Cirocco Dunlap and Natasha Lyonne on Tackling Alien Anxiety in Prime Video’s The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy

TV Features Amazon Prime Video
Cirocco Dunlap and Natasha Lyonne on Tackling Alien Anxiety in Prime Video’s The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy

Rick and Morty fans, rejoice! There is a new sci-fi animated comedy on the horizon, and it’s Prime Video’s delightfully weird The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy. Like Rick and Morty, Second Best Hospital takes on significant themes alongside its attempts to make us laugh. Among the deep issues addressed (which include the passage of time and the ethics of medicine, for example), the one that is at the center of the series is something that is not unfamiliar to people on this planet (or others, it would seem): mental health. The show takes place in the Ergulon galaxy, a place with distinct species, technology, and habits. But there are some things that remain unshakeable wherever you are—like STDs, overbearing mothers, and debilitating anxiety.

The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy follows Dr. Sleech (Stephanie Hsu) and Dr. Klak (Keke Palmer), two surgeons who are pushing the envelope for what can (and should) be done in the medical profession. After a new anxiety-eating parasite arrives on the scene, the two must make a choice: destroy it entirely or use it as the foundation for a new mental health drug. The latter option sounds great. But at what cost? Despite the temporary mental respite the parasite provides, the experiments are going terribly wrong, and ultimately may result in much more harm than good.

During a press junket last month, showrunner and writer Cirocco Dunlap along with executive producer and actor Natasha Lyonne (she voices Nurse Tup), sat down to discuss the origins of the show and the daunting central theme: anxiety itself. They revealed that this MacGuffin that helps drive the plot of the show was not originally planned. Instead, it came out in development, from Dunlap’s personal experiences. 

“I have struggled with anxiety my whole life. I got on meds roughly a year before I started developing this show and it changed my life. I was just like, ‘Why didn’t I do this in my twenties?’” she laughed. “My whole life could have been easier! That, I think inevitably, was going to come out in anything I worked on. And then it did become the focal point and I’m so happy it did. I feel like it was something I really wanted to show,” Dunlap said of integrating anxiety into the story.

In Second Best Hospital, the character of Dr. Klak suffers from severe anxiety, and has for her whole life. It doesn’t help that her mother is a talk show host, blasting her daughter’s anxiety “journey” to the entire galaxy. In her mother’s eyes, Klak’s anxiety defines her and the two are inseparable.

Dunlap elaborated on the different ways that anxiety is manifested in the series and how anxiety sometimes even impedes Klak’s ability to relate to other people: “…in the fifth episode, Klak has these little to-do lists popping up. At first they’re helping her […] and then by the end, they’re popping up so much that she has a physical barrier to intimacy with this girl she likes.” 

This specifically was something that Dunlap has dealt with herself, explaining that “it felt like such a cool discovery and an interesting way to show anxiety that I haven’t seen, [but] that I have experienced.”

Putting on her producer hat, Lyonne recalled how the story evolved over time, and recounts Dunlap’s interest in exploring this topic: “I remember that [Cirocco] had all the episodes built out inside of a document. And I remember this long conversation where somehow it came through what Cirocco had written—and sort of buried, in a way—was revealed. That [anxiety] was the thing that [she was] most interested in.”

Dunlap praised Lyonne while recalling how the central theme of the series changed after a shuffling of episodes occurred during the development process. “Full Credit to Natasha. [Originally], the third episode was about anxiety and the first episode was about time travel. At one point, the whole season was going to be kind of about time travel. And I was thinking, ‘What does it matter in this story?’ And I couldn’t figure out why it mattered. And then Natasha said, ‘Well, what if you make that third episode the pilot, which was about anxiety?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I then know what the story is.’And it was incredible.” With a laugh, she added “Natasha did it.”

With a hint of modesty, Lyonne corrected, “Well, I didn’t do it because I didn’t write it. You had already written it down, but it was wild to see your brain lock into ‘That’s it! That’s the story that I care about telling.’”

“And even more than care about: also [I] can [tell this story because] I know this and I know things that I can say about this. And with animation, I know ways to show it that I haven’t seen,” Dunlap elaborated.

Lyonne explained how producing allows her to develop relationships with others that ultimately can help reveal the true nature of the story. “An interesting thing about producing is that, as you [get to] know people, it’s like you’re almost trying to [help] figure out the story that they want to tell, even as they’ve written it down already. It’s something that I find them often experiencing, or even if I’m writing it’s like, ‘Weirdly, I’ve buried the lede somewhere on page 20.’ And that’s actually the story.”

“Well, I think [the story] is trying to get out and you’re putting all your little barriers to cover the thing that wants to get out. The people who will really support you and empower you [will help you find it] […] those are the stories that are hardest and painful and scary. And those are the ones that hopefully will make it out,” Dunlap said of collaboration and writing.

Lyonne highlighted the strength of the project and how it attracts storytellers who are passionate about the subject. “It sort of draws in all the right players, meaning the cast that kind of came together and all the writers that you put together and the whole team. It’s like people find their correct homes.”

The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy premieres Friday, February 23rd on Prime Video.

Josh Sharpe is the current TV intern at Paste. His other bylines include TheaterMania and Collider. To hear about his thoughts about film, TV, and musical theatre, follow him @josh_sharpe22 on all socials.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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