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Sep 21 2017

The Power of Pamela on "Better Things"

By Spencer Coile

With the abundance of film festivals and the impending Oscar season,television may be sitting on the back burner for many.But with theEmmyscoming and going (spectacularly,I might add),many favorite shows are on the way back.

One show has come back for its second season,stronger than ever.Created by Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K.,Better Thingsis a semi-autobiograpical story of Adlon's career as working actress and single mother of three.

Sound like a well tread path?Fear not,because Adlon spices in very real,very intimate,very comical moments that help jettisonBetter Thingsinto something incredibly complicated,but equally rewarding...

Working very similarly to Louis C.K.'s series,Louie,Better Thingsfeels like the fourth child of Adlon's career.With multiple storylines cutting across a 20 minute episode,the show offers a fascinating portrayal of work-like balance,but in a way that feels mature and little bit perverse.And while Adlon's character (named Sam) is a working actress,and we see her audition for roles,act in sitcoms,even get mercilessly turned down for roles,the series does not put her "working"job at the forefront.

No,Sam is a mother.And as she claims throughout the entirety of the first season,her daughters are her love life.Max (Mikey Madison),Frankie (Hannah Alligood),and Duke (Olivia Edward) are three headstrong,stubborn,and oftentimes annoying young individuals.As audience members,it would be so easy to find them grating and testing our patience.But Sam loves them unconditionally -- she protects them when they are in trouble,she makes them feel better when they are hurt,but she is never afraid to say thewrongthing.And that is the true spirit ofBetter Things.It is not another glance at Hollywood standards for women,nor is it a critique on motherhood in the 21st century.Instead,it celebrates motherhood.It builds these compelling relationships between a mother and her daughters -- each is unique and each is a work in progress.

At the heart of all of this is Pamela Adlon's stellar performance as Sam.She is brash and unafraid to speak her mind,which she does quite often.But perhaps,the most important quality to her performance,is we feel as if this is really her story to tell.Each plotline is authentic to Adlon's experiences,and she really uses this to her advantage,as a way to make her semi-fictional character come to life.We know Sam;we have probably known someone exactly like Sam.Heck,some of us mightbeSam.And that speaks to the universal power of the show.Each awkward encounter,each groan of exasperation feels entirely true-to-life and honest.

Season two ofBetter Thingspremiered last week,and the opening episode,"September"seemed deceptively simple: Sam throws a party at her home,but it is never going to be as simple as it seems.And without giving anything else away,it would be safe to assume that it was a very welcome return.Not only is the series back,but if the first episode is any indication,it isbetterthan it was before.

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Reader Comments (1)

I loved the first season and am thrilled it's back.An outstanding series that carries on the tradition of "Louie",breaking new ground all the time.Well observed,deeply felt,shockingly accurate.

And don't forget another strong performance: Celia Imrie as Sam's mother.

( gotta love a series that takes it title from the most atypically optimistic - and great - song that Ray Davies ever wrote.Weird that they use the John Lennon song "Mother"for the titles rather than The Kinks "Better Things"...a licensing/clearances issue?)

September 21,2017 | Unregistered CommenterDoctor Strange

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