Netflix’s Dead To Me earned near-unanimous critical huzzahs for its sophomore season. Stars Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini doubled down on their Season 1 chemistry and produced some of the finest acting of their career. In addition, show runner Liz Feldman managed to keep the surprises coming without insulting the audience by artificially enhancing the twists and turns. As a result, Dead To Me continues to be one of the buzziest shows streaming on Netflix right now.
But part of that audience allure can be attributed to the fantastic set decoration. Audiences are as obsessed with having the look of Dead To Me as they are with learning its secrets. Thank set decorator Brandi Kalish for that.
“This is insane: every day since Season 2 came out, hundreds of people email me through Instagram and through my website asking me, ‘Hey, I’ve been wanting to remodel my master bedroom for a million years, and I didn’t have any inspiration. Now that I’ve seen Dead To Me, I want my bedroom to look like Jen’s. Where did you get those lamps? Where’s the rug from? Where did you get those end tables?,” Kalish laughs. “I’m answering everybody, but it’s a lot of people. I’m super honored, but it’s wild.”
Included in the mostly female below the line team on Dead To Me, Kalish honed her craft over twenty years of being in the business. Part of the challenge of a set decorator is to anticipate the design choices that a fictional character would make. To do that, Kalish puts her herself into the place of the characters. In the case of Dead To Me, she imagined what a real estate agent with such a unique personality as Jen Harding (Applegate) would select to populate her house. That also includes research based in the location of the series the affluent area of Laguna Beach, California.
Jen’s income and desired image she wants to project also come into play. The look of Jen’s house, according to Kalish, is aspirational. She wants her house – which was 100 percent built from scratch – to look a certain way to project success given her professional. Jen’s house takes on a permanent staged look as if it were ready for a showing at any moment.
In that setting, though, there are still touches that reflect Jen’s personality as well as the personalities of Judy Hale (Cardellini) and Jen’s boys.
“For instance, on the coffee table which we custom made there’s stuff from the boys on there. There are Chinese finger cuffs and a Rubik’s Cube. There’s Silly Puddy that belongs to Henry. There are a pair of headphones belonging to Charlie,” Kalish explained. “We do those micro layers. No detail is left unchecked. Every single thing that we put in the set, we deeply talk about and think about, down to the keys hanging on the wall and the kind of mops she would use.”
What Size Freezer Can Hold James Marsden?
One of the most famous pieces of set design in Season 2 has nothing to do with Jen’s aspirational goals. Quite the contrary, actually. It’s the freezer in which Jen and Judy stash Steve’s (James Marsden) body. The one that the exterminator calls “the Cadillac of freezers,” which made total sense as Jen Harding would have bought the best freezer possible.
The selection of the appropriate freezer, Kalish said, is the perfect example of set decoration well done.
“I have to work with every single department. It’s not just me saying, ‘I’m going to choose this freezer, and that’s it.’ I had to work with camera because we had to cut a hole in multiple freezers to get camera angles of the body within. I had to work with the DP, grips, production designer, props and Liz. Also, character-wise, what kind of freezer would be reasonable for a family of that size?”
Kalish bought four freezers in total for filming. The freezer selection process also required someone the same height as James Marsden to get in and make sure it was a fit. And Marsden did get into the freezer in makeup approximating the look of a frozen body. He was also surrounded by prop frozen foods, all covered with a substance to show freezer burn.
It was a far more complex process than just picking out a good looking freezer.
“That’s the really fun stuff involved in set decoration,” Kalish enthused.
Dead To Me Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.
All photos courtesy of Brandi Kalish.