Bee and PuppyCat Thrives on Vibes and Quirk—Its History Is Just as Strange

An ode to a resurrected series of a bygone era.

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<i>Bee and PuppyCat</i> Thrives on Vibes and Quirk&#8212;Its History Is Just as Strange

2013 was a time, an epoch, an indelible moment in humanity. Social media crawled out of its infancy and started running along the path to become the societal behemoth it is today. It was a peak time to be a Millennial on Tumblr, a haven for “haz-ing cheeburgerz” and thinking deeply about posts from the Philosoraptor. User-generated content was the shit, and Smosh and Pewdiepie dominated the YouTube landscape long before late-night hosts would capitalize the market. Anything was possible, and everything was blissfully cringe. It’s impossible not to romanticize this bygone era when watching Netflix’s recently released animated series Bee and PuppyCat because, for better and worse, it’s almost literally a product lost in time.

The series was originally created for Cartoon Hangover’s pilot incubator series Too Cool! Cartoons. Fronted by long time executive Fred Seibert, Cartoon Hangover was the adult-oriented branch of Frederator Studios, which produced classics such as The PowerPuff Girls and Adventure Time. Conceived of and written by character designer Natasha Allegri, the two-part pilot introduced Bee, a spaced-out and quirky girl who lives on a vaguely magical island, and PuppyCat, her feline-dog of indeterminate species from Outer Space. Lackadaisically scraping by in life, the two often take odd jobs as intergalactic temp workers to appease their relatable but nevertheless ridiculous desires.

The pilot quickly became a fan-favorite, leading to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a full 10-episode season, which aired on Cartoon Hangover sporadically from 2014-2016. The second half of the season even premiered as a VRV exclusive—a fandom-based streaming service that I frankly forgot existed until doing research for this article. Thanks to both VRV and YouTube (where the full series would eventually air in 2018), the world of Bee and PuppyCat expanded, introducing love-interest and terrible baker Deckard Wizard, his sister Cass, seven-year old British landlord Cardamom, and his dog Sticky.

The series endeared itself to droves of online fans due to its shoegaze storytelling and awkward nature. The animation was simple but eye-catching, and the dialogue focused on naturalism and misunderstandings, often including characters changing thought mid-sentence or mispronouncing words. It was adult without needing to be crass or gory, instead lazing along from episode to episode. Characters never grew nor changed, and the overarching plot was present, if thin; cash-strapped characters were too focused on disparate wacky adventures for a spiritual metamorphosis to occur. A more complex story hovered just on the periphery of the slacker narrative, but it was never a core of it. What mattered most was Bee, PuppyCat, and their misadventure of the day.

Bee and PuppyCat was an unabashed product of its era even when it was released, oozing Millennial charm with each off-handed comment about the difficulties of simply existing in a world with high rent, reality TV, and blatant consumerism. These were just facts of life stated without political or external commentary, and Bee and PuppyCat were often on the receiving end of their own jokes. The webseries lacks the nihilistic frustration of Gen X and darkly humorous cynicism of Gen Z, leaning instead into chill vibes and light-attitudes.

It was enough of a cult success to warrant a second season; Bee and PuppyCat: Lazy in Space was greenlit in 2017, and intended for release solely on VRV. A trailer released in 2018 promised a 2019 airdate, and an episode even premiered at the 2019 Ottawa International Animation Festival before… silence. 2019 came and went with nary an update about when and where the full season would arrive. Fans waited with baited breath for any news at all, even that of cancellation, about their favorite part-time duo.

Their wish was granted: the entirety of Bee and PuppyCat: Lazy in Space was accidentally leaked on Fred Seibert’s Vimeo. Yes, you read that right: the long-gestating and highly anticipated 13 episode season was just uploaded on Vimeo out of nowhere for free. They were quickly taken down, but the genie was already out of the bottle; copies and downloads were out there on the hard drives of fans all around the world. Seibert stepped down as CEO of Frederator not long after, although it’s unclear if the events are connected.

The show eventually found a distributor in Netflix, who commissioned three new episodes to compile the original season into a reworked reboot, allowing people to start the series fresh. Although a 2022 release was promised, fans of the series knew better than to get their hopes up, and went on with life having accepted that the series simply would never continue. A nearly stealth release in September (it was preceded by the bare minimum marketing of a singular trailer) surprised me and many other fans.

At long last, Lazy in Space was here, and we would be graced with more Bee and PuppyCat shenanigans that finally answered the Earth-shattering twist at the end of the first season. What remained to be seen, though, was if we still needed the series. Would the show still be as charming and effective in a harsher, more traumatized world? Would the Millennial humor and gags still work, or would they feel out of touch and immediately date the series?

The answer is more complex than a simple yes and no, but I am pleased to report that Bee and PuppyCat (The NetflixTM remix) mostly succeeds by the sheer virtue of there being nothing quite like it being made anymore. The retelling of the webseries is the weakest part of the season, expanding the original 60 minutes into something more cohesive but less fun and sporadic. Having a direct comparison so easily available (you can watch the original here) does the remake no favors, with the jokes, art style, and retrospective world-building all feeling weaker than their webseries counterparts.

Once you hit the fourth episode, the first of the thirteen created originally for the Lost in Space subtitle, everything opens up. All the plot set-up takes a backseat for doing what Bee and PuppyCat themselves are best at: lounging around. We are introduced to the rest of Deckard and Cass’s family, who are all also named after fictional wizards, sporting an eclectic voice cast with the likes of Kumail Nanjiani (Howell), Arin “EgoRaptor” Hansen (Wesley), and Freddie Wong (Tim). Once again, jokes can just be jokes, taking up a little bit more space than their punch-lines would deem proper to find a home in the middle of funny and awkward, a place only Allegri and her co-writers (which include her friend and former boss, Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward) know how to conjure.

Episodes are full of background fodder, excuses for silly ideas from the writers’ room to be sent to their animator friends to make them laugh. As such, everything feels haphazardly purposeful, a planned entropy that tugs you along not for the adventure itself but the experience of hanging out with the characters. Major revelations to the viewer are treated with nonchalance and disinterest by the narrative, which focuses more closely on intimate moments of spontaneous motivation over plot desires. It’s such a radical departure from the prominent serialized nature of television and films that, read the wrong way, it could be considered poor quality. Read the right way, it’s endearing, remnants of a mindset that used to pervade online spaces like a positive and lugubrious virus.

Sometimes this style of writing does drag, though, making the 13 episodes feel closer to 30, but that’s not the series’ fault. When Bee and PuppyCat was conceived, serialized animation was far from the norm. Episodes were meant to be 11-minute bites of character moments and memorable plots, something fun that people could throw on and enjoy without any prior context. Many Frederator productions were created in this fashion, but by 2014 even Adventure Time had started shifting focus from scattershot stories to a larger, grander plot. Steven Universe, a contemporary Cartoon Network series created by another Adventure Time alum Rebecca Sugar, wove a cohesive plot after its first season. Dozens of series followed suit, and suddenly it became out of place for an animation directed toward older kids/teenagers to not have a narrative in mind from the jump.

Although it’s far from perfect, Bee and PuppyCat is a loving reminder that once upon a time, people could make stories for fun. That everything that was popular didn’t need to have studio backing or be in the catalog of one of the few conglomerates dominating the industry. Shows could be made without an operatic super-story slowly unfurling in the background, but that’s just not where the audience is anymore. The subdued release by Netflix only increases the fears that Bee and PuppyCat, once a showcase of this style and era of animation, is also its swansong.

It’s hardly unfounded—Netflix themselves canceled countless animated projects during a subscriber fall, including projects from Ava DuVernay and the former Duchess Meghan Markle. Warner Bros. Discovery, the most dangerous merger in history, has not only canceled but removed many of their animated shows, making them impossible to watch by legal means. Call it selfish, tax write-offs, or a mix of the two, it’s clear that the capitalist-driven megacorporation future finds animation to be a waste of time and money, when reality TV and yet another crappy network sitcom/cop show are cheaper and more reliable sources of income.

There is no longer an ecosystem in place for smaller cartoon webseries to find an audience and carve out a niche in the world. Cartoon Hangover hasn’t uploaded a new series in three years, becoming instead a clip channel for their shows that find a home elsewhere, and even Kickstarted web-based animations like The Legend of Vox Machina or Hazbin Hotel need support from Amazon or A24 to go to series. Animation has always required time and money, it’s just become much harder to come by without the backing of a major production company. Put simply: there is no way for a series like Bee and PuppyCat to be made anymore. And that’s a depressing thought. So we might as well enjoy it while we can.

Mik Deitz is a freelance writer and former Paste intern. They inhale stories in videogames, films, TV and books, and have never finished God of War (2018). Yell at or compliment them on Twitter @dietdeitz.

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