It’s not like Amy Poehler needed any more work.
A regular on “Saturday Night Live” for seven seasons, she co-anchors the fake news on Weekend Update and seemingly pops up in every other sketch on the show.
This year alone she’ll appear in three feature films, including the new “Baby Mama,” with former SNL co-star Tina Fey, which opened Friday.
But somewhere in the middle of all that, Poehler found time for one more project – “The Mighty B!,” an animated kids’ show that debuts at 10:30 a.m. today on the Nickelodeon cable network.
The show stars Bessie Higgenbottom – voiced by Poehler – a Honeybee scout who thinks that if she manages to earn all 400-some Honeybee badges she’ll be transformed into a superhero known as the Mighty Bee.
“We wanted to develop a cartoon together,” says Poehler of the simple inspiration that led to creating the show with friends Cynthia True and Eric Wiese. “And we were looking for something that had a strong female character and voice, and it just started there.
“Once we had the idea of Bessie, and knew how she would sound and act, it just sort of exploded,” she says.
How Bessie sounds and acts is a lot like a toned-down version of the slightly unhinged Girl Scout Cassie that Poehler created a decade ago in the improv clubs of Chicago, and later the Comedy Central series “Upright Citizens Brigade.”
Cassie was an over-the-top, slightly obnoxious but deep down good-hearted scout. So what if she knocked on the Unibomber’s door and tried so relentlessly to sell him cookies that they ended up as pillow-fighting pals? That’s late-night sketch comedy gold, right there!
Bessie hangs around with her brother Ben – reluctantly – and her dog Happy (he’s the reluctant partner in this relationship) and the other scouts in her Honeybee troop.
She’s a whirlwind of energy, talking a mile a minute with a bit of lisp, and often as not getting herself into trouble despite the best of intentions.
“I like to use the word overenthusiastic,” Poehler says of Bessie’s nature. “I think she acts before she thinks a lot. She uses a lot of words, and she’s kind of gung ho.
“What I like about her is that she’s a little unflappable,” she says. “When things aren’t going well she knows how to rally the troops, even if the troops are just her and her dog and her index finger.”
(An index finger named Finger, upon which Bessie draws a smiley face morning and a sleepy face at night. They’re best friends – it’s a cartoon, these things happen.)
The goal was to make it funny (enter Poehler) and beautiful (enter Wiese, a veteran of “SpongeBob SquarePants).
“And the third thing was, we really wanted to stay away from it being a kind of ‘girl cartoon,’ where girls are mean to each other or they’re boy crazy,” Poehler says. “What I do like about Bessie is that she really is (all) sweaty elbows and ankles.
“She believes she can be a waitress and a scientist and she’s not embarrassed or ironic in anyway. And that kind of lack of self-awareness sort of makes her a bit of a tornado, and bossy and kind of a buttinski.
“She just wears people down,” Poehler says.
Brown Johnson, president for animation at Nickelodeon, says the show appealed to the network for that strong character, as a well as its look, a style known as “squash and stretch” that harks back to the look of classic shows like “The Flintstones” and “Yogi Bear.”
“I think it’s all about real, strong girls,” Johnson says. “It’s like back to the good old days of animation. It’s this kind of magic combination.”
Working with an established star like Poehler has been a delight, Johnson said of the network’s experience with the busy actress.
“She really is the character, and she’s really involved in a positive – not celebrity-ish – way,” she says. “I think sometimes when famous people get involved with projects, it sometimes makes it more complicated.
“Amy’s completely unfancy, really, really smart, and funnier than anyone I’ve ever met,” Johnson says.
Both Brown and Poehler say that despite having a girl as the lead character, “The Mighty B!” is made to appeal to both girls and boys.
“That whole rule the networks have, if you put a girl character at the center of the show, the girls will watch it and the boys won’t, I think that’s not only wrong but it’s stupid,” Johnson says. “So we’ll challenge it.”
Poehler says that at test screenings of the show, boys and girls both liked the show, though they seemed to respond to different aspects of it.
“The girls are kind of mesmerized by Bessie,” she says. “Some are just shaking their heads and laughing. And other girls just can’t take their eyes off of her.
“The boys are really into Happy (Bessie’s hapless mutt) and how Ben (Bessie’s hapless little brother) is never getting his fair share.
“And everybody wanted to jump around and talk like her, which is kind of fun, because she does have a voice that you want to impersonate.”