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9 Quick Questions for Pamela Adlon

It’s a wrap for FX’s ‘Better Things,’ but the creative force behind the show is just getting started

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Corey Nickols/Contour by Getty Images

Emmy-winning Pamela Adlon — co-creator, writer, star, director and producer of the FX series Better Things — embraces her character Sam Fox’s messy life. On the show, she plays a single working mother raising three daughters and grappling with her own aging, all while managing her increasingly health-challenged mother. In a case of life imitating art, much of the show resembles Adlon’s own life.

Given the show is semi-autobiographical, did your own family say anything was off-limits? 

I don’t think when we started anybody knew how serious this was going to get. It was more like, “Who’s really going to watch this show about my mom?” It’s very respectful, a loving look. What I always say about Sam is that she’s like me in a cape. She’s the worst of me and the best of me. In lots of ways, I learned how to be a better person and a more patient person, because I’ve had seven years with this show, five seasons, to reflect on my life. My kids were all young and living at home when I started this show. Now two of them don’t live at home anymore. They’re all grown.

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Does the end of Better Things mark a transition in your own life? 

Some people have asked me, “Does it make you feel sad?” Well, I have been having these feelings for years. You can’t help it — it’s all culminating. A year ago, I was just having dreams about my kids being babies again, and isn’t that the biggest irony? I finally have some peace and I’m, like, “Hey everybody, come back.”

When you were growing up, was there a show that inspired you, a show you never missed?

There were so many. I was obsessed with television. It would have to be Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. I would do a combination of blinking my eyes and trying to teleport myself, really thinking I could.

Is there something you learned in the last seven years doing Better Things that you wish you knew when it started?

I said this in Season 4: “I wish I had done more sit ups.” My God, why don’t they tell you?

But that’s why women of a certain age like your show: You’re 55 and real.

That’s why I did the menopause episode, because I was asking my friends about their experiences and so many people were like, “Don’t tell anybody that I’m telling you this ...” These stories are coming out. That’s why I say in Season 4, “Women need to be brothers to each other.”

Your dad was a television comedy writer-producer. You’ve been acting since 11, with a role on Facts of Life as a teenager. Was show business a given?

I wish I wasn’t so myopic about my career and just waiting for the phone to ring as an actor. It didn’t dawn on me until I was a few years into my show that Oh, my God, this is my legacy. I’m doing what my dad did. I already really admired that, and I always loved being behind the scenes and felt like that was a place for grownups and people who could make decisions. I could never ever even imagine or dare to dream that I could be there.

So many people want to write for personal or professional reasons. Any secrets to success?

If you don’t have a place to write, get out of your house, because I feel like there’s nothing more insidious than saying, “OK, here you are in the same corner, and then here’s your bed.” I’m lucky enough that I have a really beautiful office in West Hollywood, which is like an old bungalow. It’s very special and it really helps me. My dad used to say, “If you write one sentence a day, you’ve written. Don’t get yourself in your head about it.” 

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You told me right at the beginning of our interview, “I’m not retiring.” So what’s your next act?

Nobody’s retiring anymore, right? Now I have this tool kit. It’s just like I rushed a filmmaking fraternity and I got in, and now I have all these tools and I can hang shingles outside. I have a way that I make film and television. I have my proof of concept here, and I’m just going to go out and knock on people’s doors and say, “Hey, what have you got? Want me to tell your story?”

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"Better Things" actors from left: Pamela Adlon, Caleb Mantuano, Olivia Edward, "Listen to the Roosters," (Season 4, ep. 410, aired Apr.30, 2020).
Suzanne Tenner/FX/Courtesy Everett Collection

You were featured on an episode of Finding Your Roots, where you learned that you are cousins with Meryl Streep. Have you reached out to tell her?

Oh, my God, I don’t think she’d believe me. I love her. [That show] was bombshell after bombshell.

Watch it: Better Things, Mondays on FX. Episodes also will be available to stream on Hulu.


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