Hanawalt, who’s known for her comics work and designing the look of BoJack Horseman, had free reign in her development of Tuca & Bertie, and created each birdwoman to represent the two contrasting sides of her personality. Bertie (voiced by Ali Wong) is a responsible, anxious songbird with a fiery passion for baking and enjoying good food. Tuca (Tiffany Haddish), a newly sober, confident, flashy, and wild toucan, is a wearer of short shorts and happy to be the third wheel to Bertie and her boyfriend Speckle. While Bertie thinks she may be ready to buy a house and start a family with Speckle, she also doesn’t want to leave behind her longtime best friend. In more ways than one, these BFFs are wingin' it, and it's super relatable stuff. Almost as relatable as when Bertie has a panic attack in what’s clearly a Bird Town version of Trader Joe's.
Set in a totally different universe than our own, or that of BoJack Horseman, this world Tuca and Bertie live in is surreal: In Bird Town, the characters are not limited to just bird people, but also plant people, snake people, dog people, and human people. Even some electronics are conscious. Anything is possible; Bertie’s smartphone has the ability to come to life and talk back to her. There are short scenes that seamlessly involve puppets and claymation, mirrors that talk back to you and keep your ego in check, and sexy “sex bugs” that run rampant when Tuca mixes too many STI medications.
Through Bertie’s aspirations to become a better baker, there’s an unlimited amount of food jokes (meet the “crunt,” a cross between a croissant and a bunt) which Hanawalt previously perfected in her illustrated book Hot Dog Taste Test. This show also has lots of boobs in it! There’s bouncing boobs on buildings, boobs on plant people, boobs on alligators, and one instance where Bertie’s boob detaches from her body in protest of sexual harassment and walks off with a briefcase.
In many ways, Tuca & Bertie is unlike any other cartoons for adults, like the more dude-centric BoJack Horseman or Rick and Morty. For one thing, it’s got a woman showrunner and stars two women of color. The comedy also has the unique ability to tug on heartstrings—I found myself tearing up on at least one occasion, something that’s never happened to me while watching a cartoon for adults. However, I do see plenty of admirable similarities to the recently concluded Broad City, particularly with how the two best friends contrast and complement one another, and that Bird Town’s peripheral characters are so hilariously—and almost painfully—familiar. Also like Broad City, Tuca & Bertie provides a rare, funny, and multifaceted representation of what it means to be female in the modern world: Both Tuca and Bertie are smart, gross, horny, talented, and powerful, but they are also riddled with the same insecurities, fears, and concerns that us regular human women try to overcome on a daily basis.
While Tuca & Bertie is exceedingly silly and raunchy, a few episodes in, it also gets real.
While Tuca & Bertie is exceedingly silly and raunchy, a few episodes in, it also gets real. Hanawalt expertly uses humor to explore heavier subjects that’ve never been tackled in this format before: street harassment, childhood trauma, unreliable mentors, dating while newly sober, and oh, and did I mention Tuca’s an orphan? In an episode titled “Plumage,” Tuca’s rich, mean aunt ends up being voiced by none other than Jenifer Lewis. Jane Lynch is another immediately recognizable guest voice, as a buff and dreamy motorcycle-riding lesbian bird, who’s also Bertie’s former swim coach.
One of my favorite parts of this show is when a character lets out a realistic bird scream, or when something graphic gets an upsettingly detailed close-up. Be sure to also look out for the many jokes sprinkled in the show’s background, on product labels and signs, and in the physical comedy of Bird Town’s animal extras. (The re-watch value is HIGH.) But it’s the loving, persisting friendship between Tuca and Bertie that both grounds the show and lets it take flight for a triumphant, empowering season finale. Tuca & Bertie is likely to be you and your best friend’s new favorite show.
Tuca & Bertie is now streaming on Netflix.