A review of tonight’s Better Things coming up just as soon as I give you the silent treatment…
On the one hand, an episode like “Phil” shouldn’t seem too surprising from Better Things, since the show leans heavily on the short story format. On the other hand, all of those short stories tend to be from Sam’s point of view, even if they’re focusing on her relationship with another character like Max.
“Phil,” though, is primarily seen through the eyes of its title character. In Sam-focused episodes, Phil (Celia Imrie) is either a joke or a burden. Here… well, she’s still a burden by the end, as much of the episode’s second half is about Sam and her brother Marion(*) coming to grips with the fact that they will now have to care for her the way she did for them as children, in that painful circle of life way most of us will have to deal with sooner or later. But before we get to that point — and before angst over Phil inspires Sam to make the very self-destructive choice to sleep with her ex-boyfriend even as thing are getting serious with Robin — “Phil” is an episode about what it is like to be Phyllis, to be held at arm’s length by her daughter, to be unsure if she likes most of her grandchildren, to feel adrift and alone and unable to fully control either her body or her mind.
(*) Two thoughts: 1) I am always glad to see Kevin Pollak, and especially when he gets to flex his dramatic muscles a bit, and 2) Of course in this family, the one person with a stereotypically feminine name (even if it has male origins and was the real first name of John Wayne) would be the guy.