Of the many, many things Louis C.K. has been accused of lately, “having good judgment” rarely makes the cut.
That seems fair considering the way his career went down in flames because of his sexual misconduct — and the way he spit gasoline on those embers during a comeback attempt by mocking the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Still, the disgraced comedian knows talent when he sees it, as evidenced by his longtime collaboration with Pamela Adlon, even though the ensuing scandal almost spelled the end for the comedy they created together.
“Better Things” (10 p.m. Thursday, FX) returns for its third season, 15 months after that implosion, with Adlon finally, fully, front and center. The only sign that C.K., who wrote or co-wrote all but one episode during the show’s first two years, was ever involved comes after each episode with a union-required co-creator credit. There’s no drop-off in quality in this batch of new episodes. If anything, they’re stronger than ever.
The semiautobiographical comedy follows actress Sam Fox (Adlon) and her struggle raising three daughters while looking after her aging mother (Celia Imrie), who lives across the street.
In the season’s opening seconds, Sam is in her underwear going through her closet, searching for clothes she can squeeze into before flinging them to the floor. “I just bought these,” she marvels at a pair of jeans that not even the most careless plumber would find appropriate. “Really? How did this happen?” It’s a moment that’s honest, raw and delivered with a mixture of shock and bemusement that sets the stage for the episodes that follow.
She’s proud to help prepare her oldest, Max (Mikey Madison), for her first day of college in Chicago. But while it’s clear she’ll miss having her at home in Los Angeles, Sam can’t fly back without a shopping trip that includes the most embarrassing cart in the history of mothers exacting revenge. “Condoms, condoms. Pads, pads. Panty liners, panty liners,” she announces, while raking items off the shelves. “Condoms, condoms. … Condoms, condoms. … Pregnancy test. Plan B, Plan B, Plan B.”
In other episodes, when Sam isn’t making her gynecologist uncomfortable, she’s suffering the indignities of standing in line for a portable toilet under the blazing sun while making a monster movie.
“Better Things” may have its fantastical elements — this year, Sam has recurring visions of her dead father (Adam Kulbersh), dressed in all his ’70s finest — but Adlon, who writes or co-writes most of this season’s episodes and directs all 12, keeps most everything else refreshingly real.
The 52-year-old, who’s been a working actress since she was 9, explodes the myth that moviemaking is all “Entourage”-style hot tubs and yacht parties. It’s 92 degrees in Sam’s trailer on a dusty hellscape of a set, she and two co-stars are banged up when they’re put through a stunt without a safety briefing, and the director (Kris Marshall, “Love Actually’s” America-loving Colin Frissell) hovers between indifferent and dangerously inept.
So, yeah, there’s a powerful scene in which Sam stands up to the man in charge of a toxic work environment even though no one else has her back — because, careers.
It’s as close as Adlon or the show comes to addressing the Time’s Up movement that derailed the career of the man who’d been her writing partner since 2006 and the short-lived HBO comedy “Lucky Louie.”
Things were so bad during the C.K. fallout, Adlon didn’t know whether she could continue with the show. “It’s really hard to function when you’re in shock and in grief. I’d lost my passion,” she told Variety.
Thankfully, she rediscovered it, learned to work with new writers and realized she had better things — and “Better Things” — ahead.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.