Monday, May 27, 2019

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts

Pamela Adlon talking about Better Things

The holidays used to roll in and it would be impossible not to write about how they bring forward emotions we don't dwell on otherwise. Memorial Day is no different from Thanksgiving in this way.

On such days there's a breather from work.  We're happy if the weather obliges, anxious if there's a harbinger of family conflict at an anticipated reunion, or just sad that certain people aren't around.

On that note, in 2006 or 2007, I posted about what it means to believe in spirits. Google's Blogger, the host of this blog, tracks such things and would periodically reveal to me that of the hundreds of seriously rough, unedited essays, visitors hit on "Spirits" most frequently.  They search for essays on ghosts and spirits. Who knew? I didn't understand it.

But a television show  Better Things clarified. Better Things is a production of Pamela Adlon and Louis CK.* She produces, writes, and acts the lead, Sam. The show feels biographical, almost anthropological as a recording of a particular tribe: a family, their lives as experienced within a particular culture. The stress associated with single parenthood, in addition to being the child tapped to stay on top of her own mother is familiar. As good media can do, Better Things brings us Ms. Alden's stories, shows them to us, so much so that the word "sandwiched" isn't necessary in the dialogue.

The show is a guilty pleasure despite the cringe bathroom humor, an entire episode dedicated to colonoscopy prep; most others replete with uncensored references to sex. Expect that, most episodes treating sex for what it is, especially to teenagers. It is not a pretty slice or interpretation to those of us who believe in love-making.  The language of the show is always coarse, direct, graphic.

So what's the pleasure? 

The stark truth of the relationships reels me in. When this show gives, it gives all the way, and you want to take every moment of the gift.
In one of the most moving episodes, The Unknown, Sam is summoned by her daughter to come upstairs; she's sure there's a ghost in the house. Sam checks it out and oddly enough there's an indentation on the seat of the bed. Sam can't help but comment on the similarity of the size to her father's derriere. He passed away young, around 50. He was her rock. Her mother struggles with dementia and you wonder if it is alcohol related, sense she has always been as she is, British, detached, on her own planet, yet wildly popular among her peers.
Sam is driving in the car and Dad pops up in the passenger seat, comments about a man she is seeing. She has to think about the observation. She never would have looked at it this way.  I think, will my daughter, my sons, do that? Think about what I would say about something after I'm gone? It is hard not to ponder this.
Sam is honored at an event at her father's club  (Lions, Masons?) as his stand-in. After accepting the award, sitting at a a bar with  his best friend, the "best friend" hits on her. She leaves as he protests. On the way out she sees her father in a chair in the lobby.
They high five. 
The Eulogy Episode- so indescribably touching I refuse to spoil it. Too moving, healing, full of the love rarely expressed while we're alive. We wonder what people will say at our funerals, but wouldn't think to get a preview. Some of this episode is up on YouTube, but don't do it. See the show from the beginning or it isn't meaningful. And it is a meaningful enactment of how healthy people relate to one another.

Rereading this, it would seem all I care about are shows about dying, friendship, parenting, and being parented. Could be.


*The producers reached an agreement after the accusations against him of sexual harassment so that Ms. Adlon could work without Louis CK on the set, or maybe not as an active partner, either, pretty sure.

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