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Better Things (season 04)

Josh Reviews Better Things Season Four

Pamela Adlon’s magnificent TV series, Better Things, seems to get better and better with every season.  The ten episode fourth season was another wonderfully memorable, moving and funny installment.  I love this show, and if you’re not watching it, I highly recommend you change that forthwith!

Better Things was co-created by Pamela Adlon, who also plays the lead role, writes most of the episodes (she wrote or co-wrote five of the ten season four episodes), and directed ALL of them.  I have a particular love for TV shows that feel like the strong expressions of their creator/showrunner, and Better Things is a prime example of this.  The show feels so personal and autobiographical for Ms. Adlon, even as I recognize that it’s a work of fiction.  But there are clearly many levels of underlying truth to the stories being told; this makes the show so compelling to me.  It is also, as I have written before, a magnificent showcase for Ms. Adlon’s talents.  I love that she has created a show that is so wonderfully unique.

The show is a beautifully-made character study, allowing us a peek into the life of Sam, her three daughters (Max, Frankie, and Duke), her mother Phil, and many of the other women in her life.  The show is focused on exploring the lives of these women; not in a tacky or superficial way, but through rich, complex, nuanced storytelling.

There is plot to be found in Better Things, but unlike most TV shows, the series is never really about the plot.  It’s about these characters.  The show is, at the same time, bracingly realistic and lifelike, while also being dreamlike and playful.  As the narrative flows onwards, we’re carried forward from vignette to vignette.  Sometimes we linger to dig deeply into a moment and then we move on (often skipping the type of plot-driven connective-tissue scenes found in other TV shows).  The result is a beautiful ensemble character piece.

The cast is amazing.  I’d enjoyed Pamela Adlon’s work before Better Things (she was so memorable in her sporadic appearances on Louie), but now that I’ve seen this show I am cemented as a fan for life.  The three young actresses who play her character’s daughters — Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood, and Olivia Edward — get better each season (and they were terrific to begin with).  I was particularly pleased that this season gave Frankie (Hannah Alligood’s character) a number of interesting stories, allowing her to mature out of the angry phase we saw her in for most of season three.  (I also love how delicately the show continues to address Frankie’s fluid sexuality without making it into a Big Deal.)  Celia Imrie continues to … [continued]