Could Pamela Adlon’s searingly personal semi-autobiographical comedy Better Things feel any more intimate?
Apparently so: Adlon directed all 10 episodes of the second season, which delves even deeper into the life of her alter ego Sam Fox. With the series set to return this Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on FX, we spoke to Adlon about what to expect from the new season, working with Louis C.K., and what her real-life daughters think of the show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Better Things isn’t necessarily a plot-driven show, but are there any overarching themes or through lines we can expect in season 2?
PAMELA ADLON: I’m not objective, but I’m just so in love with all the episodes. They each feel like a little film to me. I’d say Sam is kind of more… she’s able to experience more things. There’s a lot of changes happening with her kids that are developmentally normal. There will be a lot of change happening, just because of who they are as a family and where they are. And questions about Sam’s mom will come up — you get more into her life and see different aspects of what she does and the involvement of the people in her life and things like that. The stories have been able to be more fleshed out, and we get underneath a lot of characters that you necessarily wouldn’t have thought that she would be exploring.
Sam’s mother Phyllis (played by Celia Imrie) was so memorable in season 1. What’s happening with her this year?
She’s definitely… you’ll see. I hate saying anything that’s a spoiler, but there’s a whole episode that’s called “Phil,” so you’ll find out. But yeah, it feels like she’s more even present this season — though if you ask Celia Imrie, she would be very hard-pressed to say she did enough. She always gets mad at me, and she throws away the script pages or whole scripts that she’s not in. [Laughs] She doesn’t care. She’s like, “I don’t care about that. I’m not in that!” It goes in the garbage.
From what I’ve seen of season 2, the actresses who play your daughters really deliver standout performances.
It’s amazing to see how they have grown. You know, Hannah [Alligood], who plays Frankie, had quite a bit to do this season. It’s like everything that I taught them and that they learned, they now have as tools, and so they just were able to hit the ground running this season. It’s an amazing thing to see where they were able to go emotionally and what their abilities are and how they’ve grown, and how they’re certainly eager. But the challenges that they had, they were able to just deliver these gorgeous performances and really be present and act with people other than me and be really able to engage. They’re just incredible. I just love them all so much.
So you directed all 10 episodes this time, and they definitely come off as more visually and aesthetically striking — maybe more cinematic than the first season. Tell me about your approach to directing the season.
I never want to waste a frame. I always look and see what I’ve got. And yeah, this season is quite cinematic, and just any opportunity that I would have to… like, I call it casting my car. So I have all these beautiful, classic cars in the show, and that’s part of it. That’s part of the fabric of what you’re looking at. And just, like, any place I could go, I went. I wanted to shoot at Musso and Frank — I wanted it so badly. And I was able to! The day I signed the check for that location was just the greatest day because it’s one of my favorite places in the whole world.
Music also seems to play a bigger factor now.
Certainly, music is a huge part of my art and what you’re seeing. I have a wonderful music supervisor this year, Nora Felder, who I’ve known since Californication, and between the indie artists that she’s giving me and my personal catalogue that me and my own real-life daughters listen to, we’re able to put together this amazing soundtrack.
One recurring theme in season 2 seems to be that while Sam thinks she always wants to get as far away from her kids as possible, she inevitably can’t stand being apart from them.
Yeah. You know, it’s so funny, because one of my best friends sent me an article that was on HuffPost. She sent it to me this morning, and it’s about the secret that parents aren’t talking about — it’s just about being completely overwhelmed and needing a break but not wanting your kids to go away. I mean, it’s exactly what I’m saying with my show. In my show, I’m saying it takes a village. It really does, and you have to lean on each other and accept help sometimes, and you’ll see that as this season plays out. That’s a big part of it.
Every episode of the series always feels so intimate and personal, and yet Louis C.K. is your co-writer on all these episodes. How is it working with him on such personal material? Or really working with anyone else that’s not you on things that seem so personal?
Sometimes when I’m in the editing room and there’s a new person there, like a music editor or a post person that I don’t really know, I’m like, “Oh, you shouldn’t be in here. This is too personal — you can’t watch this.” But then I’m like, hey dummy, you’re about to show this to the whole world. So I have to separate myself from that, And in terms of writing with Louis, it’s the greatest thing because he and I have been friends for 11 years and writing partners and sounding boards, so we know each other’s stories. We can kind of excavate and say, “Remember that story you told me that time about your brothers and who did the thing?” It’s a very rich working environment. Writing this season was just an incredible journey, going down these roads and telling these stories, and deciding which ones to go with and which ones to excise.
Have you given thought to season 3 yet?
Oh, all the time, thinking about it all the time. I mean, I was already thinking about it when we were shooting scenes in the kitchen during this season. I was like, “Oh my God, that has to happen. That has to happen!”
Have you started seeing life through kind of a Better Things lens, where everything that happens to you becomes a potential idea for an episode?
Oh God, it’s crazy because I see my post team every day — I went to a wedding a couple of weeks ago, and I came into the office Monday morning and told them everything that happened at the wedding. Everybody was dying. And my post PA, Ryan, said, “Does this happen to you because of Better Things, or does Better Things happen because it happened to you?” I’m like, there’s the existential question.
Is it getting harder to separate Pamela Adlon from Samantha Fox? Are you starting to not know where one ends and the other begins?
Sam is like… I mean, she’s an extension of me, but no. I mean, yes and no. It’s like, yeah, it’s me, but she’s not really me. It feels like it’s somebody else, but she is definitely me. She lives inside of me.
I know your daughters have a fair amount of input on the show. How do they view Sam versus the real you?
Well, I think that they just love the stories, and they love watching them play out. I think they appreciate that we have a voice in this show. And I can’t talk them out of anything. Like, if they decide, “Mom, you did that, that’s you,” I can’t talk them out of it, you know? Or if they recognize something that’s them, they go, “That’s me! I did that.” I’m like, okay. Well, it actually happened to me when I was 12, but if you want to think it’s you, that’s fine.