How Better Things Is Separating Itself from Louie
Better Things executive producer Blair Breard talks Pamela Adlon’s new series and her growing web of personal comedy.
Blair Breard is someone who’s been behind a lot of your favorite comedies over the past few years. Securing a strong working relationship with Louis CK during Louie’s infancy, Blair’s become a formidable producer who’s been the EP on recent cult comedies like Baskets, Horace and Pete, and Tig Notaro’s upcoming, One Mississippi. She’s also had the same duties on a number of stand-up specials from Louis CK to Todd Barry.
Her latest series, Better Things sees Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox, a single mother and struggling actor. The series taps into places of brutal, surprising honesty just like so many of her other producing endeavors. With Better Things premiering this Thursday on FX, I got the chance to chat with Blair Breard about what’s so unique about Better Things, how she decides what shows she wants to produce, and what it’s like finding the right vehicle for so many great comedians.
DEN OF GEEK: What is it that attracts you to wanting to produce a project? What are you looking for in a series or star?
BLAIR BREARD: Well I’m looking for something original, unique, and like nothing else I’ve ever been involved with before. I want to do something that I haven’t done and that other people haven’t seen.
Pamela is a big part of Louie’s DNA and Louis is also such a big part of Better Things. Pamela has such a distinct voice, but was there any discussion early on regarding differentiating the two shows?
There was no specific discussion about that because Pamela such a strong point of view of her own. When she was working in collaboration with Louis on Louie, she was playing a different character. She was playing a character that was a creation of hers and/or Louis’, whereas on Better Things it’s really just Pamela’s vision. It’s Pamela’s own specific point of view with a specific character that she wanted to create and the sort of stories that she wanted to tell.
The show really pushes this great optimistic message that’s wallowing amongst all of this angry nihilism. What’s your take on the show’s tone?
I think a big part of what the show is saying is that we’re all flawed and doing the best that we can. We’re not going to live up to other people’s expectations and we just have to take every day with the disasters, tragedy, and obstacles that are put in our path with some sort of grace, love, and compassion. Yeah, the world is a mess and all you can do is just be present with the people that fill your lives and try to have a sense of humor about it all.
I can’t think of many shows that depict the relationship between parent and their children like this one does with such raw honesty. Was this a big part of what you were hoping to say with this show?
I think it was really important for Pamela to depict real moments and real life between parents and children, and children and children, and parents and friends—just people with other people. I think it’s so great when Sam is having those real moments with her fantastic, complicated 16-year-old daughter. I never get to see that on television. It’s one of the unique things about the show with how effectively it depicts those relationships. It’s really satisfying. I don’t have a 16 year-old daughter but it doesn’t matter because of how many times we’ve wanted to express honestly how we feel towards someone who’s acting less than desirable.
What is it about Sam’s character that you’re most attracted to?
I love how passionate she is. How raw she is. I love that she makes mistakes and says that she’s making mistakes and just doing the best that she can. I love her sense of humor. She’s funny. She’s just really, really funny.
That scene where Sam just hijacks that girl’s date is a great example and feels like the show in a nutshell.
Absolutely. That’s Pamela all the way.
The show does a really good job at telling stories about sexuality and age in a really well done and unique way. Is it nice to be sort of dominating that niche?
There are no other shows like this! For me, that’s why I was so excited to be working on this. When I started reading the scripts, I started to get thrilled beyond belief. I don’t hear these sorts of stories anywhere else and if there are stories like this out there they’re not framed with the same humanity, humor, and acceptance of how messy life can get. All you can do is try to be honest about your own self, your own issues, and the people around you. I’ve never, ever seen a show like that before that’s taking place in this demographic.
I mean the show isn’t just about women—it’s about people—but Pamela just happens to be a woman so those are the stories that you’re getting. It’s just about her, her daughters, her mother, and all the relationships in between—they just happen to all be female. Seeing those sorts of scenes that are specific to the female experience though are just fantastic. There’s nothing else like that out there.
It’s also really nice to see a show where there’s such generational bonding going on. Was Sam’s mother being a part of the picture a big topic when starting things out?
She’s a huge part of the picture! I think Pamela and Louis wrote her beautifully. We were so lucky to get Celia Imrie to play her because she is fantastic. That’s a mother I’ve never seen before – just the great joy of having your mother—the grandmother to your kids—living across the street, and the total nightmare of having your mother live across the street from you. There’s a scene where one of Sam’s daughters is talking to Sam about her relationship with the grandmother and it’s just priceless.
You were an associate director for a few episodes of Horace and Pete. Is directing something that you’d like to do more of?
Associate directing is a position that had to do more with the nature of that show because it was a multi-camera show. There are very specific skills that you have to use when you have four cameras going at the same time and are operating out of a control room. It’s very different than single camera directing. But yes, ultimately later on down the road I’d be very interested in directing. I’ve gotten great training from working on Louie for five seasons, and with Pamela on Better Things, and on One Mississippi, and Baskets. It’s something I’d like to do, but I love producing and just being a part of these uniquely funny shows. So, it’ll come when it comes!
Better Things uses some neat stylistic flair in regard to flashbacks. Were they always a part of the show’s voice?
I’m not sure that they always were there, but they add such a specific texture to the show. Pamela has such a strong taste—it’s very strong and it’s very specific. She knows what she wants. So sometimes when we were working on making the show, in the middle of things she’d suggest trying to do things in a different fashion and play around. What I want to do as a producer—and this is always what I want to do as a producer—is help create an environment where some experimentation can happen. Where you can take a chance on something or fail at something. Having an atmosphere where you can be inspired and do something differently.
I saw that happen with Pamela a few times where she’d just get inspired and want to mix things up and move pieces around. She’s a force of nature and has such a strong point of view, and as a producer that’s really what you want. You want someone who can make real decisions and have clear choices. She had her hand in every single aspect of production, down to the color of the curtains, the make of the car, wardrobe choices, locations—really everything.
Lastly Blair, what’s the big message that you hope people take away from Better Things? What are you most excited for people to see on this show?
I’m most excited for people to see a real person dealing with real issues that are really funny. Things that happen every day, while having real depth, humor, and compassion. Every episode makes me laugh and makes me cry, and that’s a great place to be. I love that in all the drama that’s happening there’s a tremendous amount of humor and compassion. And I’m excited for people to see these people and hang out with them for ten episodes. They’re funny and different. The kids are all different and have their own thing going on. The mother has her own thing going on. Every character is really specific. It’s a lot of fun to watch the show!
Better Things’ first season begins airing September 8th, at 10 p.m. on FX