“Better Things,” one of the best shows on TV, is ready to take its final bow. FX has debuted an official trailer for Season 5, the final entry of Pamela Adlon’s masterful comedy series, and the writer, director, executive producer, and star spoke with IndieWire to discuss what’s coming in an exclusive interview. The series returns with the first two episodes of the season Monday, February 28 at 10 p.m. ET on FX (and streaming the next day on Hulu), with a new episode each subsequent week.
The network synopsis for the season reads: “In its fifth and final chapter, ‘Better Things’ focuses on ‘the road ahead’ for its unconventional, unfiltered heroine, Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon), so devoted to her life as a working actor and single mother of three that she’s left little time for that one elusive thing: herself. As she navigates three daughters, each coming of age; the challenges of her chosen career; and her mother’s increasing signs of aging (as well as her own) — Sam embraces each moment, and each member of her family, with a fierce love, raw honesty, and biting humor. As each of the Fox women come of age into the next phase of their life, they are inspired to reevaluate themselves, learn from the past and find their own direction.”
“While it’s bittersweet to present the finale of Pamela’s masterpiece, we adore the upcoming season and think fans will love the episodes as much as we do,” John Landgraf, Chairman, FX, said regarding the conclusion of the show. “Our thanks to Pamela, the extraordinary cast, the crew and everyone who worked on ‘Better Things’ for putting an exclamation point on this brilliant, original, radically humanistic series.”
IndieWire’s Zoom conversation with Adlon took place in a few stolen minutes during the post-production process for the series finale, as she sat on the floor of the editing bay while Annie Eifrig, supervising editor for five of the season’s 10 episodes, continued their work just off-screen.
“It was very collaborative,” the creator said of the trailer, a joint effort between herself and FX, “It was a paradigm shift. I wanted the trailer to have scope. To be cumulative throughout. And to have things that would not only get you excited about seeing the season, but just that you get to see these hits; not just showing the people who are populating the show, but moments.”
And moments there are. Throughout the trailer, we see Sam cooking in her kitchen, pouring time and love into elaborate dishes, all the better to showcase her love and care for her friends and family and any stray soul along the way. One such clip cuts to Sam reading her phone on the toilet, the juxtaposition emblematic of the show’s authentic sensibilities. Moments later, after being summarily dismissed by one of her daughters with an “OK boomer,” Sam responds, agitated, “For the last time, I’m not a boomer. I’m Generation X!”
“That’s what the show is about. The show is about these moments and these jolts of juice that you get,” Adlon said. “I mean, Annie and I sit in this room and we go up and we go down. I mean, I literally sit in the chair like here and we’re watching down cuts. And I go, ‘Woo!’ [she thrusts her arms in the air] like I’m on the rollercoaster. That’s what the trailer is.”
In addition to Adlon, the series stars Mikey Madison, Hannah Riley, and Olivia Edward, as Sam’s daughters, as well as Celia Imrie, as Sam’s mother, all of whom are prominently featured in the trailer, where they are joined by just a few of the season’s guest stars, including Ron Cephas Jones, Lena Waithe, and legendary TV creator and puppeteer Marty Krofft. “Don’t ever, ever, give up,” Krofft tells Sam in a moment of hope particularly resonant for Adlon now, when thinking about the challenges she faced heading into the final season.
“I didn’t know how I was going to do this season. How am I going to do COVID? I didn’t know how the fuck I was going to get Celia [who resides in England and France] here or how I was going to do any of that. And then little by little I’m like, ‘I’m not doing COVID. People are going to be fatigued by that.'”
These were the questions that plagued the “Better Things” star more than a year ago, while trying to conceptualize the season, struggling with what the state of the world might be by the time Season 5 was released, and playing around with the idea of depicting the pandemic via flashbacks.
“And then I thought, ‘No, we’re not even going to do that. We’ll address it in the body, the DNA of the show.'”
That was just one element of many that needed to be hammered out before forging ahead into the creation, production, post-production, and eventually, launch of the final season, with all decisions being heightened given Adlon’s own demanding standards.
“The bar for me is the show. My show is the bar. And I can’t do leapfrog to the same level. It’s got to keep moving forward. It can’t plateau,” she said. “That’s something that I put on myself. Celia says that I’m a perfectionist. You can ask Annie her opinion of what it’s like. She sits with the material and then I come in here and we do all kinds of 180s or seismic shifts.”
During the creative process, which can be nebulous, there’s a relatively straightforward method employed in determining whether or not one aspect of the show or another is in harmony with the larger orchestration that is “Better Things.”
“The gauge for everybody is me,” Adlon said. “If I’m not feeling it, if there’s a disconnect. I’m upset. I go home. I’m like, ‘It’s not working. We’re throwing this episode in the garbage can.’ I go through all of that, but we all know — I don’t know if that’s like a Kool-Aid principle moment or whatever — but we’re all like, ‘She’s into it. We can go home.'”
Off-screen, Eifrig said, “I don’t feel like I’m doing my job if I don’t make her cry, let’s just put it that way.”
“We cry every day, me and Annie,” Adlon said. “And we see this shit over and over again.”
“Better Things” Season 5 premieres Monday, February 28 at 10 p.m. ET on FX. Episodes stream the next day on Hulu and will be released weekly. Watch the trailer below.