We still haven’t forgiven Netflix for canceling Tuca & Bertie, one of its best new shows of the year. Created by Lisa Hanawalt, this unconventional animated comedy set in a world where anthropomorphic birds exist became a witty and surprisingly emotional outlet that tackled female friendships, mental health, and sexual harassment. Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong did spectacular voice work for their respective titular characters—the former a loud-mouthed toucan and the latter an ambitious songbird.
Now, two months after the show was ripped away from the world, a new article by Josh Gondelman for Vulture puts some much-deserved attention on Speckle, the character voiced by Steven Yeun. Speckle is Bertie’s architect boyfriend; he’s friendly, supportive, and most importantly as the article points out, Speckle is nice. Not nice in a grating, superior, or frustrating way unlike How I Met Your Mother’s Ted Mosby or Friends’ Ross Gellar. “It’s rare to see a (bird)man on TV navigate the delicate straits between saying ‘you’ll be fine’ and contorting himself into an emotional support structure, twisting and cramping in an effort to accommodate a partner’s opaque needs. It’s a very modern problem,” Gondelman describes.
Tuca & Bertie is primarily a celebration of female characterization, letting both protagonists face battles and thrive in their own way. But it also did the difficult job of crafting a male character that is empathetic, conflicted, and genuinely kind enough to make Gondelman write, “Speckle models niceness in ways that I recognize and aspire to, but also in ways that frustrate me about myself.”
There’s no dearth of ways to analyze a show as quirky as this one, even if Speckle seemingly appears to be the least viable candidate for this. He comes off as simple and likable enough. But the deeper you get into his characterizations and flaws, you realize they’re just as well thought-out as Bertie’s or Tuca’s. Gondelman refers to a scene in which Bertie has a panic attack and calls her boyfriend who is unreachable. “When I saw that I cringed, as moments of my own blithe dude privilege hit me right in the beak, a series of brief instances of me assuring girlfriends past (and wife present/future) that things would be okay because… I don’t know… things seem okay to me.”
Let the biggest takeaway from the new Speckle and Tuca & Bertie discourse be that even an absurd animated show about talking birds can hold up a mirror when you least expect it to. That alone should warrant a second season, right?