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‘The Second Best Hospital In the Galaxy’: Tentacle Hair, Beak Kisses and Chronic Anxiety

Creator Cirocco Dunlap and EPs/stars Maya Rudolph and Natasha Lyonne talk about their new adult animated comedy that follows Dr. Sleech and Dr. Klak - aliens, best friends, and intergalactically renowned surgeons - as they tackle anxiety-eating parasites, illegal time loops, and deep-space STIs; premieres February 23 on Prime Video.

It began with a groundhog. Or, rather, Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day

“You know, the one with Bill Murray?” explains Emmy Award-winning TV writer Cirocco Dunlap, referring to the film from 1993. “I was just watching it one day and started thinking about being in that time loop. What would you do? Then I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some kind of doctor you could see for that sort of thing?’”

From that seed of an idea grew The Second Best Hospital In the Galaxy, where two alien doctors, Sleech and Klak, tackle anxiety-eating parasites, illegal time loops (you’re welcome, Bill), and deep-space STIs.

Fun stuff, for sure. 

“You can use a lot of classic sci-fi movies, take the main characters out of those, and make them patients in our world,” says Dunlap, whose series premieres Friday, February 23 on Prime Video. “And it was important to me that the stories were emotionally grounded so all the wackiness and comedy come on top of something you can be really rooted in.”

Dunlap serves as showrunner, writer, and executive producer, along with EPs Maya Rudolph, Danielle Renfrew Behrens, and Natasha Lyonne from Animal Pictures. Shauna McGarry, Shannon Prynoski, Chris Prynoski, Antonio Canobbio, and Ben Kalina from Titmouse also executive produce. Artist and animator Robin Eisenberg serves as co-producer and production designer.

“I had worked with Titmouse on Big Mouth, so that seemed like an easy fit,” shared Dunlap. “And Robin is a beautiful artist who was already doing incredible, sexy alien art when I first saw her stuff on Instagram. As soon as I had an offer on the show, I reached out to her.”

The Emmy Award-nominated Lyonne adds, “Cirocco was so rightfully obsessed with Robin’s art. I remember the first time she showed some to me and was like, ‘Can you imagine a world where this would be possible?’ Cirocco is an incredible world builder and it’s extraordinary what she and Robin have made together.”

For Rudolph and Lyonne, agreeing to do a show with Dunlap was an easy ask and, according to the Emmy Award-winning Big Mouth star, “a match made in heaven.” Or, at least, a spectacularly retro alien oasis. 

“We got involved because Natasha knew Cirocco from working on Russian Doll together in the writers’ room, and she loves her some Cirocco,” says Rudolph, whose career also crossed paths with Dunlap during their time on Big Mouth. “She knew her brilliant mind and what a great idea this was. It was really exciting because Cirocco comes with a deep love and excitement for what she's created and that’s truly lasted the entire time we've made the show.”

When it came to the narrative, outside of the adventure-rich content that comes with tending to outer space ailments, Dunlap also wanted to weave flavors from her own family life into the show. 

“I grew up in San Francisco and my father was gay, my mother’s bisexual, my sister was in a polyamorous relationship for a long time with two women, and I grew up in this world that was fully queer,” shares Dunlap. “That was the norm to me. And that was the world I wanted to reflect. And I feel that with gender, sexuality, mental health… I wanted it to be sort of that utopian, futuristic feel, rather than starting as a struggle against our patriarchy or whatever our world issues are.”

Dunlap’s series speaks to what members of the LGBTQIA+ community have aimed to achieve for many years – normalcy and acceptance without hyperfocus. Queer relationships and identities are part of Sleech and Klak’s world and always have been. They know nothing else but harmony among same-sex, heterosexual, and pansexual relationships. And the organic nature of how it’s all presented is part of what makes the series so refreshing. 

“It’s so baked into the DNA, with the all-female writers’ room, the cast being very ‘with it’ in that way, and all the drawings reflecting Cirocco’s life experience, that I never notice it overtly,” says Lyonne. “That’s what’s so beautiful about it.”

Dunlap adds, “We talked a lot about the early days of Star Trek, which is a show that does that well, too. It’s extremely inclusive without being overt.”

Perhaps the most overt aspect of the show is Sleech’s very alive, very enthusiastic tentacle hair, which is also inspired by Dunlap’s own life experiences trying to wrangle her stubborn curls. 

“My hair has always been somewhere in between wavy and curly, and it gets crazy so easily,” she says. “It's just been this challenge my whole life. I did talk to Robin a lot about hair before we even got to Titmouse and what it might be like and the fact that it is kind of a living thing.”

Dunlap adds, “And she uses it for sex. I never thought of it as a character before. But I love that.”

Working on a 2D series about aliens, Dunlap admits it’s tempting to spend far too much time diving into all the details of character features – like tentacle hair – and fashion. There’s plenty to play with. And while the team had a timeline and a budget to consider, Dunlap had some requests that wouldn’t be overlooked. 

“I wanted The Fifth Element clothes, and I wanted all body types,” she notes, going right back to the topic of inclusivity. “And not just the various sizes of what we know as humans, but truly every size. We've got a giant guy the size of a room, we've got tentacles everywhere, there's shells, there's birds, there's every kind of creature, which was important to me. And one of our doctors is just a bird. He’s nothing fancy, but he’s so funny to me.”

The bird doctor character was made all the more funny when it came to figuring out how one would kiss a bird doctor. It made the team long for the days of brainstorming tentacle hair. “It’s very hard to kiss a beak, and to make that kiss look easy,” says Dunlap. “We ended up figuring that the mouth would just go into the beak and… you know what? I think that’s their personal business.”

The sky was really the limit when it came to diseases, intimacy techniques, and real-world topics the show could cover. One of Rudolph’s personal favorites was the topic of anxiety, which is actually a central focus for much of the first season. 

“So much is normalized and we’re really out in the open with the mental health conversations,” she says. “For me, that's very exciting.”

Dunlap adds, “The sky is the limit and it’s important to find the sci-fi ideas that matter, or that hurt, or feel exciting, or there's something in them that feels human or relatable. And, in one episode, some of the doctors get a sexually transmitted infection that turns them into the last person that they slept with. The reaction that that makes me feel when I think about it is a little bit of shame, fear, and panic. That's a good clue that it's a fun idea that feels wacky and crazy and interesting visually, but also has some real emotional heart.”

The crew consulted real doctors and scientists during production. Of course, all the diseases are made up, but it may surprise viewers to know that there is some scientific logic behind the illnesses and vegetation in this alien comedy. “One of my good friends from college is a doctor and he walked me through a typical day at work,” notes Dunlap. “We also had a science advisor, Alie Ward, who was incredible. She's the coolest. She hosts a podcast called Ologies and was really helpful in talking us through the episodes and sort of the science of them, finding a logic that kind of could make them make sense.

She continues, “There’s a patient in the show who's suffering from a fungus with a mushroom that germinates and releases spores to reproduce. It’s based on a real mushroom and Alie named it a Latin name that means something like, ‘Russian Doll Fungi.’”

There’s also a less scientifically grounded flesh blob that sucks up a bunch of the show’s characters and pays homage to the 2016 video game Inside. But we won’t give away all The Second Best Hospital’s secrets at once. Some air of mystery must remain, like whether there is a “First Best Hospital in the Galaxy?” 

Besides, for Dunlap, the most important part of this whole experience – and what should really be the focus rather than a human flesh blob – is that The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy has served as an epicenter for passionate, talented people who believed the world was in need of a show that would open dialogue about the messy absurdity of life, love, and all the other joyous and disastrous parts of being a carbon-based creature. 

“It’s been really satisfying watching these two messy alien women love each other and do their best to succeed, despite all odds,” says Dunlap. “It's okay to be anxious. It's okay to not know how to talk to people. It's okay to feel like you're failing. It's okay. All of it is normal. And all of that is just everyone's day-to-day and nobody has it more figured out than you. And everybody's doing their best. Well, some people are not doing their best. But most people are, and it has to be okay. Failing has to be ok. Because that's how you grow.”

Victoria Davis's picture

Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at