When a show comes out that’s created by a woman, stars women, and is to its core about women, it’s hard not to be excited. When those women are Lisa Hanawalt, Tiffany Haddish, and Ali Wong, and the show – Tuca & Bertie – is bright, gorgeously animated, and funny, it’s hard not to completely fall in love with it. So this makes Netflix’s decision to cancel it after one season nothing less than heartbreaking.
Tuca & Bertie follows the usually confident and newly sober Tuca (Tiffany Haddish), and the anxious, baking loving Bertie (Ali Wong). The pair were previously roommates, and when we first meet them Tuca has just moved into the apartment above Bertie’s to make room for Bertie’s boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun). The change is hard for both of them; Bertie’s anxiety is making it hard for her to juggle all the aspects of her busy life, and Tuca’s unsure of what she wants to do with hers. For both of them, moving into this next phase of their lives presents challenges.
In any other show, Tuca would have been played off as a one dimensional party animal who’s always landing herself in trouble. Here however, we get to see the ways her sobriety effects her day to day life: how she struggles with things like dating when she’s not drunk, how her relationship with alcohol has affected her relationship with her family, and how that’s changed now she doesn’t drink. She’s handled with such care by the writers and Tiffany Haddish’s performance, that so many parts of her personality shine through. She gets to be brilliant and funny as well as vulnerable and in need of support – something that her best friend Bertie can often overlook.
Bertie’s anxiety is the heart of her storyline. It pervades everything she does whether at work, in her relationships, or in her passion for baking. She constantly talks herself down, and has trouble believing that she can push herself to succeed. What makes this representation of anxiety special however, is that it also brings into focus the way it can cause you treat other people when you’re avoiding your problems, or are so self focused you forget other people need your support as well. Yet, the balance is perfectly struck. And whilst we can understand that Bertie’s behaviour can hurt other people, she’s not villainized. Rather, she’s she’s given the time to examine this for herself and come to terms with her childhood trauma that’s the root cause of her anxiety, in a way that’s handled thoughtfully by everyone involved in the show.
Yet amongst all these serious themes, the show still manages to be funny. Its humour is absurd and delightful – the first episode ends with Speckle eating a ghost cake made from his grandmother’s ashes andfter being sexual harrassed, Bertie’s left breast literally leaves her body to ‘go for a drink’. The show features giant sex bugs and ‘The Center for Sex Bug Control’, plus there are multitudes of bird puns in the dialogue and in the background. And the most refreshing thing of all is we’re never hit with ‘jokes’ that are racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive. Losing this show means losing something that cared about its audience, that understood the topics it was dealing with, and that it’s possible to be funny without it being at anyone’s expense.
The extra kick in the teeth is that BoJack Horseman, another animated show Hanawalt produces, will be releasing its sixth season this year. BoJack has a lot of the same strengths that Tuca & Bertie does in that it handles topics surrounding mental health and relationships carefully. However, whilst it features some excellent women characters, it’s much more male-centric than Tuca & Bertie is, and the fact one continues to run whilst the other can’t make it past one season is telling, especially with Netflix’s history of cancelling shows made by and featuring diverse teams of people.
Whether or not the show gets saved by another network, the one season that is available should be enjoyed for what it is. Hopefully in the future, more women will be given the chance to create stories that matter to us, using animation to explore issues that affect us, and they’ll be just thoughtful, funny, and brilliant as Tuca & Bertie.
And if Netflix would like to change their mind, the news would definitely be welcome.