Actress Pamela Adlon has grown a successful TV career over decades, without ever becoming the stereotype of a tabloid starlet hounded by paparazzi. She starred in Californication, co-created Louie with comedian Louis C.K., and won an Emmy for her voice-over work as 12-year-old Bobby Hill on the animated show King of the Hill. Now she's doing the most personal work of her life, with the comedy, Better Things.
On the show, Adlon plays Sam, a single mom raising three daughters, with a mother who lives across the street. In real life, Adlon has raised three daughters on her own, and her mother lives across the street. In the credits of Better Things, Adlon has four titles: actress, writer, director, producer.
While some TV programs seem created by committee with a team of network executives, Better Things is 100 percent Adlon. "This show came out of my vagina!" she shouts in her familiar raspy voice.
When we meet Adlon, she is dressed exactly like her character on the show. Her team is doing the final touch-ups on season two, which airs on FX in mid-September. The first season won a Peabody, and Adlon just received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Comedy Series. Her post-production offices are in a nondescript, brutalist concrete building that looks like it was suddenly abandoned 20 years ago. On the floor where Adlon works, there are half-dismantled cubicles and floppy disks scattered on the stained carpet.
"I've done photo shoots in here. I take people over and I threw the disks at the photographer," she says. But it's not as lowbrow as it looks. "Seth Rogen's right down the hall!"
She leads us into the room where she's reviewing the season two premiere. As the episode begins, she explains the personal significance of each camera shot. Some reflect memories of her own daughters, scenes that she recreated with the actresses playing her TV daughters. Even the opening credits are in her own handwriting. "That's my favorite color, green," she says.