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Pamela Adlon Talks Mining Her Life For “Better Things”

The Emmy-nominated star of the FX series “Better Things” explains the thrill of making art from “something that feels sh—y.”

Pamela Adlon Talks Mining Her Life For “Better Things”
Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox in Better Things [Photo: Pamela Littky, courtesy of FX]

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who have no problem delegating tasks and those who know it would be easier if they just did it themselves. The latter type may give off control freak vibes, but that’s exactly what’s needed at times–as Pamela Adlon can attest to with her critically acclaimed FX series Better Things.

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Adlon’s own life provides the framework for Better Things: a single mother of three daughters who’s balancing parenting, her acting career, and taking care of her increasingly dependent mother. The semi-autobiographical nature of the series helps explain why she’s so protective of it. Only her longtime collaborator Louis C.K. in on the creative process as the show’s co-creator, co-writer, and co-producer. For the second season, though, Adlon decided to direct everything herself.

“I knew that I was going to direct one or two episodes last season, and then this year it was a no-brainer for me to do it [all],” says Adlon, whose performance in the first season of Better Things earned her an Emmy nomination. “This season was easier because everything flowed through me. There was no committee. We didn’t have to wait. I made the decisions. I chose my frames. I was able to work with my actors. Like I said a million times, being the single mom of three girls is the best kind of boot camp for anything like this.”

Pamela Adlon in “Better Things.” [Photo: Beth Dubber, courtesy of FX]
In fact, Adlon’s jam-packed life is precisely what led her to create Better Things. “I’m fully engaged in everything that I’m doing and I’m living my life very hard with my kids. I cook and I take care of my mom,” Adlon says. “But I see the beauty in everything around me. I always see things like I’m in a movie, but it’s my real life. So it’s probably the natural way that I would end up making a show.”


Related: Inside FX’s “Fearless” Rise To TV Domination


Adlon’s slice-of-life approach to creating Better Things is what makes the show so endearing. It doesn’t try to blow everyday situations into something bigger than what they actually are–it allows the natural humor, heartbreak, and absurdity of life to exist as is.

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“I used to say that the log line for my show, if there was one, is ‘Life is what happens to you when you’re too busy to make any other plans,'” she says. “It’s like you think you can make plans, but then some insane, earth-shattering things happen. And then the next day you wake up and it’s just normal life again.”

Adlon and her on-screen kids (Olivia Edward, Mikey Madison, and Hannah Alligood). [Photo: Pamela Littky, courtesy of FX]
As close to her material as Adlon is, she doesn’t downplay Louis C.K.’s influential role as a collaborator. The two have worked together and starred in Louis C.K.’s previous television projects: the short-lived HBO sitcom Lucky Louie and the acclaimed FX series Louie. So when it came time to launch Better Things, she knew who to call. “We speak the same language,” Adlon says.

As for what she thinks of the recent allegations of sexual misconduct on Louis C.K.’s part and whether they have affected her relationship with him, Adlon says, “All I can tell you is that he is the best, most generous, collaborative, brilliant writer in the world,” she says. “And you can ask anybody who works with him that he’s just the best guy. That’s all I have to say.”

Adlon with her “Better Things” daughters. [Photo: Pamela Littky, courtesy of FX]
Running a show that rides parallel to her life has given Adlon some creative catharsis–a process she honed with her father Don Segall, a screenwriter who worked primarily in television, penning scripts for such series as Diff’rent Strokes and The Love Boat.

“From [ages] 11 to 18, it was rocky goings. And then I got out of the house, and my dad and I started working together and we would sit down and record our conversations very similar to the way Louis and I do now,” she says. “We were able to laugh and work through horrible family issues in our writing. It’s an amazingly cathartic thing to be able to make art out of something that feels shitty. It’s one of the greatest gifts of my life right now–that I can tell these stories for my daughters and their friends and my friends.”

Season two of Better Things premieres Thursday, September 14, on FX.

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.

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