Better Things, series 5, review: American TV's best kept secret owes it all to the UK

Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox - BBC/FX Networks
Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox - BBC/FX Networks

It might be set in Los Angeles and about a New Yorker but there is a peculiarly British flavour to Better Things (BBC Two). English thesps Celia Imrie and Nigel Havers have popped up. Princess Diana has been mentioned in the script. Monty Python features on the soundtrack. It turns out that its creator and star Pamela Adlon got UK citizenship in 2020. This semi-autobiographical comedy-drama stars Adlon as Sam Fox (not that one, despite all that Anglophilia): a divorced, gravel-voiced actress raising three daughters on her own. And it has returned for its fifth and final series on ebullient form.

Daringly domestic, Better Things is one of those shows where nothing much happens but everything does. Sam is experiencing menopausal symptoms. Her teenage daughters are at various stages of leaving home. Her elderly mother (Imrie, terrific as ever) is increasingly scatty but resisting attempts to move her into a care home. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the over-stretched, ever-exhausted Sam must find time for her own career, friendships, perhaps even romance.

It’s Gilmore Girls meets Curb Your Enthusiasm, slyly touching on themes of ageing, love and loss. Amid the caustic wisecracks and farcical set pieces, there are moments of tenderness and intimacy that take your breath away. Adlon has twice been Emmy-nominated for her star turn and it’s easy to see why. It’s a performance of real heart, brimming with hope and hard-won wisdom.

Adlon co-created the show with her one-time close friend and fellow comic Louis CK. However, he’s had no involvement since series two, when a MeToo scandal saw the FX network and Adlon sever ties. If anything, her going solo improved the show. She now writes, directs, produces and stars. Her authorial voice has grown stronger. Better Things, always distinctive, has become even more its own beast.

It’s not for everyone but when you fall for Better Things, you fall hard. Give it a go before it bows out forever. Better still, go back to the beginning and watch the lot. All five series await on iPlayer.