On ‘Better Things,’ Sam Has An Awful Date And A Weekend Diversion

A review of tonight’s Better Things coming up just as soon as I rent a muscle car…

Where the season two premiere was one big story taking place during Sam’s house party, “Rising”(*) mixes a few different stories into the same half-hour: We open with Sam’s terrible date with the guy she can’t stand, then get a brief interlude where Duke and Sam talk about Phil’s mortality, then transition into Sam’s weekend getaway and her very quick decision to get away from the getaway once she realizes Sunny and her rich new boyfriend are trying to fix her up with one of his rich friends.

(*) The title comes from a repeated lyric in “Release Me,” by Corrina Repp, the song playing over the concluding sequence.

There’s less connective tissue than there was at times when the show took this kind of episodic approach last year (or when Louis C.K., who wrote this script, did the same for most of the early years of Louie), but all three combine to add up to the same basic idea, which is already the core of the show: the only thing in Sam Fox’s life that consistently makes her happy is being mom to her girls. She can blow off the bad boyfriend because she’s not particularly hungry for male companionship, she worries about her own mom and the impact her eventual death will have on Duke and her sisters, and she flees from a fancy time at a palatial estate to sit at a cheap beach motel and fantasize about bringing the girls up to join her. None of the three segments have to be in the same episode, because Better Things is always on some level about Sam’s maternal instincts, but they fit together nicely, and offer a variety of tones.

The date sequence is hilariously cruel in the way that Sam keeps slashing this sad bastard to death with a million verbal paper cuts. There are times when the show falls into the trap of treating Sam like a goddess who can do no wrong, and even here this guy is presented as a tool largely deserving of her disdain. At the same time, though, the episode leaves hanging the question of why she strung him along for three weeks when, as she admits, she hated him from the first minute of the first date. Sam argues that it’s because she’s so nice, but there’s an element of masochism (for her) and sadism (towards him) to it all, and it’s hard to blame him for calling her out by the valet stand for always being so nasty to him. The show’s sympathies will ultimately always side with Sam, but the valet scene had enough of an edge to acknowledge that she’s not blameless in this particular spectacle.

The first time I watched the episode, I got sucked into believing that Sam really had rented the car, driven back down to LA, and brought the girls back to the beach for an idyllic getaway. We’ve seen moments in the past where the four of them get along splendidly, so this could have been real. But it ultimately works better as a wistful daydream, because the actual version would have featured much yelling and bickering and threats to turn the car right around. Sam wants this thing that she could maybe have, but probably wouldn’t get, so she sits on the motel porch and waits for the weekend to finish so she can return to her normal life with the girls.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast.