Today at Deadline’s second annual Contenders Emmys event, FX had one of the most stacked panels of award-worthy talents, representing five distinguished series. Among those in attendance were Baskets EP Jonathan Krisel, Better Things co-creator and star Pamela Adlon, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Glenn Howerton, Man Seeking Woman creator Simon Rich and You’re the Worst creator Stephen Falk.
Created by Louis C.K. and his Louie collaborator Pamela Adlon — who writes, directs and stars — Better Things is among several semi-autobiographical takes on the life and challenges of the performer, focusing on Adlon’s life as a single mother raising three daughters while riding the ups and downs of show business.
As Adlon told Deadline’s Dominic Patten on FX’s panel this afternoon, this awareness of her series as a semi-autobiographical entity has been both a blessing and a curse for her. “It’s funny because everybody is taking everything as, like, the sacred fact of my life now, so I can’t escape it,” she said. “So if I do something crazy, like I rob a bank, or I do something rapey or horrible on my show, they’ll think I did it in my real life.”
The upside for the Better Things star is that she’s found an ideal outlet for personal stories she’s been cataloging for years. “I’ve been collecting stories my whole life, so it’s amazing to have that kind of outlet,” she said. “It was difficult for me to create my show at the beginning. It was easy for me to write for Louie, but when it came to my things, I stopped, and I just said, ‘Well, tell this story.’ And then it just becomes its own entity that’s separate to me.”
While Adlon threw around the words “phoenix from the flames” and “scorched earth” while describing the process of production on Season 1, these challenges paid off: Better Things was renewed for a second season in September, alongside Donald Glover’s Golden Globe-winning Atlanta.
As the panel continued, Falk, Krisel and Rich discussed the challenges they’ve faced on their series, touching on their disparate views on improv and the difficulties involved with striking a tonal balance between the comedic and the dramatic.
“I think a lot of comedy is in dark moments,” the Baskets EP said. “Hospitals are really funny, and it’s OK to explore this morbid moment when you think, ‘This is morbid, but there’s funny stuff around.’ It’s funny to laugh in a really sad moment.”
Speaking to You’re the Worst, Falk mentioned the importance of “being aware of the cadence of life being both [comedic and dramatic] and not bifurcated into a dramatic day and a comedic day.”
He added, “It’s just having an internal calibration for what’s interesting and to not have the fear of staying in some category.”
Rich talked about the “big risk” of Man Seeking Woman‘s Season 3 arc — going in a different direction by focusing on the evolution of a serious, long-term relationship— while Howerton discussed the challenge of keeping his series fresh, with Season 12 wrapped up in March and at least two more seasons to come. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of the longest running live-action sitcoms in American TV history, looking to top The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet — which aired from 1952-1966 — within a few years.
“There’s never any end to what the dumb shit people will do in this world, including ourselves, so we just draw from that,” Howerton said. “Really, all it is is taking a certain mentality that exists in the world and amplifying it, and putting it on screen, and then creating an opposing, strong point of view with another character, and watching those people duke it out over the course of an episode.”
In terms of keeping the show fresh, Howerton credited younger writers who have come onto the series in later seasons — individuals who had been fans of the series previously, and could bring in a different kind of perspective.
“Now that the show’s been on for 12 years, we’re getting younger, really smart, funny writers who have been fans of the show since they were like in college,” he said. “We hire a lot of those guys, because in some ways, they know the show differently, but in an objective way that we don’t even know the show.”
While Season 3 will be the end for the Jay Baruchel-starring Man Seeking Woman, You’re the Worst will see a new season this year. Additionally, Baskets was renewed for a third season last month.