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Pamela Adlon: 'Better Things' Season 3 Is 'An Exaggerated Version Of My Life'

Pamela Adlon stars as Sam Fox, a single working mother, in the FX series <em>Better Things.</em>
Suzanne Tenner
Pamela Adlon stars as Sam Fox, a single working mother, in the FX series Better Things.

Pamela Adlon is a member of the "sandwich generation" — the mothers/daughters and fathers/sons who find themselves simultaneously caring for their children and their parents. Adlon's three daughters live at home, and her mom lives next door — a reality reflected in Better Things,the FX series she writes, directs and stars in.

Now returning for its third season, the show centers on a single working mother of three daughters who is also trying to help her elderly mother and keep her acting career alive.

"It's an exaggerated version of my life," Adlon says.

The latest season of Better Things almost didn't happen. In 2017, Adlon's co-creator and longtime collaborator, Louis C.K., admitted to sexual misconduct with multiple women.

C.K. was removed as an executive producer of the series and Adlon severed ties with him, but Adlon says her heart was no longer in the project. She struggled to decide what to do with the series.

"I could not wrap my mind around how I could continue this professionally," Adlon says. "I did not know how to put my feet one in front of the other and move forward. ... I had to take a knee for some time."

Adlon says FX gave her the time she needed to "sit and think and get my bearings." Finally, she decided that the show would go on — but with a new set of writers.

"My friend [and Everybody Loves Raymond producer] Phil Rosenthal really helped me," Adlon says. "[He] kind of pointed me in a new direction that would help me resurrect my spirit and my passion for making my show again."

Interview Highlights

On hiring her first-ever writer's room for season three, after cutting ties with Louis C.K.

The submissions I was getting were only women. I was getting them from my network. I was getting them from my friends. And I said, "Hey, my writing partner for the last 10 years has been a man [Louis C.K.]. Please don't send me only women." So I read people, and I ended up hiring two women and two men. And I'd never been in a writer's room, let alonerun a writer's room. I still don't know if I did it the right way, but I did it the only way I know how to do it.

On being asked about Louis C.K. in the press

It's almost like women who are connected somehow to these men who have been shaken down by this thing — the women are almost being "reverse #MeToo-ed." If you have any affiliation, you're ending up answering for these things. ...

... we're having to answer for men, as opposed to talking about our lives and ourselves.

I'm talking about how everyone's relentlessly asking Sarah Silverman about him. And how Chloë Grace Moretz can't get away from it because she made this movie with him [I Love You, Daddy]. So we're having to answer for men, as opposed to talking about our lives and ourselves. It's difficult.

And then the women who were affected — the victims of these people and Louis — it's heartbreaking if there's anything but support coming in their direction. I wish that I could do something for them. And I wish that we would have to stop answering for the men.

On the way her body changed in mid-life, and how she incorporated that into show

My body changed. I got thicker. And I don't feel bad about my body, or anything, but it was shocking. And I remember being in my closet and trying on pants. I'm like, "I just wore these three months ago." Things were just tighter.

It was a moment that I thought, "Oh boy, I'm going to have to do this in my show." [When] you get into your 50s, your metabolism does funky things. I decided that it would be a very generous thing for me to kind of illustrate it in my show, so everybody doesn't feel so alone. That happened to me, and you sit there, and you're by yourself. And for people, women in particular, when our bodies don't measure up to what our idea is of what we're supposed to look like with our clothes off in the mirror, that's a shocking thing.

On filming a project when she was 15 years old, and having the director tell her it would be funny if she dropped her towel

By some grace of some inner strength, I said, "Oh no, I don't feel comfortable doing that." He wanted to see my butt. He wanted me to drop my towel. He said, "We'd only see your butt." And I was so uncomfortable.

There was an actor who was in a scene with me, and we were supposed to kiss. And I was terrified. I don't think I'd had a kiss yet. I remember him saying, "An apple is an apple, a plum is a plum, a kiss isn't a kiss without the tongue." And I was so grossed out.

This is the way I came up. This was the '80s. I really hope that things are different now. I really do. I think that they're changing. I don't think that they're absolutely different, because people need to be told the same thing over and over again before they get the picture.

On the differences she has noticed between her daughters' teen years and her own

There is so much more acceptance now. And there was so much shame when I was growing up — the shame of having to hide liking somebody; having to hide liking somebody who's the same sex as you; having to try to assimilate and hide who you are and the origins of who you are; having to hide your age. All of that. And I don't think that my daughters are growing up with that at all. ...

But at the same token, I would say it's almost more difficult, because when I was growing up, you could be bullied at school, somebody could pass you a note, somebody could physically do something to you, but you could go home. Now it continues in your phone. ...

Everybody's measuring themselves up to each other, and it's absolutely devastating. Because there is so much acceptance, yet all of these kids who are so beautiful and fluid and not claiming any sexuality or gender — they're so open — they're looking at each other's Instagrams and Snapchats, and they're comparing themselves, which is just poison.

Lauren Krenzel and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Seth Kelley and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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