‘Harvey Girls Forever’: Brendan Hay and Aliki Theofilopoulos Look Back on Their Hit Netflix Series

     January 14, 2020

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In our final interview with Harvey Girls Forever executive producer Brendan Hay and supervising producer Aliki Theofilopoulos, we look back over four seasons and 52 episodes of the Harvey Street Kids series. Season 4 was an absolute delight, one that continued the trend of successful storytelling that the previous seasons delivered while having the unenviable task of tying up the stories of Audrey, Lotta, Dot, and all the other kids before they were called in for dinner. It’s a bittersweet ending, because even though the finale gave us a fitting send-off, Harvey Girls Forever has come to a close (though you can still watch the whole series here!)

We chatted with Hay and Theofilopoulos one last time in order to look back over Season 4 and their Harvey Comics adaptation. Fair warning: Some spoilers ahead!

The producing duo talked about the things they’re most proud of in Season 4 and in the show overall, the Chanukah special, the introduction of Casper, and the big musical send-off for the show. Plus, they revealed their preferred origin story for The Bow, the possibility of seeing more Casper in the future, the big reveal of all the kids’ parents in the final episode, and much more. As a parting gift, Hay and Theofilopoulos teased what they’re up to next, including Warner Bros. Animation’s Gremlins series, heading to HBO Max in 2021, and a super-secret project for DreamWorks Animation.

You can listen above or follow along with the transcript below:

Image via Netflix

Congratulations on the fourth, and I guess final, season of Harvey Girls Forever! What’s that feel like to be done with this series that has consumed the last few years of your lives?

Aliki Theofilopoulos: Well, I was just going to say it just feels so good and it feels really satisfying just getting a sense of the reception so far. It just feels so good to see fans so happy with how we ended the show. Getting a chance to see Casper, these fun little surprises that we had in store. But just that they could walk away from the series feeling really good about how it all wrapped up. There was one fan who was really concerned if the girls were going to be friends forever. And people were happy to find out that they would be. But I feel really just really proud of our work, but also just very pleased that the fans seemed to be happy with it too.

Brendan Hay: Yeah. Like totally echoing all of that. I also think at the end of anything that you love working on, there’s a bittersweet quality to it. Because obviously there’s a part of me that wanted to just keep working with this crew and telling stories with these characters forever. The flip side of it is I really am proud of how we ended the series and I’m glad that [it’s just out there] with people now, in general. Because one of the hardest parts of animation is you work on something so far in advance of when the public gets to see it. So we’ve been living with knowing, like, this is how it’s going to wrap up for like a year and a half. And it’s wanting people to get to experience that and enjoy it and check it out and all that kind of thing. And now, not even just the finale, but all of these episodes, like, finally you get to kind of talk about the thing you worked on and loved working on with the world, so that part’s always cool.

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I’m glad you brought that up, too. I was curious, was the four seasons, 13 episodes per season, was that always the plan from the beginning? Or did you have loftier goals in mind?

Hay: It’s always been kind of slightly above our pay grade, really, is how those decisions get made. But the one nice thing with DreamWorks is they always give you at least a season heads up of when you’re going to wrap. So it was at that point of kind of episode-wise like the end of Season 3, beginning of Season 4 it was like, “Hey this is going to be the [end.] We’re not going to come back for another one beyond that.” So they give you plenty of time to wrap it up. And also for us, there’s like plenty of time to kind of do every idea that we had still left on the table that we knew we wanted to get to. So you’re not stuck in that position of like, “Oh no, we’re out of time and we never got to do the Casper episode or we never get asked to do Horn-a-Corn theme park.” Like that kind of thing. Like we had time, every idea that was on our list kind of thing, so that was great.

We kind of knew also just that there’s… that tends to be the lifespan of most DreamWorks shows, unless they’re exceptions, but it’s, on average, this is the lifespan. We kind of expected that going in. We did try to throw in our little hope of like, “Hey, if people really love our Casper episode or people really love our Richie Treasure Hunt episode, we’d be totally happy to do a spin-off of those.”

Theofilopoulos: Oh, yeah, exactly.

Hay: That’s about it. Otherwise we kind of knew it was the end.

Image via Netflix

Also you both mentioned getting the chance to actually work in the things that you wanted to do in Season 4. So was there anything in Season 4 that was left off that you would have liked to have seen?

Theofilopoulos: First of all, I think it would be fun to do more episodes with Casper in it. That was an introduction that we really, really, really wanted to get to bring Casper in to this show. And it was something that ended up working out for the final season. But I think that it’s just such a fun episode. And I love our version of Casper and especially how he plays against the rest of the cast. But I think it would have been really fun to do more episodes with him.

Hay: Yeah. That and the one other one, we almost did a Wendy the Witch episode. Basically, we came really close to doing a Wendy the Witch episode and external factors beyond everybody are why it didn’t end up happening. But our story editor Mike Yank wrote up a really good premise for what that episode would have been and Wendy the Witch was a super fun idea. That, and kind of coupled off of that, were more Casper episodes. We also had some other, I think, increasingly crazy ideas for The Bow. I think that’s about the only stuff that really got left on the table.

Now that the show’s kind of wrapped up, can you confirm The Bow’s origin story? Do you have a head-canon in mind?

Hay: I absolutely have a head-canon in mind. I’m not sure I want to say what it is. There’s one thing that is said in… it definitely would have been in the Wendy episode that never got made. I think there’s a line that still hints at what it would have been in the Casper episode. I think the one sentence is in there somewhere. So I’m just giving the hint to anybody, whatever The Bow claims to be in the Casper episode, I think is what my own head-canon is.

Image via Netflix

That’s the one where she says something like, “I may be a black cat that belonged to a witch who was turned into a familiar.”

Hay: Yep. That’s what my head-canon would be.

Okay, cool. Perfect. Love it. That’s The Bow.

So you guys also mentioned some of the standout episodes and moments from the series as well. I was going to talk about Casper. We previously talked about how you found your version of Richie Rich, which worked incredibly well. So how’d you go about finding your version of Casper?

Hay: Similarly, to our Richie, part of the thing that we wanted to get to is, How can this character connect to our characters? Like in the sense of, what would they add personality-wise, what’s something they can explore that we haven’t explored before? Or what’s kind of the human relatable elements to the character, especially with Casper there is that sense of, like, well he is other-worldly in a way that like all of our kid characters, with the exception of maybe The Bow, are fairly…They’re still kids in the end and Casper is a little different than that. So the writer’s room and I and Aliki did our deep dive on Casper going back through the kind of different permutations of him all throughout the years. And one of things we got to was, like, okay we really liked the version where he’s a child ghost, that he’s always been a ghost. Like he was never formally human, because that kind of went back and forth in different versions of him through the years.

But if it was that he’d always been a ghost and started playing into like, well ghosts are supposed to be scary, but he’s the friendly ghost. So it’s the idea like he’s afraid of being himself, basically he’s afraid of being a ghost. But that kind of got to a kid place that felt very much in line with our characters. So once we kind of found that very human element of self-doubt or not being comfortable with who you’re supposed to be. And then figuring out how to be who you want to be, that started to feel like, “Okay, this is a version of this character that could totally slide in alongside our own.” And even if there is this other world, the element, it wouldn’t feel too jarring.

Image via Netflix

I absolutely love the design of Harvey Boo-levard, this little pocket universe that existed. I wanted to see more of that, definitely. And I love that you had some Easter eggs in there, like the three uncles that kind of float across the screen and Spooky. So would you guys like to spend more time in that world in the future, in a possible spinoff?

Hay: Absolutely.

Theofilopoulos: I absolutely would. I think it’d be a really, really fun spinoff show. Friends at DreamWorks? Hint, hint.

Hay: I would absolutely love to. And I just wanted to call out, we had a kind of guest art director on that episode.

Theofilopoulos: Oh yeah. So that’s the fun thing about that episode is one of our designers was really just showing just so much talent, but also interest in just having a hand at trying to art direct an episode. And so we gave him–Peter Emmerich, our art director–all of us, we decided to give him the opportunity to art direct this episode. And so he really brought this kind of great point of view and with taking his style and the work that we had already done on the show, but bringing it into this alternative universe and bringing the whole Casper idea in. And he did such a good job, I have to say, that the studio has now made him an art director on a new show here.

Hay: Yeah. And then I’m going to say, all of that, and then he also I know is one of the ones, there’s a bunch of those cameos, like a few things like the Hot Stuff gag was written into the script, but the Ghostly Trio, Stumbo the Giant, all that other stuff really came out of both him and our episodic director Adam Rosette and Matt Doering, [who] really kind of found other ways to incorporate more and more classic Casper and just kind of the supernatural side of Harvey into it.

Image via DreamWorks, Netflix

Cool. And I love watching Baby Huey just pop up at random, too. That was always fun every time. I had to do a double take.

Hay: Yeah. For everybody on the crew… I feel like Baby Huey, the goat, and Blaze Trickle, any time they came in, it just became a crew favorite to just find more and more ways to work in.

I wanted to give you a chance to highlight any specific moments or achievements from this particular season that you were proud of. I also particularly liked the Hanukkah episode and the big musical send-off at the end. But is there anything you want to specifically highlight from Season 4?

Theofilopoulos: Well I just, there are a couple of things, and it’s funny because, from the beginning to the end of the season, but I really love how at the start of the season, Richie has that kind of breakdown where we got to explore him, like, having his feelings basically. And where he went from there, of, in his continued exploration of just getting to be a kid on the block. And then because I always love emotional storytelling. And then I just love how it all wrapped up at the end with a big huge send-off with really getting to see what these friendships are all about. And what matters is how the girls care for one another, how the friends care for one another. And then especially that we got to, at the very, very end, have a chance to see these parents that were, or the way we represented the parents of the girls was really special to me too. And I’m glad that we got to have the opportunity to do that.

Hay: There’s a lot I really love in this season. The Hanukkah episode, really just wanting to call it out, was a passion project of one of our writers, Sarah Nerboso. And just basically I kind of like as the story is in the episode of her very rightfully pointing out that there’re tons upon tons of Christmas episodes in a very small canon of Hanukkah ones. So wanting to use this chance to create one. So I was really glad that we did and really happy with how that turned out. I also really love our other Fredo episode from this season. And kind of a nice tale about how representation matters. But then also what I kind of love about our show in general: There’s a very sweet moral about how representation matters and him making his next movie.

Image via Netflix

The episode also features one of my favorite running gags of the entire series, which is just Audrey and the cannon and wanting, and waiting for her cue with the cannon the entire time, which is just ridiculous, but a joke I just happen to love. And then for other things from this season that I really dug is two voice actors who I always wanted to work with: Judy Greer, I was super excited to have her in for the Horn-a-Corn episode, and I got to work with Jackson Publick once a long time ago on something that never aired but getting to bring him in as one of our pirates, that was a blast also because I’m such a fan of Venture Brothers. So it’s just getting a chance to work with some people that I’ve always wanted to do was great.

Theofilopoulos: And we got to do so many kind of different things, too. Like with the Tapir of Doom, getting to kind of get this adventure vibe going with the characters. So getting to kind of push and try different things now that we have set up this world and the characters, getting to kind of take them to the next level was really fun.

Definitely. Is there anything you wish you could back to your earlier selves and tell them like one word of advice, something that you know now that you wish that you knew then?

Hay: You know what, it’s interesting. So this is something I told people when making Harvey. Every other show I’ve ever been on, there’s at least one episode in one or two cases more episodes, but at least one episode, that I’m like, man, I wish I could just pull that from ever being shown and like it’s just an episode I’m so unhappy with it, I just wish to never be seen again. I don’t have that on Harvey.

Image via Netflix

Harvey is the only project I’ve ever had where I’m like, “I actually kind of love all of these.” Like there’s certain episodes that are I think better than others, but like I really, I’m actually very proud of all of it. So I don’t really have too much that I’d go back and tell my younger self, except for maybe space out your musical numbers more throughout the course of the series so that you have enough left in the budget for Season 4. The only episode, and I still love the episodes as one of my favorite Audrey performances, but the cuddleatures episode from Season 2, I would just tell my past self, “Hey, you’re going to have this idea to give you some really funny bits but just don’t do it.” Because the cuddleatures themselves became such a problematic production nightmare.

Theofilopoulos: It’s funny because Brendan brought up the one that I was going to bring up about the cuddleatures. Because I think what it is, just thinking about like looking back and I really don’t, I tend to just kind of allow myself to grow as I go so that I don’t end up with regrets. I sort of have that philosophy in all areas of life, not just in my work life. But to be conscious and grow as you go. So hopefully, I feel like I maintain that philosophy through the show. But one thing that was kind of interesting, like Brendan said with the the cuddleatures, that was an episode where while we are working on it and we just had so many problems, it was tough to animate. There were just so many issues with it that we kept feeling like, “Oh my God, this episode is going to fall apart.” We’re going to have so many problems or is there anyway we can pull it?

And we ended up getting to be surprised because at the end of the day, and it was just, that was kind of a lesson, too. It’s just at the end of the day, like all the pain and the strife, it’s sort of unnecessary because everybody comes together and does their job and things do work out. Like, maybe in looking back, it’s just know that when you trust yourself and you’ve brought on really great people and brought on really great support that these moments that seem like, “Oh my gosh, this is all going to kind of fall apart,” everything’s going to be okay because you have such a great support system in place. And it ended up being a really great episode that a lot of people like that were like, “Oh, okay, here you go.”

Image via Netflix

Hay: Exactly. It really is a testament to… Aliki, you put it perfectly, a testament to our crew. Because like not just that episode, but anytime we thought we might be in the weeds or anything like that, it really did just come back to whether it was the writer’s room, or the board artists, or the design team, or the post-production team, like everybody involved at some point during the life of the show kind of saved the day on an episode. If anything, I’d go to tell our younger selves, just trust in this crew.

Did you have any anxiety going into the massive musical number send-off? Or was that kind of like, “We’ve done okay so far. I think we can handle this.”

Hay: I had no anxiety. I feel like our composers may have.

Theofilopoulos: It was just a big ask of them and they loved it. They loved the challenge. It was like a juicy project for them, but definitely it was a lot to take on for them, clearly. And then for our board team to then go and create these fantastic storyboards, and the images that can be used for animation out of this wonderful song.

Hay: I think Aliki and I kind of were thankfully in the easiest part of that. It was more of the fact that everybody else really did bring it in the end. I think the people it actually might have driven the most nuts is our overseas partner studios. Because I do feel like the big end of that musical number with like almost every regular and recurring character we ever had on screen. Yeah. I feel like they are the ones who, if they’re the ones to question, if they got to do the show over would probably be to say no to that kind of shot. But otherwise, everybody really did bring their A game and made it happen.

Image via DreamWorks, Netflix

Well, to wrap things up today, while we wait for potentially more news or perhaps spin-offs from the Harvey Girls franchise, what is up next for the both of you that you can, or would like to, talk about?

Hay: Yeah, I can say I’m working on Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai right now for Warner Bros., which has been a blast and totally different type of show than Harvey. Getting to do a horror and horror comedy aimed at slightly older kids is a very different beast but still been a lot of fun and yeah, so that’ll come out sometime in 2021.

Theofilopoulos: And I get to say almost nothing.

Oh no.

Theofilopoulos: I’m co-executive producing a new show. I’m here at DreamWorks. It’s going to be for one of our streaming partners. And I believe something will be announced soon because we just were asked for some press art.

So cool.

Hay: Cool.

Theofilopoulos: Yeah, I’m really excited.

Well, we will keep an eye out for that. As always, it’s been a pleasure to talk with both of you. Congrats again on Harvey Girls Forever! And best of luck on your projects to come.

Image via Netflix