Sam (Pamela Adlon) actually likes someone. His name is Mel Trueblood (Lenny Kravitz), and he is a director. An actress likes a director. Go figure.
The two have a sweet rapport. They’ve both been in the business for years. They’re iconic. They’re attractive. And they have very complicated relationship statuses. Sounds like realistic 40-somethings to me. She invites him to dinner with her family where her mom tells a story about wanting “n888er brown” pantyhose. Huh? Why is this necessary? This is the third episode of BETTER THINGS . An actor of color is featured, and he’s faced with blatant racism. Is this 1970? Of course, Mel is the one who says that Sam should have warned Mel’s over-70 mother that a black man was coming over (I wonder what writer decided that was a good idea). Sam is in denial that her mom is racist (also unbelievable). Rather, she claims that her mom’s job is to just make everyone uncomfortable. I guess this is the disclaimer and excuse for her racism. This bit failed for me. It was not funny. It was weird that Mel would say something like that. And weird that Sam is in denial. I’m not sure who thinks it’s funny to hear an older lady use that derogatory word so loosely and sternly. Don’t get me wrong. Racist family members can be funny, like All in the Family’s Archie Bunker. However, this lady is no Archie Bunker. Rather, the writers have no idea what they are doing. Quite disappointing.
After the dinner, Mel tells Sam that he’s in a “separated”, “about to be divorced,” “we are dating other people” kind of relationship. Oh, boy. Mel knows what this means. Avoid at all costs. And she does.
She bluntly tells him that her friend desperately wants them to get between the sheets. He agrees it’s something that would be nice, but she chooses not to. I am proud of her for this. She doesn’t succumb to the sexiness of Mel. Again, Lenny Kravitz plays him, so that’s a pretty big deal.
It’s also a pretty big deal because it’s revealed that she has a promiscuous past. So as a 40-something divorced woman, Sam is confronted by her past of “sucking a lot of [bananas].” One would be embarrassed, except if it comes from her friend’s lazy, alcoholic boyfriend. Sam rips into him but then reminds him and the audience that he also smokes about 1,000 blunts every 5 years and will thus, not remember anything that she just said. Ha.
I found myself smirking a lot instead of laughing out loud. This really is a dark comedy. I can’t recall this kind of story exploited in this type of genre. It’s refreshing and so new that it can be kind of confusing as to whether to laugh or cry. For the sake of comparison, “Better Things” is a woman version of Louis C.K.’s Louie. Louie is a man (obviously), and watching men screw up as fathers and husbands is commonplace in real life and TV. And it can be funny. Sam screws up, and I have conflicting feelings as to whether I should feel pity for her or laugh. We don’t see women screw up often on TV. I can get used to this.
Lastly, I realized another double standard that’s being challenged on this show. The show-runner is unapologetic about Sam’s lifestyle. Sam is the quintessential L.A. divorced woman. She is an actress. She has 3 spoiled kids. She lives in a gorgeous home. She hangs out with famous directors and David Duchovny (yes, he made an appearance in this episode). And she hangs with friends who drive Teslas and say things like “A Tesla drives itself.” Whose life is this? Oh, yeah. It’s based on Pamela Adlon’s.
Considering that this show has been picked up for a second season, it’s resonating with enough people to want to see another round of Sam’s misadventures of a divorcee.
She is growing on me, and I like that. However, I think Lenny Kravitz is the main reason why. I hope he makes more appearances. He is one of the better things to look forward to.
Season 1, Episode 3 (S01E03)
Better Things airs Thursdays at 10PM on FX
Jennifer Ford | Contributor