Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Better Things | Lefsetz Letter

We want to see ourselves.

For all the reality television, there’s very little truth, very little real, it’s all edited to make people look much worse or better, for drama. And this has infected the internet and normal conversation too. People only project their best selves on Instagram, for fear they’ll misstep and become Jerry Maguire. One false move and you’re branded forever online. You may not even be able to get a job. So for all the communication we’ve got these days, a low percentage of it is truth.

Sure, we’ve got great stories on Netflix and HBO, it’s just that we don’t see ourselves on the screen.

But we do in Pamela Adlon’s “Better Things.”

No, not all of us have a history of acting. But we’ve all got a history of interacting with the world.

She’s alternately in love with and pissed at her kids. Her house is a mess. As is her life. She’s so busy raising her family that her love life is challenged and she depends on her friends to get her through, as her mother is a continuing challenge, believing everything is okay while she is fading. The parents become the child and the child becomes the parent…assuming they all live that long.

My favorite part of the first two episodes is when Adlon dreads being left alone with the other parents, having to make small talk. Maybe she has social anxiety, but mostly she just can’t relate to them, she feels different. That’s how it used to be in music. Or maybe with the creators thereof. It’s where those who didn’t quite fit in went to be honest and let their freak flag fly, an alternative path to riches rather than jump through the hoops of education. I gave up the first semester in college, when the pre-med guy went to the professor to grub grades. I got a B- in Anthropology, and it being an essay test in high school you could get it to a B no problem. But I’d had enough of that game. And when I discussed it with a classmate, wondering why we needed good grades to begin with, he said to get into a good graduate school. Right there and then in my brain I said I’M OUT!

You see there are those who play the game and those who do not. And those who do always look down at those who don’t. What, they think the rules don’t apply to them? That they can be different? And they lord their success and two cars and a garage over those who go the alternative way, but what they don’t understand is it is not a choice, you just can’t go straight, you don’t fit in.

But like Bob Dylan said, you’ve got to serve somebody, and there are regular injustices. Like the wanker director insisting Adlon pile among the dead and cough differently. While he sits in the tent and raps with his sycophants.

As for the movie set… That’s exactly the way it is! In real life you’ve got the cast and crew hanging around, only what’s in the frame is different. And it looks unreal to everybody but the cinematographer. And it ain’t glamorous unless you’re working on a studio pic.

As for shopping for college…that’s what they do these days, and parents always embarrass their children. And my older sister insisted her son get a fake I.D. to go to college.

And kids always abandon their parents when given a better option.

Adlon is loud and edgy in a world where everybody’s striving to be quiet and demure. She laments that she’s aging, but she accepts it. She’s just trying to hold it all together, hoping her kids turn out all right, that’s the dream, not becoming a tech millionaire or someone on the red carpet swanning for the press.

Now this show is on FX. And unless you study TV, which is like studying records/music in the old days, you’re probably unaware of it.

Even worse, if you pull it up on demand, you’ve got to endure the commercials.

FX is not where the show should live. But you go where people pay you.

Furthermore, you might get lost on Netflix, with its plethora of product.

Then again, it’s frustrating to watch a series. Maybe it works for HBO and “Game of Thrones,” but in this world where we expect to have everything at our fingertips, it’s frustrating to have to wait week by week. “Better Things” could be “Russian Doll” if they dropped all the episodes at once. The thought is you get water cooler moments if you drip it out week by week. But in our overcrowded society it’s a wonder if anything gets traction. You just hope that enough people are infected that they talk about it, and get others to talk about it too.

You watch Adlon and you want to be her friend. Even though you know she’d be friendly to you and not want to be your friend. That’s Angelenos, they’re surface friendly. In New York, you meet someone once, you say you’re going to get together and you do and become fast friends. In L.A. you say you’re gonna connect and you never do. It comes up again when you bump into each other, but you never hang. Everybody’s got their own world out here.

You can tell I’m infatuated with this show. Even though it’s imperfect. The second episode was not as good as the first, and so far it’s all we’ve got. But it is Pamela Adlon’s vision. She is a real person. They only made one of her. In a world of conformity she’s got sharp edges. And that’s why we get hooked.

Better Things

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