What Adult Swim’s Revival of ‘Tuca & Bertie’ Means for Animation

'Tuca & Bertie' has been picked up by another network after Netflix's cancellation, offering a light of hope for the future of representation in animation.

Netflix

After only one season, Netflix tragically decided to cancel the critically acclaimed Tuca & Bertie. In its short life, the show, created by Lisa Hanawalt, managed to garner massive praise for its refreshing take on the millennial female experience, and to the joy of many fans, another network has finally saved the show! Adult Swim, notorious for picking up other cancelled animated favorites, such as Family Guy and Futurama, has added Tuca & Bertie to its repertoire of bold adult animation. This pick-up is important given the fact that adult animated stories tend to focus on troubled male protagonists, with Rick and Morty or Bojack Horseman being fitting examples, and the women in the shows tend to be the butt of the joke (think of any Seth Macfarlane series). 

In similar fashion to Bojack Horseman, on which Hanawalt had previously worked, Tuca & Bertie follows the life of anthropomorphic animals. However, aside from this similarity, Tuca & Bertie is worlds away from the dark, depressing comedy of its predecessor. The goofy show follows the lives of two bird best friends, Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) and Bertie (Ali Wong), and throughout the course of their adventures, the audience sees topics from anxiety to sexual harassment addressed in an entirely unique manner. This is part of what makes Tuca & Bertie so great: for the first time in the realm of adult animation, women’s voices are centered and heard. They aren’t made to be the butt of the joke, whether it be by means of fat-shaming or any other avenue through which women are routinely criticized. Instead, Hanawalt created something that makes women feel seen.

When I watched the series for the first time, I felt validated by a show in a way I never had before — Bertie’s fears are my fears as a mentally ill 20-something, and the jokes mirror the same sort of humor that my friends and I employ to cope with our increasingly stressful futures. This all became further certified when my 46-year-old father watched the show on account of my recommendation and had the following to say: “You have to be on drugs to watch this.” And although I wouldn’t say I completely agree, I do think it speaks to the level of psychedelia and eccentricity implemented by Hanawalt to mirror the unprecedentedly tumultuous experience of growing up in the 21st century. 

The cancellation of Tuca & Bertie was a devastating blow to marginalized voices in the entertainment community. When a show with such rave reviews cannot make the cut – what can? The termination of shows with LGBT+ representation like Everything Sucks and One Day at a Time further push this question, as they, like Tuca & Bertie, got the axe from Netflix despite being largely celebrated. Some shows, such as the latter two, get picked up again because of outspoken fans, but most cancelled series don’t share that same fate. 

If Tuca & Bertie had been more profitable, perhaps it would have been renewed on Netflix, but that was never its intent. Shows about marginalized communities are often not going to be as widely profitable — people from outside those communities have a hard time being alienated in the way the target audiences are so used to. This whole sentiment is reflected in the way that Netflix’s most notable and most marketed queer show, Queer Eye, is largely centered around heterosexual stories. It seems impossible to gain representation for marginalized groups when profitability is what determines the course of popular entertainment. 

In a time where people need positive content more than ever, Tuca & Bertie is there to provide a glimpse into a fantastical world that still feels true to our own. Being a young adult in such a turbulent time is scary, so having shows like Tuca & Bertie helps make it feel less lonely.  Entertainment is often a form of escapism, and watching a kooky pair of cartoon birds deal with life just happens to be a great avenue to do so. The return of Tuca & Bertie means more inclusive rhetoric in the world of animation, and now that it resides on Adult Swim, hopefully it can bring a tide of change to the network, as its current lineup lacks the diversity that its audience represents.

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1 Comment

  1. This article is beatifically written and perfectly elucidates the issues faced by animation series that seek to explore oft underrepresented experiences. As an avid fan of animation, I’m glad that Tuca & Bertie will continue; although I haven’t seen it yet, this article has convinced me to give it a watch!

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