By Kevin McDonough
Where does frank, bracing honesty end and self-indulgence begin? As the second season of "Better Things" (10 p.m., FX, TV-MA) begins, we see Sam (Pamela Adlon) facing the camera and engaged in some breathing exercises. She's trying to "center" herself. Then the camera pulls back to reveal that she's on the toilet. It retreats farther still to see her stand up and wield a plunger. So much for being centered.
Then she leaves the bathroom, and we learn that she's at a party. Or, rather, hosting a party filled with children, friends, friends of children and frenemies who reject a lavishly catered buffet to make special dietary demands. We quickly get the sense that Sam would rather retreat to her private room and her plumbing problems.
As the party limps from one awkward scene to the next, Sam's youngest entertains her friends with a game of Truth or Dare that quickly gets uncomfortable. And, in a plot development that's perhaps a tad too obvious, we see that nearly every adult conversation in this Hollywood milieu is a game of Truth or Dare. Are the children unusually precocious, or are the adults simply childish?
For the uninitiated, Adlon, a voice-over actress best known for voicing Bobby from "King of the Hill," plays Sam, a working actress and single mother. Her auditions often put her face to face with stars, including Julie Bowen, David Duchovny and Lenny Kravitz, who all cameo as themselves. But Sam's full-time gig is single motherhood and all its attendant angst.
Speaking of angst, "Better" is co-produced with Louis C.K. (who cast Adlon in his FX series, "Louie"). It shares his signature style of bittersweet humor and deadpan performances. The major difference is that "Better" takes place in a Los Angeles circle that seems more affluent than C.K.'s drab, single-dad Manhattan existence.
At its "warmest," "Better Things" can seem like "Parenthood" without the hugs. Adlon has been nominated for an Emmy in the lead actress in a comedy category. The Emmy Awards will be broadcast on Sunday.
• Sundance Now, AMC Networks' subscription streaming service, debuts "Riviera," a rather slick 10-part thriller, starring Julia Stiles and set on the posh French coast. Neil Jordan created the series but has distanced himself from the final product. I can't say I blame him.
• The Cincinnati Bengals host the Houston Texans (8:25 p.m., NFL). CBS begins broadcasting these Thursday night games on Sept. 28. Viewers can also stream the CBS feed on Amazon Prime on that date.
TONIGHT'S SEASON FINALES
• Jamie Foxx hosts "Beat Shazam" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG).
• Andy Cohen hosts "Love Connection" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
• Movie madness on "Project Runway" (9 p.m., Lifetime, TV-PG).
• "Truth and Lies: The Murder of Laci Peterson" (9 p.m., ABC) revisits a grim mystery.
• A plane crash offers an opportunity on "Zoo" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
• Members of the squad are held hostage on "Chicago Fire" (10 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
Highs and lows on "The Big Bang Theory" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) * Denver finals of "American Ninja Warrior" (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-PG) * Former reality TV stars play "Celebrity Family Feud" (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) * Illusionists audition on "Penn & Teller: Fool Us" (8 p.m., CW, TV-PG) * A healthy step forward on "Mom" (8:30 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) * Stuck inside on "Big Brother" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) * On two helpings of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" (CW, TV-14), Danielle Panabaker (9 p.m.), Tony Cavalero (9:30 p.m., r).
A free spirit (Goldie Hawn) liberates her blind neighbor (Edward Albert) from his suffocating mother (Eileen Heckart) in the 1972 drama-comedy "Butterflies Are Free" (9:45 p.m., TCM).
Jill Soloway is booked on "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah" (11 p.m., Comedy Central) * Katy Tur and Taylor Tomlinson appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS) * John Dickerson, Michael Rapaport and Grizzly Bear are booked on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (11:35 p.m., CBS, r) * Jimmy Fallon welcomes Jake Gyllenhaal, Dr. Jane Goodall and Yo Gotti featuring Nicki Minaj on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) * Stephen Colbert, Nina Dobrev and Dustin Lynch appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC) * Jennifer Lawrence, Caitriona Balfe, Ezra Klein and Elaine Bradley visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC) * Steve Harvey, Jenna Fischer and Prettymuch appear on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" (12:35 a.m., CBS).
© 2017, United Feature Syndicate