Better Things: The brilliantly intimate comedy comes to end.

by | Jul 24, 2022 | All, Reviews

One of the best recent comedies is ending and it’s entirely possible you haven’t seen any of it. Pamela Adlon’s brilliantly personal Better Things finished with its fifth season earlier this year on FX and is currently quietly airing on BBC Two on Sundays or all on the iPlayer.

Better Things is loosely based on Adlon’s home life. She plays Sam Fox, a single mum juggling her life as a Hollywood actress and voice actor whilst raising her three demanding teen daughters and her eccentric British mother (the wonderful Celia Imrie) who lives next door. The show is a warm hug. The free-flowing story structure makes it feel as if we’re just dropping in to spend time with the family or catching up with Sam on her latest project.

BETTER THINGS — Pictured: (l-r) Celia Imrie as Phil, Olivia Edward as Duke, Mikey Madison as Max, Hannah Alligood as Frankie, Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox. CR: Pamela Littky/FX

This final season perfectly encapsulates what makes Better Things so special. It’s full of tender family moments that feel real and raw. The thread this year is that Sam has an empty nest. It’s only partly true as the girls, Max (Mikey Madison), Frankie (Hannah Riley) and Duke (Olivia Edward) are never far away but the dynamic has changed. Max has matured and has the hardest story of the series. Her decision to have an abortion is a painful one that changes the way she sees her own mother. The show has always been as much about the girls as it is Sam and this season it’s nice to see the relationship between mother and daughters really mature with mutual respect.

Sam’s tempestuous relationship with mother Phil evolves this season too. With the family taking a trip to London to reconnect with family the girls have never met. The series has always been at its best in its quieter moments and the scene where Max plucks up the courage to tell her mum about her procedure is sensitively handled with no need for melodrama. These people feel so real.

What makes Better Things a great, life-affirming show, however, rather than an extended moan courtesy of the unduly privileged, is that Adlon celebrates this state as much as she laments it. It’s a mood summed up by the season’s opening montage: Sam’s domestic drudgery – sorting laundry, feeding the fish, taking stuff out the freezer (and practically climbing inside it for menopausal relief) – all backed by Monty Python’s Galaxy Song, a jaunty number that pitches the enormity of space as a source of solace.

Adlon’s fingerprints are over everything here. The music choices are always delicately chosen for the right scene.  As well as Monty Python, which bookends the series, the soundtrack also features Wet Leg and a brilliant dance sequence to Billy Ocean’s Caribbean Queen which sees everyone erupt into dance at a virtual wake.

BETTER THINGS  — Pictured: (l-r) Mikey Madison as Max, Olivia Edward as Duke, Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox, Hannah Alligood as Frankie. CR: Suzanne Tenner/FX

The show ends beautifully. Bittersweet, upbeat and on its own terms. There won’t be another show like Better Things. One that feels so intimate and with such a personal touch. I’ll miss it a lot, but I’m grateful that in an age where TV can often feel that it has to shout to be heard, Better Things was a little gem all be it one that was possibly too well hidden in the UK.

All 5 seasons of Better Things are available on the BBC iPlayer or on HULU.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

24/07/2022

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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