Better Things Thursdays, 10 p.m., FX.
One Mississippi Season 1 available September 9 on Amazon.
Louis C.K.’s FX series Louie might be on an indefinite hiatus, but its influence can still be seen on numerous other TV shows. C.K. has a direct hand (as executive producer) in two series premiering this week, both starring and co-created by women with whom he’s collaborated in the past. Like Louie, both Pamela Adlon’s Better Things and Tig Notaro’s One Mississippi star their creators as fictionalized versions of themselves, with supporting characters and plot details drawn from their lives. Both shows are more grounded and serialized than Louie was, especially in its later seasons, although both also feature surreal, disjointed moments that recall C.K.’s narrative experiments. And both still feel like works in progress, with the creator/stars still working to integrate their personal voices with the style of a half-hour comedy show.
One Mississippi has more narrative cohesion, drawn from a difficult time in Notaro’s life when she was recovering from breast cancer, struggling with an intestinal illness, experiencing the end of her relationship with her girlfriend and processing the death of her mother. That last event provides the catalyst for the show, with Notaro’s character (named Tig Bavaro) returning to her Mississippi hometown for her mother’s funeral. She temporarily moves back into the family home alongside her affable brother Remy (Noah Harpster) and her somewhat aloof stepfather Bill (John Rothman), and tries to come to terms with a range of traumas, both past and present.
Better Things is more loosely structured, with Adlon’s character (named Sam Fox) raising her three daughters as a single mom while navigating a career as an actress that mostly mirrors Adlon’s own (lots of voiceover work and supporting roles). Like Louie, it often cobbles together a few vignettes into an episode, although each episode generally has a core theme running through it. The five episodes available for review don’t have any specific narrative thread tying them together, but they do build on the character relationships, especially the different ways Sam relates to daughters Max (Mikey Madison), Frankie (Hannah Alligood) and Duke (Olivia Edward). The sometimes clichéd showbiz material isn’t as effective as the family dynamics.
Notaro and Adlon are both very good at bringing real emotions to their portrayals of versions of their lives, and both shows make time to develop the supporting characters as well. One Mississippi is more successful at storytelling, although its entire six-episode first season ends at a point that a more traditional sitcom might get to in its pilot. The fantasy sequences featuring Tig’s late mother can be a bit cheesy, but they represent a depth of feeling that Better Things is still reaching for. Both shows follow Louie’s example well, even if they don’t have as unique an artistic vision just yet.