You’ve probably never heard of Katarina Blom, Ella Engstrom, or Johan Svenson, but they’re here to help America seriously clean up before it goes any further. As hosts of Peacock’s new The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (based on the 2017 book by Margareta Magnusson), a psychologist (Blom), an organizer (Engstrom) and a designer (Svenson) become people’s homes Skilled They are about to have their last day of helping sort, organize, and otherwise arrange their belongings. And bonus: The series stars executive producer Amy Poehler as narrator. The Envelope caught up with the whole gang in New York City in April to discuss what it means to be dead clean, what about the surprised Americans and the importance of taking one fika break.
There was a whole casting process to find your hosts. Amy, what were you looking for?
Amy Poehler: We obviously wanted Swedish people with different skillsets, but you didn’t want to say, “This is Sweden!” Sweden is many things, but you wanted it to honor the differences of all people and make people feel like a collective unit, a team be.
Katarina, Ella and Johan – did you know Amy and who she was before all this?
Katarina Blom: Oh yeah! I love Parks and Rec.
Johan Svenson: I’m a meme lover so I like the Amy memes. You know that “cool mom” meme?
Poehler: I love being a meme or Halloween costume in any way.
Why are Swedes the right people to start the concept of death purification?
Poehler: Swedes don’t take themselves too seriously. You are very direct and that clarity is a blessing. I love the idea of a transformation show, but I don’t like how people feel they’ve been beaten up by the process. But that was an interesting idea: How do you want to live your life while you’re still with us? What things are important to you? Also, I love Sweden.
Svenson: During the casting I said I didn’t want to be on a makeover show where you just go shopping and buy stuff for people. But when I read [Magnusson’s] book, I thought, “Well, that’s super interesting.”
Blom: It’s like a wet dream for a psychologist to be able to talk about death, an existential topic like this. To me it was like, “Damn, yeah, let’s go!” And this show is different from others: I feel like we’re giving the person a little more space. We try to connect and understand each other.
Ella Engstrom: It’s about the person you’re helping. You go with the flow and the process evolves depending on where you are on the journey.
Poehler: We had to add a coffee break.
So fika wasn’t originally planned to be part of the show?
Poehler: No, fika is a ritual, a way to take a break from work to socialize and reflect. For the Death Purifiers, it was a great way to talk about where they are right now like staying in the present moment.
Blom: The first day we thought, “What? There is no fika?” Fika is truly sacred.
engstrom: Really serious stuff. Twice a day, before and after lunch.
Svenson: And it came about in the opposite way – because we created a safe space for the participants and the production created a safe space for us. It’s like we’re in our own reality.
Poehler: We lost millions of dollars to the closure due to fika.
What experiences did you have on this show that surprised you about the Americans?
engstrom: You have duplicates of many things. As in Sweden, there is never a cake stand just for Halloween.
Blom: I had the preconception that Americans were very positive. But throughout the show I noticed that people tend to be a bit more avoidable than in Sweden when dealing with stronger emotions.
Svenson: This is the other side of the Swedish coin [we] can be a bit dry. [Americans] have this “official self”. Which I think is nice, because it also means taking on social responsibility at the moment. You make it comfortable for everyone.
Poehler: I find it interesting that the Swedish language has far fewer words [than English]. If you have a language with fewer words, speak out loud in your actions — and I think this show is really about the idea, “How can your next action change your life for the better?”
We have TV shows about hoarders here, Marie Kondo [for organizing] and now death cleansing. It feels like we live in a binge-and-purge society. How do you see the big picture?
Svenson: One thing about minimalism in Sweden is that it’s the result of a ‘cleansing of death’. It’s not an aesthetic we should aim for [for]; It’s about sorting your stuff and finding purpose for it.
engstrom: You change over the course of your life and so do your needs. It’s an ongoing process. So once we help, it’s like peeling an onion layer by layer, allowing you to be bolder in making harder decisions about your stuff.
Svenson: It’s not a show about being neat or tidy.
Blom: For the Death Purge, we don’t care about the amount of items you have. We are interested in the purpose, the need [for them]? It is a great invitation to gain clarity about yourself both in your life and in your home. We gently guide people, for example, “Oh, how long have you been down in your basement? What’s lurking down there?’
engstrom: “What’s in the corners?”
Poehler: That’s the way to put it: This show gently rummages around in America’s basement.