herself so ragged trying to take care of things and keep going. Can Sam achieve her goals? Probably not, but it’ll be entertaining, if a little heartbreaking, to watch her try.
Adlon created the series along with long-time collaborator Louis C.K. (Louie), which is probably why the parental sensibilities somewhat match the show Louie. Sam can love her charges and want them dead at the same time, and that’s OK. This is a more realistic, less sanitized version of the modern family, and that works very well with the premise.
Adlon also manages to bring in a slew of guest stars. In just the pilot alone, you’ll see Constance Zimmer (UnREAL), Julie Bowen (Modern Family), and Dale Dickey (True Blood), among others. (I don’t want to give everything away.) C.K. does not appear in the pilot, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him down the line. Sometimes these famous faces play a version of themselves, and sometimes they’re playing a character, but with so much talent on screen, you know the quality is going to be high.
Where BETTER THINGS differs from Louie is that it seems like it will be a more cohesive story, rather than an artistic expression that changes and reinvents itself constantly. That is not a knock; BETTER THINGS is the best version of the traditional family sitcom. It’s just a little more conventional than that other series.
What I like most is Adlon herself, who long ago deserved a starring vehicle. She is sympathetic and rude at the same time, seeming to not care about anything while simultaneously being deeply loving. Her complexity feels natural and easy, though I hesitate to say that because I don’t want to undersell what she’s doing. She’s really an excellent performer, and the show rises and falls based almost completely on her. Her talent is why the pilot is so good, and it’s likely that the following installments will be, too.
While not yet a father myself, BETTER THINGS gives me a look at the future, and one I might actually be able to relate to (though hopefully with the addition of a helping spouse), unlike most of television. Maybe I’d better start taking notes.
BETTER THINGS premieres Thursday, September 8th on FX.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.