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Series / Better Things

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Better Things is an FX series created by Louis C.K. and Pamela Adlon.

Adlon plays Sam Fox, an aging actress and single mother in Los Angeles, struggling to find work while also raising her three daughters of varying adolescence: Max, an angsty teenager, Frankie a tomboyish tween, and Duke, the youngest of the Fox clan. Also in the picture is Sam's mother Phyllis, with whom she has a complicated relationship.

Its fifth and final season aired in 2022.

Better Things contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abortion Fallout Drama: In Season 5 it's gradually revealed Max got pregnant and had an abortion, with Rich by her side. She's afraid to tell Sam, and asks that Rich do it after some time has lapsed afterward.
  • Aerith and Bob: Duke's best friend is named Sorrow. Sorrow's brother is named Push.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: How Sam's daughters often see her. They're often justified in thinking that way (e.g. she talks about Frankie having her period in front of a whole auditorium). Sam's mom Phyllis also embarrasses her often, while also doing so a lot when growing up (by not shaving her armpits or legs, for instance).
  • Ambiguous Gender Identity: Frankie is very gender nonconforming, showing no interest in more usual girly things, always wearing masculine clothing and having short hair (until growing it out by Season 4). While that wouldn't by itself mean she's trans as opposed to a tomboy, she also gets punished for going in the boys' bathroom while at school, but says it's just because girls do things which disgust her while in theirs. However, after this her older sister Max expresses incredulity about this, matter of factly saying Frankie is a boy (but later denies having said that). Sam looks shocked after she hears this, but it's then dropped until Season 3, when it turns out Frankie's called Franklin by her friends and her text to Duke self-identifies herself as "your brother" (though in a Blink-and-You-Miss-It moment). Later though she wants a quinceañera (Latina rite of passage at 15, though the family isn't Latino, but Jewish). Frankie has not yet said anything more definite about her gender, though this does seem indicative of her being possibly nonbinary at least. In Season 5, Frankie discusses how a friend uses they/them pronouns, kind of indicating they're Frankie's too, to Sam's confusion. This is supported too by Max referring to Frankie as "they" later. Still though neither says Frankie's nonbinary or something else. Frankie also objects to being called Sam's daughter at one point.
  • Ambiguously Bi: In Season 3 Sam is pursued by Mer, a younger English lesbian who hits on her repeatedly, convinced that she's not straight. Sam at first says she is, but doesn't dislike this attention either, saying she's always wanted to go through a "girl phase". However, if it's anything more Sam doesn't appear ready to explore possible bisexuality yet and Mer realizes this, backing off after being turned down on a proposition.
  • As Himself: Doug Jones appears as himself shooting "Monsters in the Moonlight" with Sam. Mike Judge appears as himself as the creator of "Ching of the Mill."
  • Aside Glance: The last shot from the series featuring Sam shows her wink at the audience, to wish us goodbye.
  • The Baby of the Bunch: Duke is the youngest of Sam's three daughters, and is treated very fondly by pretty much everyone.
  • The Beard: Frankie serves as the date to her gay, closeted friend so his parents won't find out.
  • Black Sheep: Frankie, unlike her mother, sisters and grandmother, rejects feminine norms entirely, always dressing in masculine clothing and initially having really short hair. This leads to speculation by her relatives that she's a trans boy, but this is unconfirmed. By Season 4 she's relaxed this slightly, with her hair a bit longer, but only just.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Max is very dramatic and whiny, which Sam doesn't buy into. Usually.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Sam's kids often call her "Sam". Conversely, she uses "Phyllis" or "Phyl" for her own mom frequently. In their case, it's just because they're a laid-back bunch.
  • The Cameo: David Duchovny, Danny Pudi, Joe Walsh and Constance Zimmer among other celebrities all appear briefly as themselves, since Sam is an actress.
  • Casting Gag: It's probably not coincidental that Duke may or may not be able to see dead people, as she's played by Olivia Edward, whose father John Edward is famous for claiming this ability (he even has a show based on it).
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Phyllis, even before becoming senile, is mostly oblivious to the concerns other people have around her, and mostly stays cheerful despite everything. She has many eccentric tastes and frequently makes odd statements.
  • Cool Big Sis: While Max is a Big Sister Bully to Frankie, she’s nothing but sweet to Duke.
  • Cool Old Lady: Phyllis, even if she gets on her daughter Sam's nerves frequently, is really laidback, free-spirited and uninhibited. All her granddaughters adore her, even if she embarrasses them sometimes too.
  • Country Matters: Sam and Max get into an argument in Season 4 that culminates with them calling each other cunts (first genuinely, then from amusement).
  • The Cutie: Duke, being the littlest of Sam's kids, is naturally this. She's the sweetest, an adorable little girl (although she grows over the course of the series, naturally) and is the most lighthearted, innocent character.
  • Daddy Didn't Show: Xander is largely absent, but plans to attend Max's graduation. At the very last moment, he cancels, claiming unspecified "personal complications", to Sam's anger. Everyone else reacts to this with a frustrated lack of surprise after Max is devastated, and do all they can making up for him letting her down.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Frankie's standard comment on anything else is dry, sarcastic, bitter, cynical or generally "I'm too cool for this".
  • Disappeared Dad:
    • Xander is somewhat present as he sees his kids occasionally, but more often than not is absent from their lives. This causes no small amount of anger from them and Sam.
    • Sam's dad Murray died of a heart attack in the past, but his shadow still looms over her. His spirit (real or imagined) also shows up repeatedly.
    • Phyllis' father was, according to her, barely involved in her or her siblings' lives as well (although he never divorced her mother, given it was not done often in that era).
  • Distaff Counterpart: To Louie, which co-creator Louis C.K. also created. Like that show, it's a fictional version of the lead actor's life, with no laugh track and focused mainly on her relationship with her daughters.
  • Fingore: Duke's friend Pepper gets a fingertip cut off when Duke accidentally slams her finger in the car door.
  • First Period Panic: Duke, after running into her grandma's car while skateboarding, worries that she's been injured as she gets her period until Frankie realizes what's going on and gets her a tampon.
  • Friendly Tickle Torture: This happens a few different times all involving Sam and one of her daughters.
    • Duke accidentally swears in front of Sam for the first time and Sam is a bit taken aback but ultimately filled with pride. Still she jokingly decides to “punish” Duke with tickling.
    • Frankie and Sam have been pranking each other in the lead up to Halloween. After Frankie comes clean to Sam about her biggest prank - that Sam didn’t even realize was a prank until the confession - Sam gets revenge by pinning Frankie to the bed and briefly tickling her.
    • Sam and Duke are listening to old recordings of Sam’s dad. Duke asks about one of the other voices on the recording and Sam says that it’s her when she was around Duke’s age. Duke quickly says that Sam sounds weird. Sam mocks being offended, tells Duke that she is the one who sounds weird, and tickles Duke while demanding she take the insult back.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: Much humor comes from Sam's kids saying things that you don't expect of them, like Duke swearing and Frankie asking a guy Sam dates bluntly about their sex life.
  • Gay Best Friend: Rich is mildly Camp Gay and Sam's best male friend. He fits the boxes as a funny, lighthearted guy (mostly), whose love life remains entirely offscreen (granted, he isn't a main character).
  • Gender-Blender Name: Sam and all three of her daughters have one. It becomes fairly notable when Sam starts to question Frankie's gender identity. Sam's at least is short for Samantha.
  • Hollywood Old: As an aging actress in Hollywood, Sam struggles to find substantial roles, usually settling for bit parts.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: A non-romantic example. Sam, played by the 4'11 Pamela Adlon, is best friends with Rich, who is played by the 6'2 Diedrich Bader.
  • Immigrant Parents: Phyllis is originally from England, but Sam was born and raised in America.
  • Informed Judaism: Aside from occasional mentions of being Jewish, rare Hebrew expressions from Sam and her overall somewhat stereotypical demeanor, it's hard to notice the Foxes are a Jewish family (obviously culturally only, as they don't practice Judaism or any other religion). She and Frankie did attend a friend's bar mitzvah, but it's then a plot point too that Frankie's never had a bat mitzvah, while once it's mentioned she's past the age for the ceremony.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Sam barges into Frankie's room to give her some presents while she's in bed with a boy. Frankie naturally chases her out in a rage.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Frankie often acts very rude and callous to her mother or sisters. At heart though she does love them, but takes out all her teenage issues on them this way. When pressed or something's wrong, she immediately drops this façade to help them. Max to a lesser extent can also be a rude teenager with her mom. Both confess their love to her when she complains of this and they stage a mock funeral in her honor though, even crying while saying how she's the best mother either could hope for.
  • Jewish Mother: Sam likes to play up being one at times, guilt-tripping her daughters on not appreciating her and getting far more involved with their lives than they'd often like (it rarely works, unless she's really serious about this).
  • Lingerie Scene:
    • Season 3 opens with Sam in a dressing room, where we see her in her bra and panties.
    • Max, Sam's eldest daughter, is seen several times in her underwear or a bikini.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • In "White Rock", Duke notices a woman in an Ethereal White Dress who could either be the spirit of either her late, great-aunt, or a suicidal woman who once lived in the area. Whether she's real or just Duke's imagination manifested from hearing about these women is left ambiguous.
    • Later, Duke and even Sam begin to see Sam's dad Murray (Duke's grandpa) who's been dead for years. This could mostly be chalked up to imagination. In one case a large impression is left there on Duke's bed where she said he was sitting as well which is not easily explained. A medium they call in also claims to feel masculine energy (but if he has real powers is also unclear).
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Frankie starts to show this during Season 2 as a rebellious Black Sheep Deadpan Snarker (who's possibly trans but at the very least is very gender nonconforming) and this is taken up to eleven in Season 3 when her frustration at Sam's refusal to explain why she left Xander and raised the girls alone prompts her to run away.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Max, who's a very beautiful girl, is shown in several scenes wearing only her underwear or a bikini, along with her equally good-looking female friends.
  • Nom de Mom: Sam's daughters all go by her surname instead of their father Xander's.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted almost immediately, as Sam given an entire talk about periods in the second episode (she's frustrated by still having hers as well).
  • Not Actually His Child: In Season 4 Sam learns her maternal grandfather was not the man she had thought he was biologically. He'd actually been a milkman who'd lived near her mom's childhood home in England. Phil, her mom, is flippantly indifferent, saying they're all dead anyway so who cares?
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Phil and Marion's wife Caroline don't get along. At a housewarming party for Marion and Caroline in "High man, bye man," Phil asks for a photo featuring only the biological members of the family, with Caroline being the only one not related by blood.
  • Parental Substitute: Rich has been a surrogate father to the Fox girls since their dad is largely absent. He's often mistaken for their dad, along with being the emergency contact, chaperoning their school trips etc.
  • Phoneaholic Teenager: Sam often complains her kids (particularly Max and Duke) are on their phones too much.
  • Portmantitle: "Batceañera", from Frankie's combination bat mitzvah and quinceañera, as she decides to do both (she's Jewish, though not a Latina, but likes Latino culture-their Latino friends are all for it).
  • Rapid-Fire "No!": In "Blackout", an Almost Kiss with a friend's ex leads Sam to pull off an absolutely epic one, going on for almost two minutes.
    Sam: ...We calm down. We calm down because this. Is a very. NO.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Jeff tells Sam he is going to give one to Xander after he unexpectedly shows up to Frankie's "Batceañera." However, the speech ends up coming from Rich, who tells Xander that he has been more of a father to Max, Frankie, and Duke than the latter ever will be.
    • Duke later tells off Max and Frankie for looking at Sam's wedding photos after she repeatedly asked them not to in front of her, as they bring up painful memories.
    • Sam later tells off her mom Phyllis for treating her badly. To her surprise, Phyllis says she's right and apologizes.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Sam's mom Phyllis gets increasingly confused and forgetful as she ages, causing her daughter a lot of headaches over her forgetting things or simply being even more eccentric.
  • Scenery Censor: At one point, Sam spies Phyllis gardening while naked. Artfully placed fronds conceal Celia Imrie’s intimate parts, however.
  • Show Within a Show: Sam starred for ten years as the voice of Rooster in "Ching of the Mill."
  • Skinny Dipping: It turns out Phyllis swims naked without permission in the neighbor's pool. They don't mind her swimming there, so long as she's dressed.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Frankie is the most socially conscious of the Fox family and also the most serious, even as a teenager. Whenever political issues come up, she'll make pro-feminist statements, plus supporting other leftist causes.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Sam's physician Dr. Babu speaks like you'd expect, except there's an f bomb in every sentence, or nearly that.
  • Their First Time: It turns out that Frankie lost her virginity with a boy, mostly to see what it's like and wanting this as her choice. Sam isn't too happy (she's only 14).
  • Trauma Button: Sam can't stand to even look at her wedding photos with Xander, since they bring up bad memories.
  • Twofer Token Minority:
    • Sam meets an Indian-American gay man, Maneesh, and befriends him on a plane trip. Later she goes to his wedding.
    • In Season 3 Sam's pursued by Mer, an English lesbian who's also Black.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Rich says Max has been "eating banana sandwiches with mayonnaise" as an oblique way of telling Sam about Max’s accidental pregnancy (and her subsequent abortion).
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Duke graphically vomits after she realizes Pepper's fingertip's cut off.
  • Wham Line: In "Only Women Bleed":
    Max: Mom... Frankie's a boy.
  • Womanchild: Sam, who's middle aged, is often childish and tells terrible jokes, to her kids' annoyance. It's a bit downplayed since she (mostly) stays a responsible adult, but her attitude comes off as more kid-like than her own kids' (who are very mature in contrast).