The 'Better Things' season finale is great, but haunted by Louis C.K.

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
“Better Things”: Mikey Madison, Pamela Adlon (Photo: FX)

It’s been a wonderful second season for Better Things, the Pamela Adlon family sitcom that wraps up with its tenth episode on Thursday night. Adlon generously cedes the season-ender to her character’s eldest daughter, Max (Mikey Madison), whose graduation from high school is the framework for the half-hour. Max makes demands of Adlon’s Sam that all parents — and, for that matter, all grown children — will recognize, insisting on various things for the graduation party (tacos, a D.J., a keg of beer — that last one is open to debate) and generally being as self-preoccupied as adolescents on the verge of adulthood can be.

Better Things has explored different configurations of family life with a depth rare for a half-hour show. Last week’s edition, “White Rock,” found the main characters paying a visit to Sam’s uncle in British Columbia, where we learned a lot about Sam’s childhood, and Sam was shocked to learn she had an aunt she never knew about. The episode had a richness that seems all the more remarkable for being contained within a mere 30 minutes.

“Graduation” — directed, as all 10 of the episodes this season have been, by Adlon herself — does a striking job of bringing together all of the show’s main and secondary characters for Max’s graduation while also managing to remind you that each person onscreen has his or her own mess of a life going on. But the focus is primarily on Max, who, like everyone’s kids everywhere, can be a little monster of self-absorption. It’s a measure of how good Adlon is at depictions of parenthood that I shuddered with gratefulness that I never have to go through any of these joyous-but-fraught teen milestones with my own daughters again. In the best line of the night, when Sam is asked that perennial question parents get — didn’t it all seem to go by so fast? — she answers with quick, brutal honesty: “No! It all went by reeeeeeally slow. And it’s not over.”

I hope Better Things isn’t over, either. One thing you can’t help but reminded of in the credits is that this show was co-created by Adlon and Louis C.K. The now-disgraced comedian is credited as a writer or co-writer (with Adlon) on every episode this season including this finale, which Adlon dedicates “to my daughters.” How terrible it is that Louis C.K.’s admitted denigrations of women should mar, even for a second, Adlon’s achievement here. She has released a statement saying that she is “devastated and in shock after the admission of abhorrent behavior by my friend and partner.”

It’s always impossible for any outsider to know how a creative collaboration works, so who knows how much or how little Better Things depended upon Louis C.K.’s contribution. It may be unfair to Adlon to attach this real-life mess to the artful messes she created so beautifully over the course of Better Things’ season. But it’s unfortunately inevitable. I hope Adlon continues to do the work she wants to do.

Better Things airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment: