Single mom Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon) juggles raising three daughters, working as an actress, dealing with her mom and trying to have a bit of a personal life in FX's 'Better Things.'(Photo: Beth Dubber, FX)
Better Things doesn’t shy from uneasy situations.
In the FX comedy, which returns for Season 2 Thursday (10 ET/PT), Pamela Adlon’s Sam is raising a 16-year-old daughter who’s dating a 30-something Euro-hipster; a middle daughter who’s sent home from school after using the boys’ bathroom; and her youngest, whose truth-or-dare games are way too adult for a 9-year-old.
Sometimes, the only moment of peace and solitude for Sam, a single mother of three girls, is when she’s sitting on the toilet. As with many events on Better Things, it's an experience everyone can relate to but that is rarely discussed in polite company.
Adlon, who’s also a single mother of three girls, and her Better Things producing and writing partner, Louis C.K., aren't trying to be overly polite. The series co-creators embrace the unsettling as they explore difficult but real topics.
Pamela Adlon, left, and Louis C.K. are co-creators, writers and executive producers of FX's 'Better Things.' (Photo: Chris Pizzello, Invision/AP)
“What we found out is that when we start going down a road and exploring a story line, if it’s making either of us uncomfortable, we know we’re onto something,” she tells USA TODAY.
C.K., a top stand-up comic who won Emmys as he danced with discomfort on FX’s Louie, pays Adlon the ultimate compliment: “She’s funny. … She's quicker than I am. She takes you by surprise,” he says.
“She’s in full control of her voice. She has a great ear, which comes from years of doing voice work. She’s a wonderful photographer. All these things make her a great director,” which is especially helpful this season, since Adlon is directing all 10 episodes.
In its first season, Better Things earned critical acclaim, including an Emmy acting nomination for Adlon, 51, for her warts-and-all look at Sam, an actress who spreads herself thin raising her daughters, jousting with her politically incorrect mother, Phil (Celia Imrie), seeking acting work and trying to maintain a bit of a personal life.
Sam (Pamela Adlon), left, tries to figure out how to deal with teen daughter Max's (Mikey Madison) relationship with an older man in FX's 'Better Things.' (Photo: Jessica Brooks, FX)
Things don’t get easier: She’s still trying to separate eldest daughter Max (Mikey Madison) from her older boyfriend without alienating the rebellious teen, while tending to the needs of Max’s younger sisters, Frankie (Hannah Alligood) and Duke (Olivia Edward).
“Everybody’s growing and changing. That’s completely out of Sam’s control, so all you can do as a parent is try to adapt and guide. Sometimes, kids don’t want you to be involved,” Adlon says. “The theme for me this whole season would be: It takes a village. In my life, it’s certainly true. My friends are my rock.”
Sam’s attempts at a social life aren’t always pretty. In an upcoming episode, her dissatisfaction with a lover leads to a public dressing down both tense and hilarious.
Adlon draws on her family for some Better Things stories, but also on her youthful experiences with friends. “I take notes. I take pictures. I’m like, ‘Oh God, I’ve got to do that.’ ”
In contrast to Sam, Adlon is “more patient and a lot more agile. She can turn and pivot and she’s wise,” C.K. says. Sam “is kind of an alter ego and her inner id. She says a lot of things to her daughters in the series that she wishes she could maybe say in real life.”
Phil (Celia Imrie), left, and her daughter, Sam (Pamela Adlon), often don't see eye to eye on FX's 'Better Things.' (Photo: Beth Dubber, FX)
He's an Adlon cheerleader: "She’s not a glamorous actor. She’s a middle-class working actor. This is somebody working forever who has done nothing but get better. … If I’m an Emmy voter, which I am, it’s the only fun vote,” he says.
Adlon, who won an Emmy for voicing Bobby on Fox's animated King of the Hill, says she was surprised and honored to be nominated for lead comedy actress. She’s less excited about attending Sunday’s ceremony.
“I’m terrified,” she says. “It’s like the best/worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Louie C.K., Kevin Hart and Eric Stonestreet discuss the perils of pet ownership. Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY