Adam Blau's come a long way as a composer from his start in the 2005 short Motel Room. He's since done several additional shorts and films but built the bulk of his work on television, most recently on You're the Worst, Brockmire, and Dead to Me, which wrapped its third and final season on Netflix. Blau spoke with Bleeding Cool about how season three musically set itself apart from previous ones, how his work on the series compared to FX's You're the Worst, and learning from Christophe Beck.
Building the Final Season of 'Dead to Me'
Bleeding Cool: What were the objectives you were trying to achieve in the final season of 'Dead to Me'?
Blau: From a musical standpoint, [Dead to Me] during the first two seasons set up this mystery comedy with elevated stakes for the two leads, Jen and Judy, Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. We saw throughout those two seasons their bond develop their friendship in the face of heightened, ridiculous circumstances. They let their friendship grow through a lot. It's been that way in its final season. We see that come to fruition. We also see the more emotional side, the seeds of which have been planted earlier, come to the full extent of their friendship and their relationship as they continue to try to resolve the increasing mystery and chaos from the first couple of seasons.
There was a more emotional component, not because it was the final season, but because it followed through on the storylines and the development of these characters throughout the first couple of seasons. I was able to have the opportunity to show the musical side of that. The show focused a lot, especially early on, on sort of the mystery and surrounding circumstances. To be able to bring it home and turn in a direction that grounded it in genuine emotion and bond between these two people, even amidst all the lunacy of the plots within.
Did the series present a different set of challenges compared to, say, when you worked on 'You're the Worst?' Was there anything you borrowed tonally from that series into 'Dead to Me?'
The logistics of working on a show tend to be similar in terms of the overall process. You get the episodes, talk through what is needed in a given scene, and go from there. Every show is unique in its way. 'You're the Worst' was so much fun to work on. It was a funny show that put comedy front and center, even though it dealt with a lot of very serious themes throughout its run. We got a chance to break the wall into different genres and theme episodes. That was its beast. I got to work with Stephen Falk a lot on that show. To create a sort of musical world within that show, there were a lot of songs for the characters. There was a significant in-show musical presence in 'You're the Worst.'
'Dead to Me,' on the other hand, was a little bit of a different beast because the music was supporting the heightened drama that surrounds these two funny actors, Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. We decided early on in talking with Liz Feldman, the showrunner, to steer away from more overtly comedic music. If they're doing their running around or whatever the onscreen action was, we didn't want to comment on it from a comedy standpoint because it would step on their toes a little bit and their performances. Musically, I tried to provide a backdrop of seriousness and let clocks tick and eyes turn twists to that thing and let them be funny against that backdrop. The approach was a little bit different, but it's what suited each of those shows uniquely.
Does it feel any different when you're working on the final season of a show? Is there pressure to stand out more and become more epic, or would it deviate too much from the overall theme?
With the shows we're talking about so far, 'You're the Worst' and 'Dead to Me,' we had the benefit of knowing it was going to be the final season entering it. It wasn't like we were surprised, so Liz on 'DTM' and Stephen on 'YTW' got to come to the conclusion they wanted the show to come in. That was a little different because you knew you had to tie loose ends together and bring the themes and the stories home. From a musical standpoint, it was a bit different in that you're drawing from the same musical language you've created and the musical world that has come up to this point. I found myself reaching back to the first season to see if I could create an arc from a subtle musical arc. To reference, however subtly, a little moment from the first season along the way, it certainly did that with the conclusion with 'You're the Worst.' Without getting spoilery in the final episode of 'Dead to Me,' we did a variation on one of the opening scenes for a very poignant moment for the finale. We used the theme but kind of shifted it a little bit to highlight that moment.
What figures influenced your musical career?
I grew up in a very musical household. My mother's a piano teacher, so I had music around me from the get-go. I have to credit my family and parents growing up with instilling that in the first place. Along the way, I'm a big fan of so many different kinds of music and everyone from Quincy Jones to John Williams, among so many different influential people. When I was first starting my film and television career, I got to spend a lot of time working with Christophe Beck. I assisted him for a couple of years, and I learned so much from him and his studio. Chris was first known for 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and then went on to score 'Frozen' and 'The Hangover.' I got to learn so much from him in that studio in terms of the process, how to break down music in a given scene, how to play around the punch line, and just get into the nitty-gritty of scoring. They all had a big influence on me.