The real-life Emily Dickinson was a big fan of gardening and wrote about bees a lot in her poetry, so, of course, Apple TV+’s kooky, anachronistic bio-sitcom Dickinson had to deliver the goods with a bee of its own. In the show’s third episode, Emily and her siblings throw a house party when their parents go off to Boston for a night, which gives the show an excuse to delve into all sorts of teen house-party tropes, including a rager that gets out of hand, the arrival of local mean girls, and a scene where everyone gets high (in this case, on opium). After getting high, Emily hallucinates a dance with an enormous, human-size bee, voiced by Jason Mantzoukas.
The bee, according to Dickinson creator Alena Smith, was a way to introduce the trippier elements of Dickinson’s poetry into Dickinson, and also play with some historical expectations about the period. “Living in the 1850s was a lot trippier than people realize,” Smith said, though she admits the characters reacted to opium more like today’s teens might on a drug like molly. “When we were filming that scene, I would be looking at some of the actors and be like, ‘What drug are they on?’ I don’t know!”
The bee itself is a puppet with CGI enhancements on its wings, and as it turns out, it’s Hollywood’s go-to bee puppet, since it previously made an appearance in 2016’s The Nice Guys. Smith, to be clear, came up with her own idea before seeing that movie. “I went and saw the The Nice Guys, and Ryan Gosling in that movie smokes weed with a bee in a car. And I’m like, What the fuck? Someone else thought of a bee smoking weed? Then we go into production on Dickinson and they tell me, ‘Well, we’ve got this bee puppet. It’s the one that was designed for The Nice Guys.”
So, Hollywood’s favorite drug-adjacent bee got a job yet again. But according to Smith, “We had to spruce up his fur and make him a little cozier and more fun for us, because he was kind of a seedy, gross bee for The Nice Guys.”
As for the voice, Smith thought Jason Mantzoukas was just the natural choice: “I don’t know who else would do a puppet bee.” He recorded the insect’s lines in a single ADR session, so Smith never actually got to meet him while he worked on the show. She’s only got one small regret about his casting. “Should we have saved Jason Mantzoukas and cast him as Whitman or something like that?” Smith muses. “But, you know, he’s the bee.”