I stumbled on Better Things rather by accident. I had not read anything in the lead up to its being shown, and then was happily surprised to see that Pamela Adlon stars and is a co-creator with Louis C.K. It’s only two episodes in, so, like most things I feel compelled to talk about prematurely, it’s early days. I don’t know where it will go. But I like the confident-but-vulnerable feel the show projects even from its first moments.
Adlon is Sam, a working actress and single mother of three daughters. It’s clear she struggles (as you would trying to balance all that), but it’s also clear – in almost effortless but not particularly linear – storytelling that she has a complete identity: her professional identity, her parental identity, her daughter identity, her sexual identity. And some of the best moments so far are when some of these collide. In episode two, driving in her car with her troublesome (and unlikeable) teenage daughter, she gets so angry that she pulls the car over hastily and delivers the most frustrated, honest “lecture” I’ve seen on tv. Her irritation is clear (at having to escalate things just to get her daughter’s attention, being wounded by the unfairness of her daughter’s comments while at the same time being furious about the fact that she knows the daughter is smarter than that and is just being manipulative). And she calls her daughter out on it in a real way.
But every mother has also been a daughter, and we see the strange relationship her character has with her own mother. Somehow it reminded me of a scene in the long-lost HBO show, Enlightened, starring Laura Dern. I found it to be frustrating and did not really like Dern’s character, but in her own mother-daughter relationship, Dern’s character comes to the realization that “The mother is just a child, too”. In viewing Better Things, we have a weekly window into that sentiment (along with many others). No parent, or daughter, or whatever else we define ourselves as, is going to be perfect – and as Adlon explains to an audience at the end of episode 2, we’re all just making it up as we go along.
And that – an easy answer that is not really an easy answer at all – is why I think I am going to like this show.