How Better Things got too mean

Sam Fox is unlikable. Pamela Adlon’s character in Better Things — the semi-autobiographical FX show she created, writes, and directs — heckles her dates. She calls men “buddy” and smirks at them, amused by their interest. She speaks slowly to people, as if she thinks they themselves are slow. Yet her churlish disposition shouldn’t be a problem. Thanks to series like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Fleabag, I Love Dick, and Transparent, an unlikeable woman isn’t the TV taboo it used to be.

But the second season of Better Things didn’t click for me, and it’s partly because Sam’s devil-may-care attitude to public opinion doesn’t ring true. In fact, it feels like the show cares very much about aligning our sympathies with Sam — to its detriment, because there’s only so much pity one can muster for a successful woman who owns two houses, has the means to hire housekeepers, and nevertheless sees herself as a beleaguered, unappreciated underdog.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a protagonist demanding pity from the viewer; it happens all the time. But to the extent that dramedies like this one have become a genre, they usually serve as occasions for unflattering self-examination. The protagonists tend to be charismatic but flawed. Better Things won’t really concede that. Or risk it. Even though Sam does some pretty unappealing things — like publicly berate a guy for being needy (his crime was asking whether she came) — it feels like we’re supposed to think Sam is funny and cool, even at her most abrasive. The character’s bemused superiority toward everyone feels less like an invitation than a constraint; I feel my nose being rubbed in the fact that she’s refreshing and down-to-earth, while her mother (played by the great Celia Imrie) is pretty awful, and her daughters don’t appreciate her enough.

There’s an unacknowledged gap, in other words, between the pity for Sam the show structurally demands and its in-universe assertion that she’s awesome and independent, her daughters are magical, and anyone who gets to hang out with them is lucky indeed. These things might be true — sometimes they really are! — but the show asserts them so insistently that the effect is more irksome than persuasive. It doesn’t help that a lot of the pity the show elicits for Sam is a function of the daughters being demanding brats. This makes them hard to love.

Nor do the episodes or

Source:: The Week – Entertainment

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