Every week, the cast and crew of FX’s Better Things — a semi-autobiographical comedy created by Pamela Adlon and Louie C.K., centered on Sam Fox (Adlon), an actress and gnarly single mom of three girls, fantastically played by Olivia Edward, Hannah Alligood, and Mikey Madison — is taking EW behind the scenes. For each episode, a cast or crew member is recapping, sharing thoughts on what went down, and walking us through the ins-and-outs of the show. First up, Adlon (who also serves as a writer and executive producer, alongside C.K.) walks us through her personal series premiere, “Pilot/Sam.”
As told to Caitlin Brody:
On the opening credits, which include home videos of Pamela and her onscreen daughters:
That’s all real footage — it includes the actresses as young people, well, younger people, and old footage of me at a rally in Washington, D.C., marching for housing for homeless people. When I throw up the peace sign, that’s little Pamela! My brilliant editor, Gina Sansom, pieced the whole opening together. Once we wrapped, I called my steadicam guy, Luke, and said, “Hey, do you have a camera and can you come here? I’m gonna borrow the van with [my on-screen daughters] Hannah [Alligood], Mikey [Madison] and Olivia [Edward] — we’re gonna drive around LA and get footage for the opening credits.” I took them to the farmers market, the Paul Smith wall in Melrose, my favorite antique store, and we got that wonderful Abbey Road shot. I said to everybody, “OK, right foot first…” and we got that in one take. After we finished, I said, “I have one more stop I want to make.” There’s this car wash where you stay in the car and it costs, like, $6. I thought it would be such a visual scene. I told Mikey that once the brushes started sudsing up the windows, she should scream at me. Olivia was actually in the car for the shot, too, but she was ducking down so you can only see me and Mikey. It became this wonderful, beautiful sequence.
On the inspiration behind the premiere:
The pilot was written as a 24-hour insane day — every time Sam has down time, there’s something else and something else. My inspiration was All That Jazz, the Bob Fosse movie. Every morning he wakes up and says, “It’s showtime, folks!” The pilot was originally very relentless and this deep, harrowing look at 24 hours for this woman. It was Louis’ idea to open the series with the scene where Duke is having a tantrum at the mall. He’s a brilliant editor.
On how Sam and Pamela differ:
There are certain aspects that are very similar, but I have, I hope, a little more control. I took aspects of myself from when I was younger, and parts of me that are perhaps dormant, to fully shape her into a character that’s less me. Everything is fictionalized, but there is some stuff in there that happened to me when I was a girl, some that happened to my daughters — it all became a part of the fabric of the show.
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On Sam’s green cardigan, which was Pamela’s father’s, and other Easter eggs in the series:
There are a lot! Almost all of the art that you see in the house is mine — I took it off the walls of my house and put it on the walls of the fake-me’s house. In that opening sequence when the girls are against a pink wall, Olivia is wearing a poncho with orange fringe — that was my childhood poncho! I gave Celia [Imrie], who plays my mom, some of my mom’s jewelry. I put my dad’s ring on Adam Kulbersh, who plays my dad in the flashback scene.
On Constance Zimmer’s cameo:
We had never met before this! I had originally written that scene for Janeane Garofalo and Constance because we always get compared to each other; we lose jobs to each other. Constance was fantastic, and now she’s my homie — we text each other all the time.
On choosing the names of Sam’s daughters — Duke, Frankie, and Max:
I knew that my oldest was going to be Max, my middle, Frankie, and I was going to be Sam because those are all family names. Felicia Fasano, my casting director, came up with the name Duke for my youngest, which I really liked and thought was cool. I asked my mother to name the character of my onscreen mother, and she chose Phyllis. That was her mother’s name. Her father used to call her Phil, so that’s how it all shook out.
On the “Dedicated to my daughters” end credit:
I put that in the pilot and the finale — it’s a little surprise I have for my real girls because the show really is completely dedicated to them. We’re going to watch it together.
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Better Things airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.