'Better Things' Creator Pamela Adlon on Making an Autobiographical Show: "I Like Things That Feel Real"

The comedy, which counts Louis C.K. as a producer, premieres this fall.
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'Better Things' TCA panel

Pamela Adlon has spent the better part of the last decade working alongside Louis C.K. Now, she's breaking out with her own show.

The comedian and actress stars in FX comedy Better Things — which she also created, directed and produced — due out this fall. In a panel for the upcoming series at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour on Tuesday, Adlon and fellow Louie executive producer Blair Breard explained why Better Things doesn't quite fit into any category.

"It's like with Louie, I feel like there's no category for these kind of things. It's not comedy or dramedy," said Adlon, who previously spent seven seasons on Showtime's Californication. Instead, she described the series, which C.K. also produces, as the "incredible feeling show."

Breard acknowledged that the series does have to be categorized to a certain extent because of the nature of the business, but that they still manage to cross all sorts of boundaries. "There's so much heart and reality and a lot of humanity," she said. "In all these life moments that are happening, if you can't have a sense of humor about it, you're just never going to get through it."

During the half-hour panel, Adlon also was asked about the show's strong autobiographical elements, and how she keeps from invading her family's privacy. In the series, Adlon plays Sam, a working actor with no filter trying to earn a living and navigate her three daughters’ lives. Like her character, Adlon has three girls in real life.

"I'm very aware of things that would be too personal," she said, insisting that she wouldn't do anything to co-op her daughters' lives. Her mother, however, is fair game. "She just walks in the kitchen and I pull out a pen. I know it's going to be material for me," Adlon joked.

Breard, for her part, went on to emphasize that just because a story is inspired by someone's personal life doesn't mean that it's an exact replica of actual events, pointing to Tig Notaro's Amazon comedy One Mississippi as another example. "Any art form — whether it's music or writing — can be mined from a personal place, but it doesn't have to be exactly what you experienced for it to be good and have depth and humanity," she said. 

The key to making material that feels real and relatable to Adlon is ensuring there's enough "heart." She added: "I feel like everything is funny in life. There's a lot of funny in the darkness. And I guess I like things that just feel real, and I don't like anything that is dark without a heart."

Better Things is set to premiere Thursday, Sept. 8, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.

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