We’ve all pretty much agreed that there are two kinds of twists that TV shows aren’t supposed to do anymore. The first is to never, ever negate seasons upon seasons of story by ending the series with “it was all a dream.” And the second? Give it a rest with the secret twin who emerges at the last minute, already. To say that Dead To Me showrunner Liz Feldman didn’t get that memo would be an understatement. Feldman got that memo, laughed at it, crumpled it up, and chucked into the nearest dumpster. Knowing full well that it was a move only acceptable on soap operas and telenovelas these days, she and her writing team went ahead and brought James Marsden back to Dead To Me, as his deceased character’s twin brother Ben.
He arrives at the end of episode 1, popping up on Jen’s (Christina Applegate) doorstep looking for Judy (Linda Cardellini). He’s there to drop the bomb that Steve is missing, but the real surprise is that Steve never told us about his equally handsome twin brother from out of town. While we spend a few episodes almost questioning whether Ben really is the generous, sweet, jovial twin brother of the godawful real estate mogul Steve, or if Steve somehow survived and escaped after floating motionless in Jen’s pool, that feeling doesn’t last. After a few episodes, and largely because Judy has such a friendly relationship with Ben, it becomes clear that Marsden’s second character really is a great guy whose twin brother just happened to be a douchebag.
“It's a bit of a swing, but my god, it makes me laugh,” Feldman tells Refinery29 over video chat. “I knew by doing it that we were definitely going to come up against, That’s tropey or That's tacky or whatever. But I think that James Marsden is so good that you forget a couple of episodes in that he's playing a twin brother. You start to just buy it.”
Marsden admittedly does a great job with his new role, but when Feldman talks about him, she’s almost giddy. You almost get the feeling she wouldn’t have risked this tropey territory for just anyone.
“Truthfully, James Marsden is possibly the greatest human being on the planet. There's no way to really know, but I think he would easily be on a top 10 list. He's a wonderful guy and so great to work with. I mean, just a goddamn peach,” she says, beaming.
Which leads me to the real reason she even allowed her brain to think twin thoughts in the first place; the feeling was mutual for Marsden, who reached out to Feldman after season 1 wrapped (and his character had perished) to offer his services for season 2, should she figure out a way to give Steve some screen time.
“Jokingly, he was like, What's the possibility that Steve could survive a traumatic brain injury? Because I love you guys,” says Feldman. She knew he was kidding, but she suddenly got serious about figuring out Mardsen’s return.
“I don't want to negate what you just saw — I never want to schmuck bait. Steve was fucking dead. He was laying in a pool of his own blood. So I just was like, Would it be fucking crazy if we gave him a twin? And obviously it is a trope. It's been done a thousand times before, but it made me laugh so much just thinking about it.”
She took the idea to her best friend and fellow Dead To Me writer Kelly Hutchinson, who was on the same page — potential mockery be damned. It also allowed Feldman and Hutchinson to showcase the Marsden they know offscreen because Ben, as it turns out, is also a goddamned peach.
“I think that there are different ways to be; sometimes being unexpected means doing something that like you've literally never seen before and you're like, Holy fucking shit,” reasons Feldman. “But sometimes the unexpected thing is obvious, and you think, They would never do that. Well, we did.“