"Since Better Things debuted in 2016 it has only expanded, and expanded, in its dual capacity as an immersive TV experience and comfort device," says Melanie McFarland. "Knowing its end is coming also led me to examine a habit recently entrenched in my own household: a reluctance or outright refusal to finish seasons of favorite shows – unless, of course, work requires me to do so. Most of us want to see where and how our favorite TV shows end, but seeing a story through to its finish means letting go of what's become a reliable consolation at a time when those seem to be vanishing. In these years of unexpected and sorrowful goodbyes, the ability to delay ones that are within our control is a powerful impulse. Adlon pokes at that concept vigorously in her last 10 episodes, each of which she directed, with a loose and gentle weave of stories that present letting go of what was a chance to make room for what's next."
Better Things Season 5 is the straight-up funniest season to date: It is "filled with boisterous montages, endearing quips, and the now-standard array of amiable character actors putting their best foot (or voice) forward," says Ben Travers. "...Perhaps most significantly, Sam spends so many episodes laughing off asshole after asshole. Whether it’s a detrimentally rude receptionist, an intolerant loudmouth on a flight, a selfish jogger, or a slew of insensitive fans, Sam can diffuse the situation and turn it in her favor by responding to irrationality with stern guidance and reason. And for viewers, each combustible situation is gaily spun into a fit of chuckles."
Mostly, the final season of Better Things does Better Things things: "Sam’s love of art and cooking remain front and center," says Daniel Fienberg. "Sam and Adlon’s shared love of Hollywood and Los Angeles remain key hooks, with visits to several local landmarks, some well-known and others obscure. There are still regular big-name guest stars and cameos, sometimes from people playing themselves, though usually slightly tilted versions...With the end in sight, Adlon and her collaborators have given these 10 episodes perhaps a clearer sense of unification, planting seeds throughout that either pay off powerfully or offer clever grace notes as the conclusion nears. Individual episodes of Better Things have always functioned as beautiful short stories, but this may be the most that a full season has worked that way as well, maintaining the series’ trademark looseness and tying the series together with a bow at the same time."
For all its ruminations, Better Things never forgets to be funny in its final season: "Adlon remains one of TV’s most fascinating performers, and Sam one of its most compelling protagonists—she can burst with righteous fury one minute and overflow with maternal nurturing the next," says Sam Worthington. "No matter what life throws at her, she feels the need to diffuse the tension with a goofy, low-throated cackle. Sam’s such a social sponge, best suited for when she’s surrounded by people to take care of and entertain; it’s fitting that Better Things spends its final season forcing her to reckon with what happens when those people move on without her. Phil, along with Sam’s close friends Sunny (Alysia Reiner) and Rich (a soulful Diedrich Bader), face the prospect of getting back together with past loves—decisions that carry risk but also the promise of meaningful happiness. But for all its ruminations, Better Things never forgets to be funny, suffusing even tearjerking moments with a sly, droll warmth that cuts through the waterworks."
Pamela Adlon on making a show where little happens, but it feels so emotionally tangible all the time: "I love that, and I feel like I have always been very engaged in my life, but I step out, like… You know that scene in Annie Hall when she gets out of bed and smokes a joint, and he’s like, 'I need all of you here?" she says. "It’s just a feeling that I would get. I remember when my kids were a lot younger being at a Halloween party, and I’m in a boys’ SWAT team costume with my kids and not able to really talk to the parents because I feel isolated, and I’m waiting for one of my kids to go, 'Let’s go home.' Hoping. Not that I don’t love people, but not when I’m forced into those kinds of situations. So it’s really observational and it’s really like that whole fly-on-the-wall thing. But in terms of how we get that feeling, you add the special sauce of music and the editing. And that’s where it all comes together."
Adlon found making the final season difficult: "Perilous would be the word," she says. "I really felt like I was gonna be a piece of cake. Season five! And it was completely not. I guess that it could be that way if you are not trying to achieve something else and if you just want to put it on cruise autopilot."