Pamela Adlon: ‘Maybe some knuckleheads will watch Better Things and something will shift’

Pamela Adlon is standing in the sunlight in her Los Angeles office, and she is surrounded by whiteboards. They’ve been neatly divided with yellow tape into 10 equal sections. Each represents an episode of the fifth and final season of Better Things, the wise, heartfelt and very funny comedy series the 56-year-old has written, directed and starred in since 2016. Cryptic headings, scrawled in black marker, deliver a taste of Adlon’s joyful, profanity-spiked sense of humour. “C***ceptionist”, reads one. Another, in big capitals: “VERY GAY”. She steps back to take it all in, tugging the sleeves of her black sweater over her hands. “This is the entire season,” she says, emotion seeping through the trademark gravel in her speech. “It’s gonna be hard for me to wipe these boards.”

Adlon has been making a living from her unique voice since she was nine years old. For decades she was best known for prolific voiceover work, including her Emmy-winning role as pre-teen Bobby Hill on long-running animated sitcom King of the Hill. Her husky tones, once described by The New Yorker as sounding like a “child chain-smoker”, have given life to characters everywhere, from Rugrats to Rick and Morty and Big Mouth. However, it’s as the writer and director of Better Things that Adlon has finally been able to use her voice in the fullest sense. The loosely autobiographical show began as a meditation on single motherhood, but over its 52 episodes has blossomed out to take in life, the universe and everything. “I always say that FX was paying for my therapy,” jokes Adlon of the network that hosts the show in the US. “But also I’ve always wanted to have a talk show, and I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and I’ve always wanted to be a coach.”

In Better Things, Adlon finds an outlet for all those impulses. She stars as Sam Fox, a lone mother of three daughters living in Los Angeles and scratching out an uncertain living as an actor and director. Her home is warm and full of art, and her truculent British mother Phyllis – or rather Phil (played by the always magnificent Celia Imrie) – lives next door. It’s a show about finding meaning and purpose in the everyday, where the simple act of cooking a hearty chilli for one’s family takes on the significance of religious ritual. “It’s a way to live your life, in a way,” says Adlon of the series’ meditative message. “You don’t have to just sit in a cold room with four walls and a light bulb. If you take the time to do certain things and live your life a certain way, you’re going to be saving yourself money, saving yourself time, wasting less, living better.”

Continue reading at The Independent