It’s not every day you get to see Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg cook dinner together.
But that’s just what set design alumnus James Pearse Connelly did when VH1 asked him to work on Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, a weed pun-filled cooking show featuring the domestic maven and the rapper hanging with a variety of guests and performers, including Robin Thicke and Kathy Griffin. As guest Seth Rogen said of the show: “This is the weirdest group of people ever on a stage together.”
Connelly has designed sets for Bravo’s Top Chef, the MTV Video Music Awards (for which he won an Emmy in 2009) and NBC’s The Voice, The Biggest Loser, and the recently canceled The New Celebrity Apprentice with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He can do weird.
Connelly says he “grew up with a glue gun in hand.” No wonder: His mom was an artist, and his dad worked as an architect. He says reality TV allows him to indulge his creative side.
“Your design becomes not just a character, but something to affect the personalities and get a behavior out of contestants,” Connelly explains. He describes the Potluck Dinner Party set as “another character” between Martha and Snoop.
The show, which has emerged as a surprise hit for VH1, debuted in November (the second season kicked off in February) and is filmed in Los Angeles. At first glance, the set exhibits a split personality: On one side, all-Snoop-all-the-time – black tiles, glittering backsplash and gold kitchen ware; on the other, Martha central – white wood panels, ceramic jars and copper pots.
The odd couple’s dynamic is inherently wacky, with Martha’s no-nonsense cooking style complementing the often laid-back, sometimes alarmed reactions of Snoop Dogg. Snoop ushers Martha into the world of rap with guests like Rick Ross and Wiz Khalifa, while Martha introduces Snoop to the harrowing job of cooking lobsters, ordering him to “just grab it!” as Snoop hovers nervously above the lobster tank.
‘Building little worlds’
Connelly says that choosing to work in set design just felt right.
Still, challenges do arise – for example, finding points of intersection between Martha and Snoop’s aesthetics proved to be a head-scratcher.
“I wanted Martha and Snoop to bless everything,” he says. “If you’re going to hold an audience and drive a story, you have to feel comfortable in your space.”
Connelly, who graduated from Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts in 2002, seems to delight in these design riddles.
“Set design comes naturally to me because I’m just a natural-born people-pleaser and problem-solver,” he says. “It involves a lot of research on the aesthetics and just staying humble enough to keep the questions coming so you know where you can make adjustments. And I always try to over-deliver.”
Connelly says he “got fully educated on what Martha likes … She’s incredible. Her knowledge of local vendors here was great,” while Snoop’s sole request for the set design involved featuring a movie poster and an album cover.
With their feedback in mind, Connelly integrated some key design points to symbolize their unexpected friendship.
“The flooring has got two different kinds of wood in it, just like two different people weaving themselves together,” he points out. “I unified them all with a city backdrop that feels urban, metropolitan, and late night, and also with a big oak tree in the middle that felt, to me, like an olive branch between Snoop’s personality and style and Martha’s taste. It’s really a unification of two worlds.”
That level of problem-solving comes in handy on a show so irreverent that even Snoop can’t quite comprehend how Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party made it to air.
“Just to clarify: I’m not high right now,” Snoop quips in a promo, “but whoever gave us this show must have been.”
And, set against a warring array of whitewashed wood paneling and gold-painted car grills, Martha and Snoop seem both out of place and right at home.
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