Pamela Adlon’s critically acclaimed FX series, Better Things, is back for its fourth season once again showcasing the fluidity of familial relationships. Themes from last season carry over — from Sam’s struggle to raise three daughters as a single mom, to her mother Phyl’s declining health — but as usual, it’s about riding the wave no matter how choppy it gets.
Seconds into the premiere, we’re reminded how poignant this show’s music is (the track used here is Warren Zevon’s “Steady Rain,” which is also the episode title). The cinematography is also on point as the camera swoops throughout Sam’s nearly empty house as she sleeps off her previous day. Better Things has always been a love child of Adlon’s, and it’s crystal clear how much love and attention is put into every detail.
Sam and Gran arrive at the airport to pick up Frankie and Duke from a trip visiting their father. The girls sweetly missed their mom, but as soon as she’s called “baby,” Frankie turns sour. The moment of tender love ends as the kids pile into the car, leaving Sam on the sidewalk to load their suitcases. They don’t even tip her. How rude!
We learn that Phyl is wearing a cardiac vest which is extremely uncomfortable for her. We flash back to a heart attack she experienced, and Sam rushing her to the hospital. Phyl’s ordered to wear a personal defibrillator for a few months. A physical and mental deterioration? It could be a bumpy season for Gran.
After Phyl yells a string of expletives at another car, Sam is irked — road rage is “for the driver, if she so chooses!” Phyl then leans over and lays on the horn. Sam pulls over and kicks her out, because hey, the defibrillator will shock her heart if something bad happens, plus, there’s even a GPS if she gets lost. Once Phyl storms off, Sam does her best Willy Wonka impression to get her to return: “Come back. Stop. Don’t. Turn around.” When the stubborn lady refuses, Sam pulls away (which is a little harsh. It’s raining after all, and we all know how Californians feel about rain). Nevertheless, the girls force Sam to go back and collect the ol’ bag.
The next day, Frankie tells Sam she wants a huge birthday party, which is a big deal for the moody teen. Specifically she wants a quinceañera, but Sam says they’re too white for that. Frankie says it’s not cultural appropriation, it’s cultural appreciation. Regardless, Sam says she’s “too Jewish” for one. The real kicker, though: Frankie wants her dad invited. “You have to, it’s part of it… sorry, not sorry.” Sam begrudgingly agrees. Frankie’s rougher edges seem to be smoothing out, but she still has steadfast conviction. Sam certainly has her work cut out with that one.
Rich breaks up with his boyfriend and Duke gives him the advice of someone 10 times her age. “You’ll find love again… and if you put the work in now, you’ll be better in the long run. And later, when you meet someone, they’ll be better for you because you’ll be better then, too.” She really should consider a career in therapy. That’s the kind of support we all need.
In the night’s second episode, Sam’s minivan is stolen from a mechanic’s lot, and she’s not-so-secretly happy about it. She goes car shopping and takes out an electric car as a loaner, but when it runs out of juice, she meets a man with an El Camino to sell. “How bad is it for the environment?” she asks. “Really bad,” he replies. It doesn’t matter: she’s in love.
Sam gets news that her old show, Ching of the Mill, is being rebooted and she takes a meeting to discuss reprising her voice role. She’s beyond pumped since she needs the cash, but the new producers want her to read for it even though she played the character for 10 years. “Gee, I hope I get my own part!” she exclaims on her way out.
When Sam returns home, she finds that her girls bought a chinchilla (with Sam’s credit card, of course), and she freaks. There’s no way in hell she wants an oversized rodent living in her house, so back to the pet store they go. When the girls walk outside and see the new whip, Frankie says, “Mom, this car doesn’t fit all of us.” “I know,” Sam says with a smile on her face.
At the store, Sam receives word that the reboot is moving forward with the entire original cast… except for her. Instead, they’re replacing her with the voice of a dead guy. (Hooray, technology!) “It just wasn’t the right fit,” her friend says. “It was the right fit for a decade,” opines Sam.
To make Sam’s day even worse, the store won’t take the chinchilla back, but she does pick up another new family member. “Welcome to my midlife crisis!” she screams on her way out of the store, with a white snake draped around her shoulders. “I think we should call her Betty White,” she says as she and Max pile into the El Camino.
What did you think of Better Things‘ return? Grade the premiere, then drop your comments below!