The star and creator of the comedy hit tells Rebecca Nicholson about life, TV, bringing up three daughters as a single mother in LA and making it big after 50
This is fuckin inner sanctum, says Pamela Adlon. Were speaking over FaceTime, and this is a quiet morning in Los Angeles for her. Her writers are about to turn up and start working on season four of Better Things, the neat, witty and often beautiful comedy loosely based on Adlons own life. As soon as shes finished ordering lunch for her team, and sage to cleanse the energy of the office this is the West Coast, after all she leaps up and launches straight into a virtual tour. She shows me the lanterns that make the place cosy, and an old black-and-white picture of her English mother wearing her Canadian Air Force uniform. Theres a record player and a shelf full of vinyl. Look at this! she yells, as we whizz past a piece of paper taped on to a door that reads CRYING ROOM. You know, you just need a room where you can go and cry, she shrugs. We got these movie theatre seats, and it has chargers, and here is a little pedal bike and theres an African chair I got at a flea market. She makes me promise not to read the board on the wall behind her, where the plots are being worked out. Stop it! she shouts, grinning. Cover your eyes!
Adlon spends a lot of time in this inner sanctum. She writes and directs Better Things, the show she created about Sam Fox, whom she plays, a single mother who is a jobbing actor raising her three daughters in LA, just like she is. (Its first season ran in the UK earlier this year; the second, a low-key candidate for best comedy on TV, is about to begin.) Quietly brilliant, it is an unsentimental look at family life and working single mothers blunt, warm, fascinated by the absurdity of trying to hold it all together. Which, it turns out, is exactly what Adlon is like in real life. At times, trying to keep her on track in a conversation can be like filling a leaky bucket. That is probably not what you asked me. I tend to go off the rails, she says at one point, segueing from a story about selling all of her possessions in her 20s to her mother being born during the Blitz.
The show, which does not shy away from the difficulties of raising three young women under one roof, or looking after an elderly and increasingly dotty mother who lives next door, is often described as raw. I like raw, Adlon protests. I prefer raw to brave. When people are like, Youre so brave… She grabs a fistful of her legs. She has no qualms about appearing on screen in her pants. I tell my girlfriends, thats what real thighs look like. Im like: brave, bitch! So brave.
Better Things is about finding the humour and the heart in divorce, death, bad decisions, in not having enough time for your kids or your work, in having to grind to get by. I think the theme throughout the show is, theres hope and theres love and theres laughter, amidst all this dark shit, you know? Theres a flower growing up through a turd, she explains, succinctly. I like to feel hope, and I like to laugh at things that are dark. You need somebody in your life, if youre having the worst possible fucking day, to laugh at you. To point at you and say, Oh bro, thats hysterical.
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