Better Things (S03E01) “Chicago”

After what seemed like forever, we finally return to life with Pamela Adlon and friends as FX’s Better Things returned for its third season. Not without a bit of controversy in the interim. Not directly on the show’s part, mind you, but the real life circumstances with series co-creator Louis C.K. certainly didn’t help. But this is about Better Things, so let’s jump back into the swing of things with the Season Three premiere, “Chicago.”

Like just about every episode she’s directed thus far, Pamela Adlon brings very strong work behind the camera and makes the series feel more artistic when she’s directing. That’s not to say that this is 100 percent an artsy episode devoid of humor. No, quite the opposite, because the more human, down to earth moments are complemented by the funnier instances.

Chicago Sam tries on new clothes 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

Nowhere is that clearer than the struggle that Sam faces in the opening scene: trying to get into clothes that don’t fit, but you want to make them fit anyway. Raise your hand if you can honestly say that you’ve never been there. I’ll wait. It’s a tale as old as time, but it’s helped that here, Sam isn’t being pestered by her three demon spawns. But then, the moment goes from being a struggle to more humorous when Sam starts having her belly talk.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that no one likes trying to fit into clothes that they’ve outgrown, but Sam is able to find some humor in this quiet moment. It’s a nice way to kick off the season.

Though I’m surprised how quickly we fly through the episode as a whole. The main storyline involves Sam helping get Max ready for college- she’s going to Columbia College Chicago of all places. So Sam does what any parent would do: overprotect and over-prepare their child for the great unknown that is university life.

Chicago Sam and Max go shopping 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

This also being Sam and Better Things celebrating the importance of womanhood, you could expect Sam to overload Max with condoms, panty shields, condoms, ramen, notebooks, condoms, contraception, pretty much all of the things. It’s like going on a midnight snack run, but your partner is your mother. But Sam is unabashed about this, and Max doesn’t try to step in or deter her from preparing her this much. At this point, it’s expected, so we don’t get any sort of confrontation or argument between the two.

Chicago Sam meets Maxs college roommate 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

Actually, for the most part, everything goes on fine without a hitch. Sure, Sam is going to be suspicious of the male roommate, even if he’s gay, but that goes off without any sort of blow-up.

Chicago Max shows Sam her fake ID 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

Even what you might think would be the most contentious part of the move-in is played for laughs. Max has achieved a rite of passage in her life by acquiring a fake ID. Most parents would probably balk at that…maybe all parents would balk at that.

Chicago Sam and Max have dinner 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

But Sam isn’t most parents or most mothers. In fact, she’s damn proud of Max and it’s a good mother/daughter bonding moment between the two. After all, we ended last season with Max’s graduation and her getting her high school diploma. Obviously the next logical step is to get yourself a fake ID, right? I’m guessing Max just got it in-between seasons. Good thing that Sam isn’t Elliot Stabler and that this show isn’t Law & Order: SVU, otherwise that fake ID would probably be torched.

Chicago Sam hugs her mother 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

And I guess because I just mentioned another NBC show, that’s my excuse to also applaud the show having a quick nod to This Is Us– a show that I have never seen, but heard nothing but good things about.

Chicago Sam and a TSA agent 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

Moving right along, we get some more…sort-of physical comedy when Sam endures one thing I think I can comfortably say that most of us hate: going through the TSA check-in at the airport. Seriously, the intrusiveness of the checks have not gotten better in recent years with how much we’re told that we need to be protected.

For real, don’t you just yearn for the days when you could just go through checking no problem without having to take off your shoes and socks, put your laptop in a separate bin, raise your hands in the air when you go through that chamber and my goodness, is this what it’s like to stand on a soapbox?

Anyway, getting back to the episode, we get some more comedy in the form of Sam getting a pat-down from a TSA agent. Though Sam tries to justify what she’s wearing, you can never try and make conversation with a TSA agent.

Chicago Sam got carded 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

Another nice moment we get builds off of Max’s fake ID. Before boarding her flight, Sam gets carded when she orders a drink at the bar. Now when you reach a certain point or age in life, obviously you’re not going to get carded and you don’t expect to get carded. At the same time, just to get carded feels like an honor because it makes you feel young, or the institution in question believes that you’re young. It reminds you of the better days of your 20s when you felt invincible and didn’t immediately get tired at 10 pm.

Oh wait, it’s a state law. There’s that as well. Indeed, there’s a brewery in my town that even has a sign stating that everyone gets carded. Doesn’t matter how beautiful and aged you look. If you want a drink, then pull out that ID. Well, at least for a second, Sam got to bask in the joy that was being carded as a grown-ass adult.

Chicago Sam and her neighbor toast 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

Onto the plane, where we get, for a second, some quiet moments with Sam chatting up her neighbor. While she’s eavesdropping on his conversation with his wife, the two can relate to sending the kids off to college.

Chicago Man recognizes Sam from Ching of the Mill 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

Sam also briefly makes a friend with a passenger across the way, and this passenger happens to recognize Sam as the character “Rooster” from ‘Ching of the Mill.’ That had to be intentional, Better Things. There’s no way that was an accident. At the same time, I’m still thinking about the actual King of the Hill mention on the Season 2 episode, “Blackout.”

But we can’t dwell on this for long because smoke starts filling up in the plane. Turns out that something ignited in the plane. This forces the plane to a screeching halt, but at the very least, the customers all get vouchers. There’s that, at least. It’s a nice, quick moment that speeds us along as we head back home.

Chicago Phil tells Sam to talk to Max who is in Chicago 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

When she does, though, her day doesn’t exactly get better because she finds Phil’s car wrecked to shit. Phil is none the wiser, and the fact that she seemed to have no idea about Max being in Chicago makes me wonder if her condition is worsening, based on where we left off last season.

Chicago Duke makes a salt square 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

Back at home, though, Duke is still seeing ghosts. Now she’s upgraded to putting a salt square around her bed, but her grandfather still appears to her. It’s a strange moment that immediately had me wondering if Duke had, I dunno, become part of some secret salt shaker cult.

Chicago Frankie tells Sam that she needs to finish reading her play 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

After a brief encounter with some asshole kids who are just in her home, Sam gets to spend some time with Frankie, who is supposed to read the first act of a play by tomorrow, but because she hasn’t been able to focus. Perhaps because she’s been spending her time looking at Max’s stories- I assume she means Instagram stories, because otherwise, I have no idea.

Chicago Sam and Frankie read acts from a play 1024x576 - Better Things (S03E01) "Chicago"

Nonetheless, Frankie wants Sam to read the play to her, even though Sam is exhausted. Now Sam has every right to be pissed at that, so Frankie quickly drops it. However, then Sam has a proposal: they’ll each read one scene out loud until the first act is finished. That’s a fair compromise, I suppose.

So even though Sam has had a hell of a day, she’s still there for Frankie. It’s not confrontational, as you might expect it to be with Sam and her girls. It’s a nice way to end the episode and good start to the season. So we’ll see how things continue to unfold as we head into Season 3 of Better Things. See you next week!