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‘Better Things’ Recap: Slam Chops

Sam consults a psychic (and loses her cool) while Frankie gets poetic

BETTER THINGS "Get Lit" Episode 11 (Airs Thursday, May 9, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured:  Hannah Alligood as Frankie. CR: Suzanne Tenner/FX

Hannah Alligood in 'Better Things.'

Suzanne Tenner/FX

A review of “Get Lit,” this week’s Better Things, coming up just as soon as I have a note that allows me to chew gum on the bus…

We’re nearing the end of a season that’s focused more on Sam’s career, her romantic life and her psyche than on her relationship with the girls. As a belated bit of compensation for that, “Get Lit” offers a triptych of stories about Sam Fox, mother. She’s trying to keep her daughters on the straight and narrow and getting mixed results — in part because the girls don’t always need her help.

Last week, Sam tried to get David Miller to pose as a medium to help Frankie and Duke calm down about Murray‘s ghost haunting the house. He rightly refused to participate in this silliness, but the first major scene of “Get Lit” reveals that Sam has recruited another guy, Toby, to play the same role. It’s unclear whether he’s an actual medium, another (less scrupulous) shrink, or just an actor friend playing a role. Whether he’s been coached by Sam or is genuinely psychic (a possibility that can’t be ruled out on a show where Murray’s ghost has practically had more screentime than Max this season), he knows what the girls have been going through, and he knows the lessons Sam wants them to hear. Given her contentious relationship with the two older ones — on display in the episode’s later vignettes — a lecture by proxy seems to be the best way to get through to them. And for a moment, it works.

But Toby’s not a permanent solution (as David could surely tell Sam), and by the next scene, Sam is losing her temper over the drug paraphernalia Max and her friends are leaving around the house while they hang out and get high. This is familiar teen parenting stuff, whether you’ve been through it or just watched a lot of TV. But it’s specific enough in the way that Sam lays guilt trips down on all the kids (except the one girl who’s new to the group) for all she’s done for them. And it works on everyone except, of course, Max, who currently holds the title for The Worst among Sam’s offspring. The way Sam describes it, she’s often more of a mom to these other kids than their own moms, but there’s still just enough of a divide there for them to not feel mortified and resentful when she lectures them. She is Max’s actual mother, which means that even though she’s right, Max isn’t going to listen to her.

The episode spends most of its time at a slam poetry event where Frankie performs with her friends, while Sam serves as chaperone. Frankie previously outranked Max in the terribleness department, but for the moment, she’s doing quite well. We learn that she was smart enough to skip a grade to start high school early, but socially adept enough to fit in. And while Sam is in the audience enjoying the show, Frankie is backstage offering comfort to a teammate who’s having too rough a day to perform. When she’s around her mom, she’s still defiant and obnoxious, but that’s hard-wired into adolescents everywhere. (See also the girl who scolds her Vietnamese grandmother in the ladies room.) And she wants no part of “Samuel” being at her big event. But she’s a good friend, and the performance of their poem about “the little white lies we tell our little ones” plays well to the crowd. She may not be pleasant for Sam to be around right now, but she also seems likely to turn out okay in the long run.

Which is all any parent can hope for, even if it’s hell getting there.

Previously: Ghost Protocol

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