Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
March is coming in like a lion with a fantastic first week of TV. The weather might be getting warmer, but there's plenty of programming to check out before the flowers start to bloom.
Last week I wrote about the classic procedural Law & Order, but the true joy of watching TV is finding original shows that aren't scared of doing things a little bit differently, and get it right. You know 'em when you see 'em.
Pamela Adlon's Better Things has been one of those shows since its inaugural episode. It's different for all the right reasons. Five seasons later, the show is now coming to an end but it's going out the way it came in.
The final season of begins tonight on FX at 10pm with back-to-back episodes. Better Things tells the story of single mom/working actor Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon), her three unique daughters Max (Mikey Madison), Frankie (Hannah Riley) and Duke (Olivia Edward), and her British mother Phyllis (Celia Imrie), who lives across the street. Sounds like a typical sitcom setup, but this program is anything but.
Better Things unfolds like real life. There's an overall story arc, but we're really watching different parts of existence played out in real time. Episodes unfold with different vignettes that echo daily pre-COVID interactions we have in real life. Pamela Adlon is constantly mixing things up in intriguing ways.
Every character is endearing and flawed. Sam is the quintessential cool California mom, warts and all. And it's the exposure of these warts that make her such a relatable character. Sam knows she must let her growing kids lead their own lives but she yearns for their company and approval. Sam's ailing mother drives her crazy, but she can't live without her attention. Sam makes some strong career choices, and they don't always work out for the best.
Who wouldn't want to live life like Sam Fox does? Hip, artsy house. Lots of eclectic musical choices. Everyone admires her directness and her natural cool. She treats her kids like adults but is always there for a hug. Her friends represent every color of the rainbow and are treated with respect. And boy does she like to cook.
The real Pamela Adlon also has a British mother, three daughters, and was the voice of Bobby on the 90's animated hit King of the Hill. She has made a shift from acting to directing. That's why the show resonates so strongly — the best stories are based on some kind of truth.
Lots of action takes place in Sam's funky L.A. house, but other locations are always changing. Sam Fox and Pamela Adlon clearly love Hollywood. One scene can be a production number, while the next is an intimate conversation about flawed relationships.
Season five is consistent with the previous four. Plenty of laughs, family drama, surprising twists, and love all around. Pamela Adlon's direction is spot on, and she breaks down life issues poignantly with a smile.
Everyone feels their life could be a TV show, but most of our lives are entertaining to ourselves and wouldn't translate well on the screen. Better Things has always been an entertaining journey through a life worth living, and I'll miss Sam Fox and her family very much.
(Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)
This Week's Pick: Justified (Hulu) — Timothy Olyphant does what he does best as U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens back in his childhood Kentucky home hunting down bad guys like standout Walton Goggins. This drama has plenty of funny moments while packing a powerful punch.
The Good Wife (Paramount+)
Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
The Split (Amazon)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)
The Tourist (HBO Max) — A British gent (Jamie Dornan) is hunted in the Australian outback and has absolutely no idea why. Thursday.
THIS WEEK’S STIHTGT!
(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)
Ragdoll (AMC) – A London serial killer cuts up his victims and patches them back together for the police to solve. Monday at 10pm.
The Dropout (Hulu) – A great cast tells the Theranos fraud story with Amanda Seyfried as CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Thursday.
Joe vs Carole (Peacock) – Kate McKinnon is Carole Baskin and John Cameron Mitchell is Joe Exotic - you know the story. Thursday.
The Problem With Jon Stewart (Apple TV+) – Jon returns from hiatus as the show shifts from twice monthly to weekly. Thursday.
Lucy and Desi (Amazon) – Amy Poehler's documentary shows what it was really like being the Ricardos. Friday.
Shining Vale (Starz) – Courteney Cox moves from Brooklyn to a haunted house in Connecticut. Sunday at 10pm.
THIS WEEK'S PICKS
The Larry David Story (HBO)
Tuesday, March 1st 9pm
Everyone thinks they know Larry because of Curb Your Enthusiasm. In this two-part documentary, we discover that the brutally honest character of Larry is everything the real individual wishes he could be.
Larry's sense of humor is fully intact as he chronicles his path from choosing a career in comedy and how his life experiences led to creating some pretty, pretty, pretty good comedies. The two parts are entitled "American Jewboy" and "The Jewish Fountainhead." Sit down, relax and laugh.
Our Flag Means Death (HBO Max)
Thursday, March 3rd
I was embarrassingly late to the party for What We Do In The Shadows, the clever vampire comedy co-created by Taika Waititi. Now he's got a comedy about 18th century pirates, and I won't make the same mistake twice.
The underrated Rhys Darby stars as Stede Bonnet, an aristocrat who desires to be a pirate. Waititi plays Blackbeard along with a very funny recognizable cast, and the WWDITS attitude carries over in this swashbuckling tale. It's smart, silly and shockingly based on a (somewhat) true story. Watch trailer.
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (HBO)
Sunday, March 6th 9pm
When I saw the title, I assumed this was going to be a documentary. Boy was I wrong. Adam McKay pours his NBA love of the Los Angeles Lakers into this ten-part series with a fictional look at the glory days of the 1980's. It would have been called Showtime, but rival cable network had something to say about that.
It's always fun to see which actors will play Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper and other Laker greats from this era (Norm Nixon's son DeVaughn plays his dad). John C. Reilly portrays owner Jerry Buss and the rest of the cast is stacked with recognizable faces living it up back in those greed-is-good times.
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.