Warning: Contains spoilers for Tuca & Bertie.
Most of us don’t get a fairy tale life. The typical human experience is more like an equation: Be Born + Go To School If You Can + Get a Job If You Can x [Problems, Many] x [Maybe Fall In Love] x [Maybe Have A Kid or a Dog]. But that’s not to say the mortal grind is not worth cherishing. It’s weird and hard and sometimes good, and we spend every waking second thinking about it and trying to nudge it forward. It’s important to us because it’s ours.
Some television is aimed at whisking us away from that experience (Game of Thrones). Some of it is a buffed version of our lives, just recognizable enough to relate to, but designed to end with Hollywood happiness (Friends, LOL). Other shows know we just need a break (thank you, The Great British Baking Show).
Lisa Hanawalt’s animated series, Tuca & Bertie is different. It takes our modest travails and tenderly makes them the focus of its world—which is animal-populated, off-the-charts bizarre, and hand-drawn in Technicolor. Tuca (a toucan, voiced by Tiffany Haddish) and Bertie (a song thrush, voiced by Ali Wong) are roommates who have been best friends forever. In the first episode, Tuca is moving out into her own apartment, while Bertie’s boyfriend—the sweetly normie robin Speckle (Steven Yeun)—is moving in. They’re sad, and shenanigans ensue when Bertie accidentally gives away Speckle’s grandmother’s ashes. So far, so normal.
As the show progresses, though, unexpected undercurrents surface. Tuca, usually so carefree and lucky (she’s probably a Sagittarius), goes on a date and freaks out completely. Later, it’s revealed this is the first date she’s been on since she became sober; understandably, her unfamiliarity with how to act in a situation where she’d usually rely on alcohol screwed with her head. In another episode, Bertie gets so anxious about a work presentation that she calls in sick. The penultimate episode, which would already be a stunner thanks to guest appearances from Isabella Rossellini and Jane Lynch, features an arc so moving and delicately explored that it would be a shame for me to spoil it here.
Yesterday, Hanawalt announced that Netflix had decided not to renew Tuca & Bertie for a second season. “Tuca & Bertie is everything I wanted it to be,” she wrote, “beautiful, funny, fresh, loving, horny, weird, experimental, comforting, and deep. The whole team put our hearts and asses into this show, and I’m so proud of it.” This is a bummer, for so many reasons.
Aesthetically, Tuca & Bertie is gloriously weird. If you’re familiar with Hanawalt’s work, you’ll know what to expect: She’s the production designer of that other animal-human series BoJack Horseman and has illustrated several imaginatively odd books, including the children’s title Farts Around the World. In the opening credits, the buildings bop to the beat of the theme music; one of the buildings has naked boobs that jiggle. Tuca’s neighbor is a lady with a plant for a head. There are very few things like it in this world.
Then there are Wong and Haddish, who are undeniably wonderful in their roles, bringing warmth and an occasional prickliness to their bird personas. Hanawalt’s vision for Tuca and Bertie’s world is magnificent and strange, from the way the besties stride around like that toddler interrupting her dad’s BBC interview to the many random uses of turtles. The most important thing Tuca & Bertie did, though, is reflect experiences we don’t see on TV that often. One word that keeps coming up in appreciative tweets is “seen.”
Tuca and Bertie might be birds, but they are also pretty good approximations for human women in their late twenties and early thirties. They are imperfect and devoted BFFs, achievers of modest dreams, and makers of poor decisions. They are anxious and avoidant and sexy dorks, and they are there for each other no matter how many mundane tasks or difficult epiphanies they must weather.
With Peak TV quantities of series being ordered and canceled across networks and streaming platforms, fans and commentators clamoring to save a show has become a run-of-the-mill social media exercise these days. But losing Tuca & Bertie would mean losing a lot. For one, as Adam Ruins Everything‘s Adam Conaboy pointed out, the show earned universal acclaim from critics. It’s also a show that has two women of color as leads, and everyone who celebrated Always Be My Maybe‘s Asian-American love story might also want to champion Steven Yeun’s boyfriend status here. As some fans have pointed out, while BoJack is a different show, it trades in the familiar trope of the average dude, and it has managed to stick around. Where are the shows for us average-ass women?
Despite the outpouring of praise and support for Tuca & Bertie, it’s unclear what’s going to happen now. Will the show find another home or simply exist as one perfect season that lucky people will continue to discover? The only certain thing is that not getting to see Tuca and Bertie grow and develop would leave a TV gap only partway filled. To Tuca & Bertie, to borrow from Bertie herself: “I’ll miss you! Ugh, I hate change.”