Better Things Season 4 Review: Perfection

at .

For three seasons, we have been involved with some of the most intimate details of Sam Fox and her three daughters, Max, Frankie, and Duke.

The Pamela Adlon fronted series was created by her, as well, and it feels as personal to Adlon as the life created for her character and family on screen.

For decades, families on television were more ideal than our own. Adlon's creation examines three generations of women all coming into their own at various life stages, and all of the joy and misery that being closely related brings to the table.

Three Generations of Better Things

Better Things Season 4 embraces the future while still honoring the past.

Adlon's Sam Fox, clearly an expression of her own life in character form, loves her family unconditionally, but that doesn't mean that they don't argue with the best of them. Better Things infuses realism into television families that is rarely seen elsewhere.

With mothers and daughters, especially, relationships can go from a 10 to a 1 and back again in the span of one seemingly minor disagreement. The most genuine scenes from Season 4 come from that perspective.

Sam's mother, Phyllis (Celia Imrie) had a health scare, and it's scary as hell getting faced with the idea you might lose your mother and one of your best friends.

Phyl in Pink

But very true to life, that fear also drives you to emotional places that you wouldn't expect. The more tension to arise, the more arguments you encounter, and Sam and Phyl have a doozy.

It's is their deep love of each other allows them to be brutally honest, too. Adlon's honesty about relationships is the driving force behind Better Things because the moments you might fear sharing with others for their drama are right on the table.

Although fictional, you recognize the insanity that has played through your life, and it makes Better Things comfort food for the soul. We are not alone.

I know I'm being vague, but the storylines in Better Things are so refreshing and real that to spell them out in a review is unfair. You should have the benefit of seeing its beauty unfurl in the same fashion I did. It's not something a critic should rob of their readers.

Mirror Image

Just like Sam and Phyl grapple with their mother-daughter relationship, so do Sam and all of her daughters. There is a particular scene between Sam and her eldest, Max (Mikey Madison), that is so reminiscent of my mother and me that it's inspiring.

Sam and Max might get a little more foul-mouthed than I would have been able to do with my mother at the same age, but the effect is the same as mother and daughter push and pull at each other with much love and a desire to keep the other all to yourself while still wanting space to be free to do as you wish. 

Adlon's writing realizes that those counter-intuitive feelings can coexist in an uneasy and humorous harmony.

During Better Things Season 3, Sam and Frankie (Hannah Alligood) were frequently at an impasse as Frankie was discovering her sense of self, a sense that Sam found alien even as progressive as she is as a mother.

Fashionable Frankie

But typical of adolescence, Frankie is a different person during Season 4. She's more confident in her exploration of self, and her relationship with Sam has improved significantly as a result.

The youngest, Duke (Oliva Edward), is growing into her adolescence, too, and her unbelievably kind and caring nature shines with all things human and animal alike. Her scenes are almost transcendent.

But preparing her family for life and supporting her mother isn't all that Adlon explores for Sam. Sam is still challenged by the difference aging makes on the mind and body, too. When your mind is sharp and your body begins to betray you, it's like a sharp slap in the face no matter how aware of it you are before arriving.

Even worse is when you realize that there's nothing to do about it and reclaiming your youthful abilities isn't an option. For Sam, she sees who she was and who she will be in her daughters and her mother daily.

Sitting on the Stoop

During the fourth season, Sam experiences a bit of a midlife crisis.

She's torn between wanting to do everything right for her family and the world and sliding into home base with a giant grin on her face. Adlon proves that you can do a little bit of all of it without lying to yourself.

Adlon also directs all of the episodes again this season, and her deft touch reveals even more of what constitutes a life.

She isn't always looking for flash or drama but takes the time to remind us of the many layers that contribute to our perception of life and one well-lived.

Smells of Home

There is one particular opening that pans through the house from Sam sleeping in bed to the light playing in the window to the art adorning the walls from the staircase to the front door.

Every aspect of that home says something about the family inside, and she reflects on it with stunning, thoughtful precision.

Quiet moments in your home are as important to the story as the vivacious elements, and never is that more apparent than when Sam and her family are in the kitchen.

It's not easy to capture the warmth associated with the kitchen and mealtimes, but moments in Sam's kitchen are like a warm blanket filled with gorgeous aromas and hugs.

Mid-life Crisis

Sam's friendships, too, are achingly human.

Rich (Diedrich Bader) is battling a soul-crushing breakup, turning to Sam for the comfort and safety of her welcoming arms and home.

Their closeness is a dream, and everyone should be as lucky as to deal with life's joys and sorrows with a friendship like theirs.

As Sam weathers her life as a self-celibate, she revels in her relationships with friends. She's all-in for Jeff (Greg Cromer), an alcoholic and serial cheater who puts it all on the table to keep his marriage intact as well as a friend in New Orleans who is marrying the love of his life.

Together at Home

Better Things is incredibly satisfying in its simplicity.

Through a female lens, Adlon discovers life's beautiful impurities and precious moments assuring us age isn't a factor when it comes to happiness.

Better Things Season 4 quietly doubles down on that and ends with the door wide open to a truly unique and magnificent future with many more avenues to explore.

Better Things Season 4 starts tonight, March 5, 2020, at 10/9c only on FX.


Editor Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
  • 5.0 / 5.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

Show Comments
Tags: ,