When Liz Feldman and her writers’ room were working on the second season of “Dead to Me,” child separation at the border was dominating news headlines. Given that the majority of her room is made up of mothers, the writer and executive producer says such news was “weighing really heavily” and “almost subconsciously one of the throughlines of the season became the injury you can do to a person by separating them from their mother.”
This manifested as deep emotional wounds for both of the Netflix comedy’s leading ladies: It was revealed that Jen (Christina Applegate) had lost her mother to cancer when she was just a teenager, while Judy’s (Linda Cardellini) mother (guest star Katey Sagal) was an addict whom she helped send to prison.
“We started looking at Jen and Judy and asking ourselves, ‘Why are they the way they are? How did they turn out like this?’ And when we started to analyze ourselves and get to the roots of our own personality flaws, so much of our identities and the way in which we are shaped into people are an extension of the way we were raised by our mothers,” says Feldman. “There was a lot of conversation about what we were calling ‘the mother wound,’ which was the imperfect relationship with a mother because no matter how much you love them or how hard our moms all tried
to be good parents, nobody’s perfect and there’s no ‘getting it right.’”
The series started from a very personal place for Feldman, who used Jen and Judy as avatars for how she and her own friends banter with each other, and she also incorporated some of her own fertility struggles into Judy’s story. But her experience with her own mother doesn’t mirror her characters’. Still, she brought in a personal experience in the second season in the way Jen reacted when Judy mentioned she was in a new relationship, with a woman named Michelle (Natalie Morales).
“It was really important to me to let it be a new relationship and not have to explain it or label it or have that moment where Judy sits down with Jen and says, ‘I have something to tell you,’” says Feldman. “It is something I’ve experienced in my own life with my friends. I’ve had more than one friend who’s a woman in her 40s find a woman they’re attracted to and start dating them and it wasn’t a big deal. When you know and love and accept a person, you accept them fully.”
Feldman says the writers’ room didn’t consult with a psychologist in order to write the complex familial relationships, which for Jen also includes being a mother to two sons, one of whom gets too closely tied to the murder she committed. Instead, many of the writers in her room have “been in therapy for years,” she says, which is its own research into high-stakes dynamics.
When it came to crime, the story area that was so far removed from their lives, though, they did consult with a detective to get certain details right.
“We were able to go to him and say, ‘Is it realistic if this person was brought up on money- laundering charges and the FBI’s involved, how much would the cops be involved?’” she says. “We always want to keep it grounded.”
Liz Feldman’s Inspirations:
Writers’ room style: “I either need to be alone and have it be really quiet with the door closed and some nice lighting, or I want to be in a noisy coffee shop, which I think in some ways forces you to really zone in on the task at hand.”
Favorite writers’ room snack: “Dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s.”
Mood music: “For this show I often write to very sweeping, beautiful orchestral music that could actually accompany a really dramatic or high-stress scene.”
How she breaks writer’s block: “Get up and take a walk.”