Retro plastic couch covers are finally getting their due in 21st century pop culture.
Beyond getting referenced on a Beyoncé album, the tacky-yet-lovable accent appears in “Abbott Elementary” Season 2 Episode 4, “The Principal’s Office,” when Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter) invites Janine (Quinta Brunson) over for a cooking lesson. It’s the series’ first major look at a character’s domestic life, and in an Italian American household in South Philly, a large, welcoming sofa had to be the centerpiece.
“It’s the first thing I asked for,” Walter says about the plastic on the couch, seen here in first look images that Variety can exclusively reveal. “Well, first I asked for plastic on the lampshades, but people might not understand that. An older generation thing.”
“She’s got a fab ‘80s couch, big rolled arms, but we kept it in a neutral, ivory tone,” says set decorator Cherie Day Ledwith. “But we had to go for it and put that plastic on there. It says a lot.” About the patterns on the pillows that adorn the sofa and the rug beneath it, she adds, “If you see what she wears, she’s got that side of her that lends itself to animal prints. We just started adding layers that she would have purchased to make it her own. She’s got a lot of chutzpah — it’s South Philly!”
Though Ledwith and production designer Michael Whetstone were scouting for locations in Los Angeles, it was important to prioritize Philly-style architecture. “In Philadelphia, they’re called row houses,” Ledwith says about Melissa’s narrow floor plan, which might be called a railroad apartment in New York or a townhome in other parts of the country. “You step in the front door and you’ve got a staircase that goes right up.”
And in Melissa’s house, the wall under that staircase is plastered with framed photos of Walter’s real family. “Lisa Ann brought wonderful pictures. The walls, all over every side table, it was overkill! But that’s the vibe we wanted. Lots of wedding pictures and first Holy Communions,” Ledwith says. Catholic imagery made its way into other decor too: rosaries, angel figurines, religious quotes.
And the less holy photos — mostly of Melissa and her estranged sister Kristin Marie (Lauren Weedman) shrieking at each other — are from a half-day photo shoot arranged specifically for a scene at the end of the episode where Melissa drunkenly scans through the frames and spilling red wine on the couch … thank god for that plastic.