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Pamela Adlon on Making ‘Better’ Television (Part 2)

Pamela Adlon, creator and star of Better Things
‘Better Things’ creator and star Pamela Adlon (Image credit: FX)

As FX comedy Better Things approaches its series finale, Pamela Adlon — creator, star, showrunner, executive producer, director — spoke with B+C about wrapping up five seasons of the critically adored series. The Better Things finale is on April 25. She detailed how she interacts with superfans, the unsung members of the Better Things crew, and saying goodbye to her TV family. An edited transcript follows. 

B+C: Tell me about a fan of the show, like a superfan, that you ran into on the street or in the airport, somebody that just had a unique connection to the show. 

Pamela Adlon: It happens all the time. I mean, people are so impacted by the show. It's like I have a responsibility. When they see me, they can’t articulate how they feel. I usually just give them a hug, because there's really nothing you can say. 

It doesn't happen unless I talk — nobody knows who the fuck I am unless they hear my voice. Then it's a dead giveaway.

B+C: What’s it like leaving your TV family — your TV daughters, your TV mom? Is that difficult?

PA: Because I've seen two of my kids move out of my house since I started this show, and the transitions we’ve all made in our lives, and losing some relatives and friends, that’s been my practice for this. So I don’t feel melancholy or sad. I feel extremely grateful, like I’ve had this privilege to be able to have this time and this platform to create this show and make it with all these wonderful people. I adore them. I feel, I mean, like Celia [Imrie, who plays Phil] is so close to me, and she knows my mom and they love each other, and so we're all linked in some way forever.

B+C: Is there an unsung member of the cast, of the crew? Somebody that just doesn't get acclaim they deserve?

PA: The people that are just so huge to me include Forrest Stangel, my camera guy who has been with me since the beginning; Alaina [McManus], who runs my camera department; Jessica [Elliott], who’s my costumer; Richard [DeAlba], who's my hair guy, and Ralph [Abalos, hair]. 

It's all the people who keep the show going with me. My writers every season. But there's no way I can express what it's like to have Jess go into my trailer with me, figure out what we're wearing — ‘Oh my God, what just happened in the scene before?’ ‘OK, well, you were wearing that because that was this day’ — and just running through the whole scenes. And then Babette Stith, who's my script supervisor, who keeps me going and keeps my head on straight and gives me shit and we have our little meals together. And my first ADs, Sally Sue [Beisel-Lander] and Maria [Mantia]. Those are the people that just are the most unsung, really, behind the camera, and just keep my morale up and protect me.

B+C: In terms of being a director, who do you consider an influence?

PA: Every single thing that I see influences me. I have TCM on like 24/7.

Probably as a filmmaker, my biggest influence is John Cassavetes, just because of the fluid, organic, raw … Just the time that he takes, the way people talk, the scary intimacy that he told stories with, was a big deal for me.

B+C: Do you ever think about the Better Things legacy?

PA: If I think about legacy, it's just that it's always going to be there for people. 

I really worked hard to make the show an international show. It's not an American show, it’s not a show just for women, it’s not a show just for moms — there’s something for everybody in there. And it’s like a lifestyle tool, a love tool, a blueprint for better... It's like Better Homes and Gardens magazine, but just like in a cool aesthetic. ■

Part 1

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.