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Better Things Season 3: Back and Better Than Ever 

By Spencer Coile 

Better Things being renewed for a third season was the miracle we all deserved. Since co-creator/ executive producer Louis C.K. was fired, any worries about the series maintaining its high-wire act of cynical humor and raw emotion should be put to rest. Where the magic of Better Things laid all along was is in its leading lady's craftsmanship. Writing, directing, and playing single mother and working actress Sam, Pamela Adlon is a 2019 force to be reckoned with. 

Better Things has arrived in the wake of a highly contentious Oscar season, and it could not have come back at a better time. Built into every moment is a snapshot (sometimes literal) of the mundane, almost thoughtless acts we so often take for granted. Adlon has rendered these minuscule details into something finely tuned and deeply felt...

Season three opens with “Chicago,” an ode to motherhood and all that it entails: embarrassing admissions, heartfelt This Is Us-worthy hugs, sacrifices. Sam’s oldest daughter Max (Mikey Madison) is heading off to Columbia College Chicago, so she accompanies her daughter across the country to acclimate her to a brand new city. What follows is a trip to the store where Sam stocks Max up on feminine hygiene products, ramen, and condoms to keep in a bowl for guests. When Max discloses to her mother she has a fake ID, Sam is not only delighted, but takes her daughter to a bar to listen to live music. After all, she is the “cool mom.” 

Despite her carefree attitude, Sam is not free from the pressures of growing older. The opening scene finds her helplessly trying to fit into clothes that she had apparently only bought the week before. And while I would gladly watch hours of Adlon trying on outfits, the emotional pay-off comes from Sam burning sage in her bedroom closet – an indication of the character warding off negative energy and added weight, but as an indirect message to viewers that the series itself is growing older and wiser.  

Before season 3, every episode of Better Things contained an opening credit sequence; a black-and-white montage of Sam and her three daughters gallivanting around Los Angeles. “Chicago” opens with no opening credits, but sprinkled throughout the season premiere are black-and-white photographs of Sam’s trip with Max to Chicago. They’re beautiful on their own, but add additional layers to Sam’s fragmented reality. At times, our lives are best represented through images that give them meaning. 

Better Things is a labor of love. So much of that credit goes to Adlon and the many hats she wears.  Following the public exile of C.K., a friend and collaborator of the series, Adlon considered ending the show altogether. But after cutting ties with C.K. and her former manager, she has come back stronger than ever. Better Things is a love letter to the work we put in for the people we love; It is sometimes boring and it can sometimes be emotionally grueling, but it is ultimately as rewarding as the series itself.  

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Reader Comments (1)

Nothing against Pamela, who's tremendously talented, but can we please stop with the implication that all the genius of this series emanates just from her?

It's easy to trash CK, and I certainly don't excuse his behavior... But he was co-creator/co-producer/co-writer (with solo writing credit on several of last season's best episodes), not to mention the person who already had a successful series and the development deal with FX that led directly to Better Things. His input was huge, and much of the original vision of the show was pretty clearly derived from the earlier Louie.

This shouldn't be forgotten now because he's in disgrace. I know this is an unpopular opinion, because most people would rather just say "CK is evil" and forget he was ever so closely involved, rather than take a more nuanced look at the situation.

And I guess I am the opposite of most people (which has been true most of my life): I was concerned that there would be a drop in the show's brilliance because CK is gone, not that it would become better without him because he was somehow constraining Pamela's vision.

I haven't watched any of the new season yet, and I'm glad to hear it's still great. I've loved it from the start, it's an outstanding show.

March 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDoctor Strange

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