Better Things: “Brown” Season 1 Episode 3 Review

Photo Credit:http://www.avclub.com/tvclub/lenny-kravitz-stops-better-things-little-racism-243038

“Brown” is a very smartly written and crafted episode of television. It’s three act structure initially plays like an episode of Louie going off on a bit of a tangent (which makes sense, as Louis C.K. wrote this episode), but the final scene collects everything and packages it as a perfect little common tragedy of life. The tragedy in question is one of love, exploring the side where the people we end up with long-term can disappoint us and the ones we meet for on fleeting moment of perfection disappear never to be heard from again. But “Brown” is no Before Sunrise. There’s something missing here integral to telling this type of story.

The opening scene introduces us to Sam’s director on the film she’s working on, Mel (Lenny Kravitz). The script quickly identifies him as a troubled artist with a brilliant mind being wasted on turmoil in his personal life. Sam’s concern for him appears to be purely out of friendship, which is how he appears to respond to her as well. It’s only when Sam gets in the car with her friend that the idea of a romance is introduced.

Later on, when Mel goes to Sam’s house for dinner with the family, Phyllis gives Mel a strange look. He brings it up to Sam later in private that she should have warned her mother that her dinner guest was black. It’s an interesting debate. Sam shouldn’t have to warn her mother about the color of her friend’s skin, but by not doing so, she prompted an uncomfortable meeting followed by such a supremely uncomfortable anecdote about a sock Phyllis found in London with the color actually caller “N*gger Brown.” Nisha Ganatra, who directed this episode, frames the scene as awkwardly as possible, making it last as excruciatingly long as it can. Then, in his best moment of his guest appearance, Kravitz flashes a smile toward Sam just before we cut to commercial. It’s the only moment before the final scene where Sam and Mel seem to acknowledge any romantic connection at all.

And that’s the problem with “Brown.” The final scene is meant to invoke the sadness of a lost opportunity that, given different life circumstances for these two, could potentially be an answer to their individual romantic situations. It’s further highlighted by the scene where Sam chews out her friend’s husband for ruining her. We’re meant to see Sam’s fantasy life with Mel as an answer to not having that happen. But it’s just that, a fantasy. Mel is going through a divorce, of which the reasons are not brought up. He may be just as broken as Sam’s friend and her husband. But the possibility of a genuine romance is always more enticing to fawn over after the fact than an eventual divorce. These are worthwhile meditations for Better Things to have, but there’s just not enough chemistry displayed to make it feel genuine. For that, “Brown” unfortunately falls a bit flat. But at least we know the writing and directing chops on the show know how to sell these kinds of ideas. In these tight 22 minutes, the show touched on social norms, how we love, how we get trapped, and racism. It just needed that extra push from the actors to send it over the edge. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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