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Q&A with Pamela Adlon: ‘Better Things,’ using material from her family for the show and Warren Zevon’s ‘Steady Rain’

Geoff Edgers and Pamela Adlon in Edgers’s weekly Instagram Live show “Stuck with Geoff.” (The Washington Post)

Like so many, national arts reporter Geoff Edgers has been grounded by the coronavirus. So he decided to launch an Instagram Live show from his barn in Massachusetts. Every Friday afternoon, Edgers hosts an hour-long interview show he calls “Stuck With Geoff.” So far, that has included Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Rather, Tiffany Haddish and Elvis Costello, among many others. Recently, Edgers chatted with actress and writer Pamela Adlon.

(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

Q: I have to say, I got to the last episode of Season 4 of your FX show, "Better Things," and it feels like the ultimate moment of recognizing and appreciating everything around you. It's the man who picks you up and has the karaoke machine in the car. It's the guard at Dodger Stadium. It's the food truck. It's even the ghost. I also felt a great sadness watching that. I'm wondering how you're coping with now.

A: Some days I feel incredibly positive and hopeful, and some days I get bummed, but usually I get bummed if I have the ticker for news going. It gets into your psyche. And it’s like the news never changes. It just keeps getting worse and worse. I tell my daughters there are so many good people in the world. You should move toward them and read what they’re talking about and think about how we are going to turn this around. Because we were going too fast. It was crazy. It wasn’t sustainable. And now we have this correction, this adjustment going on in our lives. We have to take this opportunity to change and get better and stop being homophobic, racist, waste culture, destructive, hateful.

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Q: There are a lot of parallels between the show and your character, Sam, and you and your three real-life daughters and mother. I know that your mother lives nearby and you make these wonderful videos of you cooking for her. But then there is the mother character in "Better Things." Does your mother often take off all her clothes and jump into the neighbor's pool, for example?

A: I’ve caught my mother wearing her birthday suit, and I put that in Season 1. I went to her house and I was like, “Mom, what the . . . are you doing? The neighbor’s balcony is right there.” Some of those things that I put in the show are just handed to me. And my mom has gotten really sassy, way sassier over the past few years. And I’m like, “What is up with you?” And she says, “You love it because it’s material for your show.”

National arts reporter Geoff Edgers interviewed comedian Pamela Adlon on Instagram Live on May 15. (Video: The Washington Post)

Q: Do you talk to your daughters ahead of time and say, "Hey, I'm going to put this little theme in here. Is it too sensitive?" Or when you put something in that isn't even about them. I'm sure they're going to say, "Everybody at school is going to think I'm that person."

A: You nailed it, because there are things that are pulled from life. They were young and in a flurry of their life when I started the show. If there was something that pertained to them that was particularly sensitive, I would ask them about it. I don’t want them to feel like I am co-opting them in any way. They’re truly my muses and my inspiration. It’s an incredible kind of outlet that I’m able to reflect on my life with my kids, now that two are older and out of the house.

Q: So the music and the cooking. They're both very important in "Better Things." First, it's clear to me that you are a cook, right?

A: I mean, I’m a total amateur. I don’t know what I’m doing. I cook the same things over and over. But it helps me with stress and anxiety, and it gives me something to give to my family, take care of my family.

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Q: And the music. You used the amazing John Lennon song "Mother" as an opening. How did you get permission for that?

A: I wrote Yoko Ono like a 10-page letter, and I put in a little video package, like some cold opens and then an episode, and we got it. We had to pay. Carrying that for two seasons was hefty. But well worth it. I always try to save money for music. I came into the writers room this season and put on “Steady Rain,” the Warren Zevon song with this beautiful refrain, this gorgeous progression. And I said, “This is the theme of the whole season.” And this is the first episode, this song. I wanted to get everybody to play it — like Lenny Kravitz and Flea and Slash — and shoot them all playing it. But of course, I couldn’t do that, but I was able to make it last for a long time.