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Better Things - Sam/Pilot - Review: "Could this show be the future of TV?"

Pamela Adlon's Better Things is one of two new excellent half-hour shows debuting on FX this week, the other being Donald Glover's Atlanta, which premiered Tuesday night. Both of these shows continue TV's current trend of half-hour shows that only sometimes behave like comedies, and instead are more like musings on certain aspects of life told from a very specific point of view.

This trend can be traced back to FX's flagship "comedy" Louie, created by Louie C.K, which is currently on hiatus, with its return uncertain. And of these two new FX shows, the influence of Louie is far more apparent on Better Things, which makes sense, given that Louie C.K co-created it along with Adlon, as well as directed the pilot.

But Louie C.K's heavy involvement in the show isn't necessarily a bad thing. This show has many similarities to Louie, most notably in tone and pacing, and while it risks feeling like a Louie rip-off, Better Things instead manages to feel like its own thing, due to Adlon's style of humour and the fact that it's telling a story not often seen on television.

And there's no doubt that Adlon deserves this. An accomplished voice actor, she is also a frequent collaborator with Louie C.K, and is a writer and producer on his show. Also, her appearances on said show are often among its funniest and most memorable.

The series follows Adlon's character Sam, a middle-aged actress and single mother to three daughters, as she attempts to balance her career and her stressful relationship with her daughters Duke, Frankie, and Max.

Duke (Olivia Edward) is the youngest, and the first that we meet. About five years old, she is demanding and used to getting what she wants, but she is also sweet. Max (Mikey Madison) is the eldest, and is a typically moody teenager who wants her mother to buy her weed, leading to one of the episode's funniest scenes. Frankie (Hannah Alligood) is the middle child, and though the pilot doesn't spend much time with her, we get some insight into her personality when she contemplates cutting off her clitoris because it would be "real".

Like Louie, Better Things is at least partly autobiographical, with much of Sam's life resembling Adlon's own. And given that this type of television is becoming more popular, I appreciated the end-of-episode title card, which simply stated "dedicated to my daughters".  I liked that Adlon isn't hiding where her inspiration for the show is coming from.

Louie, and other shows like it, are often known for having each episode be centered around a specific theme or issue, and while I have no doubt that will be the case with Better Things, this pilot is more unfocused, and instead is designed to introduce us to Sam's career struggles and her family life.

This pilot doesn't spend a huge amount of time on Sam's acting career, and when it does it focuses on how it and her family life are inherently linked. This is most obvious in the episode's final scene, in which Sam asks a director to cut a particularly raunchy part of a scene, for fear of what her daughter's friends would think. But the director laughs her off, responding with "You mean the funny part?"

The small amount of time given to Sam's career also provided fun cameos from Constance Zimmer and Julie Bowen, in which they all audition for the same (pretty thankless) role. But this episode's main concern is introducing viewers to Sam's hectic, messy family life, the show's depiction of which is unabashedly honest and intimate.

This pilot makes no attempt whatsoever to spoon feed viewers, providing little to no exposition. Scenes begin mid-conversation, and we are left to interpret what's going on through the actions of the characters. I love the show's visual style. It's sparse and not at all showy, with cuts being few and far between, and yet the camera captures so much.

This show doesn't go out of its way to be funny all the time, and much of the time resembles more a drama than a comedy. But it's humour has a knack for sneaking up on you, and I found myself laughing several times throughout, especially in the aforementioned scene in which Max asks her mother to buy her weed.

There is a revolution taking place in television right now in the half-hour format, with the most innovative storytelling in TV transitioning away from the hour-long dramas that gave us the "Golden Age". As this transition continues, lines are blurring and it's becoming harder and harder to distinguish between comedy and drama. If this trend continues further, both Better Things and Atlanta (which you all really should watch) may well point the way towards TV's future.

About the Author - candon_sean
Sean is a student living in Ireland. He has a keen interest in dramatic television (as well as some comedies). Some of his favourite shows right now include The Leftovers, The Americans, Game of Thrones, Black Sails and Mr Robot. Some of his favourite shows of all time include The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Person of Interest, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Lost. He is also an "A Song of Ice and Fire" obsessive. You can visit his blog at
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