‘Better Things’ Kicks Off Season Two With A Raucous Party

Better Things has gone from great to greater in its second season, and I have some thoughts on the season premiere coming up just as soon as I make two different kinds of paella….

One of my favorite sequences from Better Things season one came in the Pamela Adlon-directed finale, where we just watched the chaos in a typical morning at the Fox house, as a variety of characters — some of whom we knew, many of whom arrived with no explanation other than the fact that Sam and the girls knew them — paraded through the house while Sam got the kids ready for school. There was something so intimate about it, despite how intentionally shaggy the storytelling was, that made it as much fun to watch as the more overtly plotty moments of the series.

“September” — which, like the rest of season two will be, was also directed by Adlon — feels like that scene expanded out into a full episode, even as there’s a very clear story about Sam’s dismay over Max dating a much older man(*) — who, to make things worse, previously dated Sam’s friend Macy — and how Sam applies her hands-off parenting philosophy to this crisis. But long stretches of it are just Robert Altman-style eavesdropping, like Frankie and her(**) friend Jason playing piano together, or Phyllis being oblivious and/or racist like usual, or Duke pressuring the younger kids at the party to play an R-rated Truth or Dare game in her bedroom.

(*) I alternated screeners of this and Top of the Lake: China Girl, and was struck by the parallels between the Max/Arturo/Sam situation and Mary/Puss/Robin in Top of the Lake. Two very different approaches to the same idea.

(**) Repeating a point from the pre-season review: Adlon has said she’s not committed yet to the idea that Frankie is trans, as both she and one of her own kids have explored similar questions in their respective adolescences. For the moment, the show continues to use female nouns and pronouns to describe Frankie.

The Duke scenes actually wind up fitting in neatly with the Max storyline, in that they both illustrate how Sam’s approach is to let the kids make, and own, their decisions, but to be there to catch them when they ask her to do it. With Max dating Arturo — which in turn brings us the amusing spectacle of Arturo’s brother Pedro relentlessly hitting on a bored and disgusted Sam — Sam knows that any move she makes to get between them will only backfire and increase Max’s desire for this creep. So she hangs back, waits for Max to hopefully realize on her own what a mistake this was, and when that happens and she asks her mom for help, Sam is there ready to hit Arturo with both barrels. It’s lovely, and very funny watching her play rope-a-dope until we get to that moment.

Excellent start to the new season. Looking forward to discussing each episode with you guys over the next couple of months.

What did everybody else think?

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