FX’s Emmy-nominated comedy Better Things follows Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon) as she navigates single motherhood living in Los Angeles. The series revolves around Sam’s love-hate relationship with her daughters Max (Mikey Madison), Frankie (Hannah Alligood), and Duke (Olivia Edward), as well as her oddball mother Phyllis (Celia Imrie). Between the emotional minefield of raising three daughters on her own, and maintaining her career as an actor in L.A., she’s got more than enough on her plate. Throw in managing some semblance of a personal life, and Sam’s got all of the drama she needs to set the stage for a good comedy.
Much of the show’s humour comes from Adlon’s crass character, along with writing that’s both in tune with modern parenthood and forthright about it. This should come as no surprise, as the story is largely based on Adlon’s real life experiences as a single mother of three. In addition to starring in the series, Adlon is a writer, director, producer, showrunner, and co-creator of the show. Whether it’s frank discussions about drugs and promiscuity with Sam’s eldest, or detailing a shameless fling in your late forties, Better Things is brazen in its storytelling. Adlon has a knack for nailing those laugh-because-you-can’t-cry moments, which are only funny because they’re so brutally honest.
A tasteful soundtrack only enhances the show’s story, supervised by award-winning music supervisor Nora Felder. Felder has made her mark as a trendsetter in high-end television, working on critically acclaimed projects ranging from Stranger Things and The OA, to Ray Donovan and Californication. Nora’s work on Stranger Things recently had her nominated for a Grammy, adding to a decorated list of achievements that also includes an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Music Supervision. Felder’s expertise is in full form for Better Things, whether it’s syncing Shazam-worthy indie hits, or securing resonant classics from heavy-hitters like the Rolling Stones or the Bee Gees. SynchAudio is proud to be associated with the former, as Cameron Brooks’ “Vagabond” and Jade Monet’s “To Be Wrong” received placements throughout Better Things’ third season.
Cameron Brooks’ “Vagabond” is a low-fi alternative number, embracing genre experimentation and minimal production sheen. Brooks’ blend of raw percussion and warbling synths alternates between a sound that’s modern and nostalgic. Loosely screwed junkyard drumming, and distorted vocals stand at the track’s foreground over a cluster of analog static. Chiming synthesizers contrast the rhythm’s grit, fleshing out the melody with a sense of wonder that straddles the line between sci-fi and child-like. It’s got the raw vivacity of garage rock, but trading in the teenage angst and frantic pace for a vibe that’s more contemplative. If anything, it’s the levelheaded garage jam your neighbours wish you would play more often. “Vagabond” can be heard in episodes 1, 3, 4, 9, 10, and 11 in season three of Better Things.
Jade Monet’s “To Be Wrong” is a somber acoustic ballad, telling a tale that mulls the consequences of regrettable choices. The song’s structure pays respect to the folk genre at its most traditional, set by the kind of hook-laden verses that elicit sing-alongs without prompt. Only acoustic guitar and bass sit behind Monet’s stirring vocal harmonies, while she offers earnest and evocative prose: “I’ve been trying to ink this torture, trying to match these words with pain/ Do you know what it feels like, to be ashamed?” Despite the track’s downbeat narrative, Monet’s candor is sobering. Her small-town sound still feels primed to warm countryside car rides and hallmark intimate campfire gatherings. “To Be Wrong” was featured in episode 3 of Better Things’ third season.
In an interview with Vulture, Adlon admits titling her show Better Things was partially inspired by the Kinks song of the same name. An upbeat throwback, the Kinks’ “Better Things” was written while lead singer Ray Davies was coping with a divorce, but with an eye towards a brighter future: “Here’s wishing you the bluest sky/And hoping something better comes tomorrow.” While the show charts Sam Fox’s own trials in the aftermath of divorce, the themes of the Kinks’ track also speak well to the show’s watchability. Sam’s such a likeable character that you’re rooting for her as a viewer. Though her downturns are a point of comedy, optimism that she’ll overcome only adds to Better Things becoming an addictive watch. Something better might not come tomorrow, but it’s always worth tuning in to find out.
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