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REVIEW: Better Things - Another Non-Comedy From FX That's Good, But Could Be Better

ReviewMerrill Barr

Better Things
Image - FX Networks

During the course of Better Things’ first five episodes, someone goes on a rant about how hilarious Sam Fox is. However, this is something that never truly comes to fruition on screen.

Like so many FX comedies before it, including the network’s most recent launch, Atlanta, Better Things is a good story about a normal person trying to do the best she can in life, but to say it’s funny would be false.

Starring and co-created by Pamela Adlon (with Louis C.K. serving as the other co-creator), Better Things follows the life of Sam Fox as she navigates life as a working actress and single mother of three whose husband recently walked out on the family. Sadly, while she’s doing her best, life continues to throw challenges at her, the most of which comes from her kids themselves.

It may sound like the ramblings of a broken record, but there are only so many times FX can bill its new non-funny half-hours as comedies before one becomes annoyed with the creation of such an expectation. Better Things is an off-beat character drama. As Louie before it, the show is trying to portray the realities of living a “real” life through the window of an off-beat world.

Where the series actually comes out ahead of its C.K. lead counterpart is its reliance on truth rather than nonsensical insanity. At many points, Louie would go full arthouse, losing its message to madness. Better Things does manage to tell its story without relying on such tropes.

The show feels “real,” but it’s missing a sense of levity. Sam is living a decent, comfortable life, but it sucks. Her kids suck. Everything sucks. It’s a format we’ve seen time and time again, and if the show would just commit to being the drama it wants to be without acting like it's about to drop a punchline, it would do itself a great service.

Laugh out loud moments are next to non-existent. There are a few moments where the audience can truly rally behind Sam, including one truly wonderful monologue that takes place at an all-woman funtion, but beyond that the show carries along without hitting many high points. It just remains in the middle, taking us through Sam’s chaotic life. What it’s trying to say is worth saying, but the way in which it’s saying it could be portrayed in better ways.

Better Things is worth praise for managing to not fall into the “fantastical” trappings that have become commonplace on networks like FX when it comes to half-hours, but that doesn’t mean it’s funny. There are no set-ups and no punchlines, there’s just life… but that life isn’t funny. It just is. It just exists. It’s off-beat for sure, much like FX’s failed “comedy,” The Comedians (and containing just as many random cameos), but it’s a character drama. The series may be worth watching, but only in the correct context, and that context isn’t “comedy.”

Better Things premieres Thursday Sept 8th at 9/8c on FX (USA).

Australian airdate still to be confirmed.