Lunchtable TV Talk: Pamela Adlon

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I woke up this morning feeling cold, cranky and unwell, thinking to myself, “I am so tired and so done.” I was overwhelmed by the exhaustion of extending myself too far, from bending in every possible direction to always show others I love and support them, in particular when it’s so thankless and often feels one-sided. It’s easy to get mired in feeling sorry for yourself.

And then I remembered: oh yes, Pamela Adlon‘s Better Things returns with a new season today, and despite the intentional decline in my television viewing, this is something I am genuinely excited about. Dealing with all manner of topics from being a single mom to three children to being the daughter of a challenging parent to menopause to dating and sex after 50, the thing I keep coming back to Better Things for is the deep wells of love and compassion that Adlon’s main character draws from and shows without reservation. Thinking of Adlon’s boundless love (and talent) kind of helped me get out of bed this morning.

For whatever reason, the picture Adlon has painted, and imprinted so that I continually return to it, reminds me vaguely of a Japanese poem, “What a Little Girl Had on Her Mind” by Ibaragi Noriko. It ends with (italics mine):

“The little girl grew up.
She became a wife and then a mother.
One day she suddenly realized;
the tenderness
that gathers over the shoulders of wives,
is only fatigue
from loving others day after day.

I suspect, since she writes and directs the show, that its heroine isn’t too different from Adlon herself. I suspect that she, like the character, receives frantic calls for help from her kids, from her friends, at all hours, and despite the agony she feels (and she makes this look realistic, painful and heartfelt), no matter how busy or tired she is, no matter the annoyance and anger she may feel in equal measure, she is overwhelmed by the need to love and support and take care of. Sometimes it’s so palpable in watching her that I almost hope she won’t respond with love, care and understanding. (Take care of yourself, lady!) But she always does. The woman knows what’s important, and I can’t think of a better thing to spend my time watching…

Never mind that I love Adlon and have since she was very young in films like Grease 2, of all things. She was one of the most enduringly brilliant parts of Californication. Don’t get me started on the voiceover work. And even if all of this was lovely, she’s really come into her own and owns this quiet but revolutionary space that is Better Things. She is in control; she runs the show (figuratively and literally in this case); she (Adlon) and her character balance toughness with vulnerability and abundant love. It’s remarkable.

As a side note, I’ve written about my strange, down-the-rabbit-hole viewings of actors interviewing actors, and one of my all-time favorites, which I stumbled on two or so years ago is Sterling K. Brown in conversation with Adlon. I loved what a giddy, respectful fanboy he seemed to be. Imagine my utter delight when I saw that Adlon turned up in a recent episode of Brown’s This Is Us as his new therapist. It was perfect.