Netflix’s ‘Tuca and Bertie’ and the Dismissal of Stories for Women

In May of this year, Tuca and Bertie was released on Netflix. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry, because you’re not alone. Unsurprisingly, this led to the show’s cancellation only three months after its release.

The animation style in Tuca and Bertie may look familiar, as it’s animated by Lisa Hanawalt, who is also an animator and producer of Bojack Horseman. Hanawalt is the creator of Tuca and Bertie, partially basing it on her 2014 comic strip aptly named Tuca the Toucan.

As a white woman, Hanawalt went out of her way to make sure that the cast was highly diverse, which definitely isn’t expected in the landscape of comedy television. The true brilliance of this inclusion is that these characters are primarily anthropomorphic birds with no real tie to the actor’s ethnicity. She could have easily taken the road that most animated shows of this nature would, filling the cast with popular white actors and comedians, à la Big Mouth, but she didn’t.

That’s where the insidious part of Tuca and Bertie‘s cancellation starts to appear. While shows like Bojack and Big Mouth have had all of the same makings—well-known voice actors, colourful storytelling, and massive amounts of relatability—somehow, Tuca and Bertie didn’t survive. And that ties into the original point: you probably hadn’t even heard of the show when it was initially released. You may have only heard of it due to its cancellation.

You have to wonder why a show this loved (with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 100%) was cancelled only three months after the initial release of its first season. While the cancellation is probably due to a mixture of a few things, including the recent dip in Netflix’s subscriber rates, it seems that the most obvious reason may align with why the show was great.

Adult animation in the past has never been tailored to women. Shows like Futurama and Bob’s Burgers have featured female characters, but in the realm of representation, they fall flat. Characters like Tina Belcher and Turanga Leela may be relatable, but they are essentially the façade of a female perspective through the voice of a man (in Tina’s case, literally).

Even in Bojack, where the show has given its most prominent female characters Diane Nguyen and Princess Carolyn tons of depth and fleshed-out storylines, they are still only there to move Bojack’s story along. Both of them have been past love interests to the titular character, essentially watering down their autonomy in the narrative. While Diane and Princess Carolyn may be characters written to reflect the female experience, Bojack as a show was not made for women and its obvious. Therein lies the real problem.

Big Mouth, Bojack, and even the significantly less successful Disenchantment were given not only ample time to grown a fan-base but a significant amount of advertising before and immediately after the release of their first seasons. Tuca and Bertie wasn’t given even close to as much care or room to grow because it’s a show that is primarily by, for, and about the female experience.

Tuca and Bertie is about the challenges of living every day as an adult woman. It doesn’t shy away from being honest about any of it, and it does so through comedy in a way that isn’t dismissive or bluntly uncaring.

When I was first brainstorming for this article, the news of its cancellation hadn’t been released yet. Initially, this was going to be an excited exploration of what made Tuca and Bertie the perfect Saturday morning cartoon for women everywhere. Unfortunately, that excitement has been turned to frustration, and you may be able to see why.

Following the release of the bad news, Hanawalt made a Twitter thread discussing how the whole process affected her. Her words have added to the disappointment that I feel, thinking about all of the work and love that was put into this show.

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If you still haven’t watched Tuca and Bertie, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I can’t recommend it enough. As of now, the first season remains on Netflix. Hopefully, Hanawalt will get her wish and the show will be picked up somewhere else. It’s obvious from the first season that there are still so many more stories to tell from the perspectives of Tuca and Bertie.

 

by Zoey Hickman

Zoey Hickman is a self-proclaimed starving artist with a passion for storytelling. She’s obsessed with horror and politics, because honestly, what’s the difference? Her favorite movies are HalloweenJurassic ParkArrival and Scream.

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