While the semi-autobiographical FX series Better Things borrows liberally from showrunner and creator Pamela Adlon's life, the show is hardly a self-centered pursuit. According to Adlon, the show, which follows Sam Fox (Adlon) as she both mothers her three daughters and juggles a career, is also her way of being a guide to both young women and moms everywhere.
"I know that when I was a teenager and then when I was in my 20s, and then when I was a young mom and all of that, I wish that I had more information," Adlon tells Bustle. "So it's kind of like a way of sharing information and lessons that I've learned." And if Better Things has shown anything, it's that mothering is not for the faint of heart. But Adlon says she's a mother first, both onscreen and off, and she utilizes those skills in her career.
In real life, the showrunner also has three daughters and a British mother, who lives next door to Adlon. But when I ask if she ever gets pushback from her family about basing storylines around their lives, Adlon surprises me by saying that they love it. "[Better Things] gives them a voice, and it gives their friends a voice, and their friends are seen," she says.
Adlon cites the Season 2 episode "Phil," which shines a light on Sam's mother (Celia Imrie), who's struggling to hide her failing mental health. "It's a tough episode to watch; it’s extremely touching. It's brutal and scary, and I sat and watched it with my mom — she laughed through the whole thing!" Adlon recalls, chuckling. "So that kind of gives you a look into my own mom's psyche. So I think she's just happy to be part of the conversation." That said, the showrunner explains that she always asks permission before including anything and says she only had to refrain from including something once.
Naturally, Adlon's maternal instincts don't shut off when she leaves the house in the morning. "I look at the people who work on my show as my children," she says. "I call all my crew my kids." The showrunner explains that she loves being able to take care of her crew and feeds them four times a day with "amazing craft service."
"That's silly to some, but to me that's important because I'm a mother first," she says. "[I want] my actors to feel safe, for them to get direction from me in a nurturing way as opposed to directors who come in and have nothing to offer, or directors who come in and they're so heavy-handed. My crew’s able to operate at a very high frequency."
And it's clear that Adlon is excellent at her job. "It's something I was born to do," Adlon says about being a showrunner. "I was born to run a set and take care of people in that way.... I'm just modeling a kinder, more efficient, more artful way of running a show."
And although she treats her crew like her children, she doesn't consider the show itself her child. "I look at Better Things as just this beautiful jewel," Adlon explains. "I feel like it's a present that I'm giving. And it's therapeutic for a lot of people. They get to feel a lot of feelings, they get to laugh, they get to feel shocked and excited, and I love that.... To have that kind of passion directed at your project? It's an amazing feeling."
But while Adlon may treat her employees like her children and see her series as a precious gift, it's clear that her daughters will always come first. "At the end of the day, the whole show...really is a love letter to my family," she says, "because my family is the love of my life."