What’s On: ‘Better Things’ is Better Than Ever, ‘Riviera’ on Sundance Now

Photo courtesy of FX Networks / Pamela Littky
FX Networks / Pamela Littky
Pamela Adlon of Better Things

A critical checklist of Thursday TV:

Better Things (10/9c, FX): In its second season, Emmy nominee Pamela Adlon’s wry and empathetic character study once again reveals itself to be one of the best things about TV. As Sam, weary in her single-motherhood to three daughters (each a gem of naturalistic casting) and sardonic in her attitude to the world at large, especially when it comes to men, Adlon keeps it real, and usually really funny. She also directs every episode this season and co-writes many with Louis C.K., whose no-bull sensibility also pervades this expertly observed dark comedy. The premiere is a slice of awkward life in Sam’s home, where she’s giving a party with little help from her daughters. Especially the eldest, Max (Mikey Madison), who’s flaunting her most inappropriate boyfriend to date.

Riviera (streaming on Sundance Now): As if the pages of Vanity Fair had come to life, this elegant but stiffly enervated 10-part mystery thriller is just the thing for those who love to watch pretty people in even more beautiful settings act miserable. Julia Stiles stars as the gorgeous (what else) trophy wife of a billionaire (Anthony LaPaglia) who dies mysteriously —OR DOES HE?—aboard a yacht off the coast of Monaco while she’s in London at an art auction, her specialty. Not the merriest of widows, she returns to her husband’s lavish Cote d’Azur villa, a glamorous backdrop for a tangled web of potentially lethal financial chicanery and family conflict. The glossy cast includes Lena Olin as her predecessor in the manse, Adrian Lester as a forger and Game of Thrones’ Iwan Rheon as one of her sketchy stepsons.

Truth and Lies: The Murder of Laci Peterson (9/8, ABC): The fourth installment of the true-crime franchise revisits a favorite tabloid case, more than a decade old, promising exclusive video and new interviews about the 2005 conviction of Scott Peterson for the murders of his wife and unborn son. An earlier edition of Truth and Lies explored the Menendez brothers’ case, soon to become a Law & Order-branded limited-series docudrama.

Inside Thursday TV: With more calamities than The Perils of Pauline, CBS’s Zoo (10/9c) strands our heroes in the hybrid zone after a plane accident, forcing Dariela (Alyssa Diaz) and Tessa (Hilary Jardine) to mount a rescue mission. … On Bravo’s Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce (10/9c), Abby (Lisa Edelstein) returns to her Lady Parts business to find everything changed, which necessitates making decisions behind Barbara’s (Retta) back. Unfortunately, it also means leaving her father (Barry Bostwick) home alone, a recipe for disaster. … Next to sign TBS’s The Guest Book (10:30/9:30): an Amish youth (Sebastian Schier) on his Rumspringa journey who hopes to find true love in “God’s country.”