On tonight’s Better Things, titled “Monsters in the Moonlight,” middle child Frankie gets a driving lesson, Duke manipulates Sam into an early driving lesson which sets off Frankie.
And Sam fights some monsters.
At work on a zombie film, Sam deals with unsafe working conditions and has a moment when she learns she is not making as much as her male acting peer.
The ghost of her late father haunts her as she bravely picks a moment to stand up for herself with the director who is flagrantly ignoring all SAG rules for the cast and crew.
The season is colored with changes for everyone, especially Sam’s three girls.
Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood, and Olivia Edward “have developed a certain bond,” Madison told Monsters and Critics at this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour.
“It is nauseating,” Alligood replied sarcastically, her words briefly echoing the sibling rivalry between the show’s two eldest daughters.
On the Peabody Award-winning series, Max (Madison), Frankie (Alligood), and Duke (Edward) are a frequent source of frustration, joy, and pride (sometimes all at once) for their mother, Sam, played by Better Things’ co-creator and director of its entire second season, Pamela Adlon.
At the TCAs, the trio discussed their characters, what they’ve learned from Adlon, and the way the show has affected their own lives with us:
Monsters and Critics: SO there’s a lot of physical changes and emotional changes and vocational changes, educational, vocational, for all your characters…
Olivia Edward [Duke]: I was really excited when I read the script to see Duke growing up really quickly because every season you see the characters will go off and grow up just a little bit more, so when they grow up a lot it’s really great to see, so I was really excited.
M&C: Yes…Mikey you went to college and then you hated it.
Mikey Madison [Max]: Yeah.
M&C: You were allergic to everything, the slipper advice didn’t work.
Mikey Madison: [Laughs] yeah those were excuses for her. I think she was too proud to actually say that she wanted to come home, that she missed her family, and that she wasn’t ready to leave. And so, like you said earlier, she’s very emotional, and she shows things in an emotional way, and it can be aggressive or different at times but that’s the only way that she kind of knows how to do these things.
Yeah, so she was not ready to leave, I think overall in this season there’s just been like an overall level of discomfort in herself and unknowing, and so many physical changes…spirit changes. Her weight gain was really difficult for her, and I think that without any words, kind of encompasses how she feels, just kind of out of control.
M&C: Stay with me for a minute, I felt like your character is most like your mother, Sam. You’re the creative one, you’re the one that wants to do photography, you want to stage things, you’re not really wanting to be an actress, but you’re wanting to do something creative and very visual. I think more so than these two. Is that true or false?
Mikey Madison: I think that’s true and it’s interesting that you say they’re so similar because I agree with that, and I think if Max were here she would disagree, because in a lot of ways she admires her mother, but she thinks she’s so different, and that’s why they butt heads so much, I think because they are so similar.
M&C: Right, and Hannah, your character Frankie is the fire and the intellect in the family. You really are. As a viewer, to me, I think that your character bedevils Sam the most because I think that she thinks there’s something about you that’s going to go so far beyond their immediacy, their acting, arts world. Is that true or false?
Hannah Alligood [Frankie]: I feel like that’s very true. We don’t really touch on that quite as much. But I think you’re right. I don’t even know what else to say, it’s kind of true, you kind of took all the descriptors surrounding that.
M&C: Do you feel like your character is a fighter?
Hannah Alligood: Definitely. I definitely think Frankie’s a fighter.
M&C: This season you’re having a bit more contentious moments with Olivia’s character Duke, but then at the same time you revert right to her sister when she really needs you…
Hannah Alligood: Right she sort of has to evolve, in a sense that she’s always the serious analytical one, she’s the person to go to for information, she’s got the hard stuff. But then she also has to sort of grow up for Duke.
She has to sort of become that figure for her, when Duke gets her period, and she’s like “hey this is hard and I need you to help me with it.” And Frankie has to step up and do that.
M&C: Olivia, I feel like your character and Celia Imrie’s character have an unspoken, kind of a soulful connection. You want to talk about Celia and your characters approach to hers?
Olivia Edwards: So Celia is incredible, and then she plays Phyllis so incredibly well, and the character Phyllis herself, she is very playful, and she likes to joke around, and she will be extremely honest like a little kid. And Duke can sometimes feel like an old soul. So they usually get along very well, ’cause sometimes they have the same mindset.
And they both care for Sam, even if Phyllis can care in a more openly way. They kind of have an unspoken connection.
M&C: Who are your character’s favorite character in the series?
Olivia Edwards: I think she really loves her mother Sam, but I don’t think she could ever do it to herself to choose between Frankie and Max, because they’re her sisters, I think in that way you shouldn’t have a favorite. So, but I think she likes to protect Sam a little bit, when they start to get annoyed at her or anything, I feel like she likes to protect Sam sometimes.
M&C: Mikey, your character had such a great send-off at the end of last season, that wonderful dance you guys did, to basically reassure you that you’re loved and everything’s going to be okay. Who’s your characters Rosetta Stone in the series?
Mikey Madison: I think Max would probably say she is the most important person, but I think her mother actually is.
Because her mother is pretty much the only one that’s guiding her through these experiences. At this point in her life, she’s a girl kind of pretending to be a woman, but she thinks she’s already a woman, and she’s just sort of aimlessly wandering and her mother’s the one that’s kind of bringing her back on the trail, and helping her get to her destination.
Hannah Alligood: God, I love that answer.
Mikey Madison: Aw.
Hannah Alligood: So good.
M&C: And Miss Hannah, I feel like Diedrich Bader (Rich), you guys have a very kind of close relationship. He’s very paternal with you.
Hannah Alligood: Yes, Very dynamic. I love the dynamic between Rich and Frankie, it’s cool, it’s playful, and it’s like-Yeah I think that’s true. I really love the relationship.
M&C: What do you hope for your character?
Hannah Alligood: That’s a good question because I really just kind of want to see Frankie explore the different aspects and potential ways to live her life. To sort of figure out who she is more, work more on that, and so that everyone can see that.
M&C: Right. They did some really interesting things with your character, at the end of season one…
Hannah Alligood: Yeah, and I actually still get questioned about that. And it’s one of those things it’s like life, it’s not just handed to you, all the answers to life are not just spoon fed to you and that’s what I think is so beautiful about our show.
M&C: What’s your opinion about your father?
Olivia Edwards: Duke always tries to spend as much time as she can with her father. If it could be her way, she’d want everyone to be a family again. But this season she kind of starts to see why they’re not a family anymore. She can see how he’s manipulating her.
Making her do these things that she doesn’t want to do. She doesn’t want to hide anything from her mom, she should feel open with her mom, and he’s kind of making her hide this thing from her mom and she does not want to pit one parent against the other.
M&C: Right, and then last season, of course, Mikey, you were left high and dry emotionally too by your dad, it was a big moment in your life, he promised he was going to be there. Just like he promised this season he was going to be there for you…
Hannah Alligood: Not for Frankie, not yet. There hasn’t been a distinct abandonment yet. But I think Frankie tries to actively seek out this relationship with her father. Because it’s one of those things that she and Sam can butt heads about and because she wants that attention from her, so she goes seeking it from her father.
M&C: Okay fun question, I love the set decoration and I love all the art, what’s your favorite pieces of art or tchotchke’s or lamps, all those mid-century lamps? Tell me your favorite thing that you would love to steal from the set once the show wraps?
Olivia Edwards: I definitely have mine — the statue, some people notice some people don’t, but I want that. Every time they go down, up the stairs. The touch the statue…
So, of course, I want to take it because I think I would, obviously I think one of us should have it…That was such a big part of the show.
Hannah Alligood: I think it’s very metaphorical, I think too, at least for me. Because it’s pretty much the only man in the house, and like you were saying about their father who’s not there, talking with friends, at least, when they have divorced parents, they say that the parent that isn’t necessarily there all the time, they kind of idolize and put into a higher light, that necessarily shouldn’t be there. And so I think just at least for me metaphorically, going up and down the stairs every time they pass it they acknowledge this statue and its kind of like, yeah the relationship with their father.
Besides the statue, there’s this lamp in Frankie’s room, that’s like a woman’s head and shoulders, and it’s the lamp sort of above, I just really like it. I would take that.
Mikey Madison: Sometimes I get lucky and costumes let me bring home something, like a shirt or a dress or, a pair of shoes that I get to steal. But there always been this little … I think it’s meant for a plant, but it’s a face and it’s a vase and it kind of looks like me, and that’s why Pamela picked it, and I just feel like it, I don’t know-
M&C: Hopefully you’ll wind up with it.
Mikey Madison: Hopefully, maybe! I just love it, I think it’s so angelic and just really cute.
Better Things airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. EP/PT on FX.