The Final Season of Better Things Is Pamela Adlon’s Masterpiece

More Good Things’ fifth and final season premiere, creator Pamela Adlon’s alter ego Sam Fox and her middle child Frankie meet friends for sushi. They’re celebrating Frankie’s buddy Brigham’s (Aidan Harman) acceptance to Harvard, and Brigham’s mom Fredericka (Angela Kinsey from The Office() begins to reminisce about her adventurous life that she had to give up in order for her son’s education. “I had a whole, big life,” she marvels. “And it’s astonishing to me that now he’s going to be gone and I don’t really know what I’m gonna do.” Tears flow, and by the end of the meal she’s falling-down drunk on sake. As Brigham drives everyone home, she curls into fetal position in the backseat, her face pressed against Sam’s shoulder, murmuring “I’m scared.”
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Like so many moments in Adlon’s free-form FX dramedy, the vignette is sad and funny, blunt and tender all at once. The central theme of the vignette is the inner turmoil that a person who rarely gets much attention pays to. More Good ThingsThe return of ‘, on February 28, is just as possible to be called ‘. How about Mom? For four mesmerizing seasons, Sam—a self-described “working actor” and divorcée with three daughters, though Frankie might not identify as a girl—has struggled to care for her kids and elderly mother, Phil (Celia Imrie in a lovely, under-appreciated performance), with no one around to take care of her. The fifth, an ideal culmination of everything that came before it, uses this premise as a filter for Adlon’s valedictory meditations on personal history, family bonds, mortality and, above all, the constancy of change.

BETTER THINGS “F*ck Anatoly’s Mom†Episode 1 (Airs Monday, February 28) — Pictured (l-r): Hannah Alligood as Frankie, Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox and Aidan Harman as Brigham. CR. Suzanne Tenner/FX
Suzanne Tenner/FXL-R Hannah Alligood portrays Frankie. Pamela Adlon plays Sam Fox. Aidan Harman is Brigham.

The stream-driven rise in serialized television has seen a rapid acceleration of story lines, and the condensing of these narratives into compacted miniseries. But More Good ThingsThe 2016 debut of the show saw a dramatic transformation that was largely unexpected and overwhelmingly positive. Its departure from Louis C.K. marked a change in direction. The show moves at the pace of domestic life, lingering over shifts in the Foxes’ world that wouldn’t register in a Shonda Rhimes or David E. Kelley drama but feel seismic to regular, though distinctive, characters.

Many such transformations take place in season 5’s early episodes. Sam, who’s run into some financial difficulties, must scrutinize the indulgences of her wabi-sabi lifestyle—and decide whether she should quit an acting job that makes her uncomfortable despite needing the money. Max, Max’s oldest child (Mikey Madden), now faces decisions that force her to mature in her early 20s. Frankie (Hannah Riley), a high school graduate who now works in a grocery shop, still struggles with her identity and hot and cold feelings about Sam. Once a happy-go-lucky mommy’s girl, 13-year-old Duke (Olivia Edward) has descended into the depths of teenage misery. “I don’t feel connected to anything,” she confesses to a best friend who’s frustrated that Duke has become such a bummer. Phil seems restless; she’s manipulating and clinging and undermining Sam’s relationship with her daughters even more than usual.

Everyone has their secrets and preoccupations in the midst of all this chaos. More Good Things Often, he spoke of the fact that our lives are in both the present and the future. But history is the focus this season. Sam (Kevin Pollak), her brother, and Marion (Kevin Pollak), explore their family tree. Phil connects with his old English friends via the internet. Max then moves into the apartment that Frances Farmer lived in. Sam seems to have a lot of secrets, even close friends Rich (Diedrich Bader), and Sunny (Alysia reiner). She cares so deeply and reacts so strongly that no one wants to cause her panic attacks. Adlon’s character sometimes came off as unbelievably self-sacrificing in early seasons, and although the show can still occasionally be a bit too reverent of her warmth and openness, those qualities have since been balanced out by the extremely relatable shortcomings that make her human. She nags, she’s bad with money, she nags Marion to help her learn about money.

BETTER THINGS “F*ck Anatoly’s Mom†Episode 1 (Airs Monday, February 28) — Pictured: (l-r) Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox and Celia Imrie as Phil. CR. Suzanne Tenner/FX
Suzanne Tenner/FXPamela Adlon, left, as Sam Fox and Celia Imrie as Phil in ‘Better Things’

Although not overly maudlin, death is the only certainty that lasts for us all. You will see flashbacks of the complex relationship Sam (Adam Kulbersh) had as a child with her father Murray. There is also a scattering of ashes and graveyards. There’s also a Zoom funeral that includes a deeply inappropriate, laugh-out-loud funny dance to Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen.” When the show turns its attention to mortality, it’s with the arch, absurdist sensibility of the Monty Python songs that pepper the season’s soundtrack.

The death process is only one of many transitions for which we are often not well prepared. Duke may be the only Fox who’s still, chronologically, a proper adolescent, but if there’s a unifying theme to these final episodes, it’s that life is a continuous adolescence—and then you die. Whether you’re the kid going off to college or the unmoored mom weeping into her unfiltered sake about it, you’re doing something you’ve never done before. The family’s growth has been a joy to observe and the end result is so inspiring through their eyes.


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