I'm talking to Pamela Adlon on the phone. We've been chatting for a while about life, love and her creative partner Louis C.K and she's on a roll, talking from the heart about the vagaries of existence, the challenges of parenting and the pursuit of truth in her work above all else.

It's electric and she's building to a crescendo that I can feel is going to be hugely inspiring and possibly life-changing.

And then... the phone cuts out. I'm left speechless, just not in the way I was expecting. A few minutes later she calls back.

"Where did I get cut off?" she asks.

Advertisement

You'd just said, 'and at the end of the day...'

"Oh f**k! It was really good what I was saying. Oh my God. It was so goood! And I don't remember," her voice breaks in mock agony. "I have no idea what I was saying because three of my kids just came home with two of my not kids ... Sh*t! What was I saying?"

This very much feels like a scenario right out of her new dramedy Better Things, which has just been added to the streaming service Lightbox. It's a darkly funny, all too real, sitcom that follows Adlon's character, Sam Fox.

"The bones of my life are the show," Adlon says. "She's a single mum, working with three girls in Los Angeles and my English mother lives across the street. That is completely honest. Those are biographical but the rest are stories taken from my life and my childhood and my friends and things that inspire me."

What inspires you?

"I used to always read People magazine quite religiously and it was always the human interest stories that would compel me. I'd be reading this kind of trashy magazine and then really glom on to these pieces," she laughs. "I like the real things that are within the other stories."

Still from Pamela Adlon's show Better Things
Still from Pamela Adlon's show Better Things

As such Adlon has ensured Better Things is dedicated to that realism with all but the most perfect/deluded of parents failing to relate to the frequently frazzled and exhausted Sam. The series is grounded in a way most traditional family sitcoms simply aren't.

"That's always been a huge part of what I respond to and what I hope I'm conveying. If it rings false in any way or anything's inauthentic than I run in the other direction. I'm very excited to have a forum where I could tell stories that were grounded in complete reality and didn't go off into some place that was big. I don't respond to comedy or stories that are big and broad or stories. I latch on to things that feel real and relatable."

This of course means the series deals with a lot of mundane things, Sam is frequently in her car ferrying her kids around for example. But episodes also explore her daughter getting her first period, the crushing inertia of teenage insecurity, the complexities of adult relationships (both single and married) and the unrealistic beauty standards foisted on women.

"I wanted to see this type of story on television," Adlon says. "It excited me to be able to do this and tell stories like that instead of going into fantasy and whimsicality."

With so much of it being pulled from her own life, I ask whether she ever had reservations about putting so much of herself out there? Her answer is immediate.

"No. I don't," she says. "Every once in a while I grit my teeth and squint my eyes and go, 'ahhhh... this may hurt later'. But I always know it's worth it."

"Louis CK, who writes the shows with me, when we're writing stuff if I say, 'I hate this', he says, 'That's what we need to go with'. Anything that makes us really uncomfortable, if we move into it, it always pays off. Then it becomes ok because it becomes something that's important or true or deeply, darkly funny. Which is what I love."

It's an incredibly brave thing to do...

"Stop!" she laughs. "You're scaring me."

Pamela Adlon stars as Sam in Better Things
Pamela Adlon stars as Sam in Better Things

Adlon's been working with C.K for over a decade now. She wrote episodes of and starred in his show Louie, which is tonally similar to Better Things, and it seems he is now returning the favour, by writing and directing episodes for her. He was also the one who pitched her to FX, the network funding the show, when they were looking for a series with "a woman's voice".

"When Louis told me I was like, 'are you kidding me? That's gonna be impossible," she says. "But I guess my life prepared for me for doing such a thing and taking on such a task. Being a mum in the way that I am it was a unique sort of boot camp for me to get into that mindset."

Are you as unconventional as your character?

"Oh God! I think it's really good that you said that because I feel like when your kids grow you have to remove the conventions of your life and the way you were brought up," she says. "You can't stay stagnant in what your upbringing was. You can't be so rigid that you can't change. When your kids get older you have to change. If you're not pliable you'll break and fall apart."

This happens regularly throughout the first season as Sam tries to keep her parental connection with her children without driving herself crazy in the process. It walks the line between highly comical and slightly depressing.

"Well," Adlon says as we wind up our chat. "That's life, ya know?"

LOWDOWN
Who: Pamela Adlon
What: Better Things, her new sitcom co-created with Louis C.K
When: Available to stream on Lightbox now