First, when Liz Feldman originally pitched Dead to Me to Netflix, she didn’t have an ending in mind. In fact, it wasn’t until she “stepped” into the writers room and someone pitched that Jen “should kill Steve at the end of Season 1” that it “laid out the path for the rest of the series.”
Then, about “halfway through shooting Season 2” is when Liz thought of the ending for Dead to Me and realized it was a three-season story.
Liz believes that the three-season structure allowed the show to not overstay its welcome and kept everything exciting in such “a heightened situation” with “ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances”
The Judy character was inspired by Liz’s very good friend who died of cancer at age 38. While a lot of Judy’s personality was created with this “dear friend” in mind, Liz never thought she would also give Judy cancer until filming Season 2.
Judy’s cancer storyline came from a place of wanting to explore “grief and friendship,” which were always at the heart of the series.
Judy having a “similar fate to Jen’s mom” allowed Jen to “reconcile the feelings and her behavior around her mom’s illness,” which Liz explained was where a lot of her anger really started. This storyline allowed for Jen to heal.
In turn, Jen’s pregnancy allowed for Judy to “reconcile” with the traditional family she never had and the fact she never had a child of her own. Liz explained that it allowed Judy to fully realize that she truly became a mother to Jen’s boys.
When Liz started working on Dead to Me, she said she was going through “a lot of grief, loss, and going through years of infertility stuff” and she poured a lot of that into the show. Then, in a full circle moment, the show ended when she and her wife were expecting a child.
One of Liz’s favorite improvised moments is from Season 1, Episode 4, when Judy and Jen talk about Steve’s penis in the car. The penis conversation sprung from Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate messing up a line and then just running with it. In fact, this scene made Liz realize they needed to factor in time for Linda and Christina to just improvise together.
Another moment that wasn’t originally scripted was Steve and Judy’s “Sorry,” “It’s okay” moments in Season 1.
Before Dead to MeChristina and Liz were actually developing another series together, which they ended up scrapping.
Liz didn’t intentionally write Dead to Me with Christina in mind, but she eventually realized that maybe, subconsciously, she had.
In fact, it was the show’s casting directors who first suggested Christina play the role of Jen.
Liz originally thought of Linda for the role of Jen because she was more familiar with Linda’s dramatic work and she felt Judy was more of the comedic one.
Christina and Linda had never met before being cast on Dead to Meand Liz said the first lunch they all had together was like “watching two people fall in friendship.”
Around “50% of the final season” was already complete when Christina received her multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2021, and since Dead to Me films out of order, scenes from almost every episode were done.
Nothing in the script changed after Christina’s MS diagnosis, and the rest of the season was filmed “on her terms.”
The last scene that was filmed for Dead to Me is the moment when Judy and Jen are lying in bed together and “saying goodbye without saying goodbye.”
One of the saddest scenes to film in Season 3 was when Judy and Charlie said goodbye to each other. Both Liz and Linda said it was a “gut punch” when they filmed it.
Although Katey Sagal starred in Married…with Children alongside Christina, their reunion wasn’t front of mind when Katey was cast on Dead to Me as Judy’s mother. She was brought up for the role simply because Katey and Linda look so much alike.
And after Season 2, Liz knew she had to put Katey and Christina in a scene together, for the nostalgia factor, but also because of how fun it would be to watch Eleanor and Jen together on screen.
The scene that ended up happening between Judy, Jen, and Eleanor allowed the show to really showcase the theme of “mothering” that had been present since Season 1.
When filming wrapped, Liz took home the “killer bird” and she currently has it in a glass case in her office at home.
Meanwhile, Linda brought home all of Jen’s patio furniture.
During Jen and Judy’s first phone conversation in Season 1, Episode 1, Judy tells Jen she won’t hang up until Jen’s asleep, which is almost paralleled in the series finale when Judy waits to leave until Jen is asleep. Liz said “everything you see is deliberate” on Dead to Me.
Looking back, Liz said she’s really proud of the series finale because there’s no “roadmap” for how to do a final episode “well,” but she loves what she and the writers came up with for Dead to Me.
A scene Liz is most proud of is when Jen walks into the church after Judy’s left and sees all of the cranes she made being displayed. For Liz, this moment really “captured a lot of the soul of the show.”
The idea for Dead to Me came from Liz wanting to create a show that explored tragedy but highlighted that even when someone goes through trauma, they often get through it with a sense of humor.
In fact, shows like Damages and The Affair were inspirations for the series. Liz wanted to create a show like those but make it funny.
Liz credits Linda and Christina for encouraging her to direct the final two episodes of Dead to Me.
One of the most fun days on set was when Linda and Christina were filming the scene in Season 3 when Judy and Jen got high on mushrooms. This moment features a lot of improv between the duo.
The boat that can be seen off shore in the series finale was a real boat that was actually there when the cast and crew arrived to film. Liz said it was “some weird Dead to Me magic stuff” where a boat was there when they needed it most. Then, the boat left after they had finished filming all of the outdoor scenes.
And finally, Liz knows what was written in Judy’s final letter to Jen, but she purposely didn’t disclose it to the audience.
The final season of Dead to Me is streaming now on Netflix.