Quiet comedies? Dreary, weary plots? These shows make it work


People keep finding ways to re-invent TV comedies. The studio-audience shows are starkly different from the filmed ones. But if either style is done right -- "The Big Bang Theory," "Modern Family" -- the result is delightful.

And now there's another style, the quiet comedy that sometimes seems to nudge into drama or comedy. One ("Baskets") got way too dreary, but the two shows arriving this week are terrific. "Better Things" (Thursday, Sept. 8) and "One Mississippi" (Friday, Sept. 9) are gems. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

We've always known
what half-hour TV shows are like.

From Lucy to “Big
Bang,” they've been bright and busy. But now there are worthy
exceptions on:

-- The FX cable
network. “Better Things” continues the style that Louis C.K.
started with FX's “Louie” -- a droll, dry look at the life of a
single parent. This time, the focus is on Pamela Adlon, whose world
might seem weary. “I just feel like everything is funny in my
life,” she said.

-- The Amazon Prime
streaming service. “We have a range of tones,” said Amazon
executive Joe Lewis, “all the way from sad to devastating.”

Amazon has already
drawn attention and awards for “Transparent” and “Mozart in the
Jungle”; now “One Mississippi” has a version of what Tig Notaro
calls the time “when my life actually fell apart.” Recovering
from a double masectomy and an intestinal ailment, she rushed to her
mother's deathbed.

No, these shows
don't sound funny ... but they often are. Both are produced by Louis
C.K. (who also directed Adlon;s pilot and co-wrote it with her); both
mix real life with fiction.

“With 'One
Mississippi,'' with 'Better Things,' with 'Louie' – these are all
inspired by real life,” said M. Blair Breard. “But they're not
necessarily real life.”

She's been a
producer for all three shows. “Louie” is now on a long break, but
the two new ones were built around women with interestingly ragged
lives.

-- “Better Things”
(10 p.m. Thursdays, FX, beginning Sept. 8):

Pamela Adlon, 50,
grew up on both coasts. In New York, her dad, Donald Segall, was a
producer for Dave Garroway's show, which became “Today”; in Los
Angeles, he scrambled.

“My dad was like a
real journeyman writer and producer,” she said. “He's the
grandson and the son of a junkman. He used to write soft-core porn,
dime-store novels, to get by .... He was just a funny, funny, great
man (who) loved to laugh and be part of everything in the world.”

He wrote some TV
episodes, but his daughter was often busier. Then Pamela Segall, she
did a “Facts of Life” season (as Kelly) and co-starred in “The
Redd Foxx Show.” In “Down the Shore,” she played the one young
woman who argued with the guys; the character was dropped between
seasons.

As a grown-up, Adlon
has thrived on voice work, including Bobby Hill in “King of the
Hill.” Other acting roles have been inconsistent, but she
co-starred in “Californication” and played C.K.'s wife in his
first comedy series, then helped write and produce his second one.
“There's this kind of antiquated way that we used to all do
television,” she said. “We're all kind of gently shaking (it)
off.”

“Better Things”
has versions of her late dad (in a dream scene) and her mom. “My
mother supported the family while my dad was writing. (She's) a
little, 80-year-old English lady from Chishire. I knew that I wanted
to have a real English person (play her), who could be formidable and
then a little fluff.”

-- “One
Mississippi” (any time on Amazon Prime,starting Friday, Sept. 9):

Managing bands in
Denver and Los Angeles, Tig Notaro found that her Southern roots were
distinctive.

“I didn't realize
that everyone didn't have a small town they came from or weird family
members,” she said. Then she would bring people home to
Mississippi. “Friends and girlfriends (were) like, 'Who are these
people? Where am I?'”

Notaro began talking
about her life during stand-up comedy and podcasts. Recovering from
cancer, she gave her stand-up show a personal feel. Louis C.K.
promptly contacted her about an audio recording and now the series.
“I would say (it's) about 85 percent real,” she said.

In real life, her
mother and step-father had moved to Texas. Notaro decided it would be
better to set the show in Mississippi, her home state and the place
she keeps returning to. “I got married in Mississippi,” she said.
“The obvious choice for a gay couple.”

She said that in her
usual tone, which is dry and quiet and ideal for the casual humor or
real life.