From Portside Culture <[email protected]>
Subject “Tuca & Bertie’s” New Season Is an Incisive Look at Friendship
Date June 21, 2021 12:00 AM
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[Tuca & Bertie still feels like an outlier by keeping its
narrative focus solely on female friendship.] [[link removed]]


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Jourdain Searles
June 18, 2021
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_ Tuca & Bertie still feels like an outlier by keeping its narrative
focus solely on female friendship. _

Tuca (Tiffany Haddish), left, and Bertie (Ali Wong) in Tuca & Bertie
Season 1 , (Photo credit: Courtesy of Netflix)


When we last left avian best friends Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) and Bertie
(Ali Wong), they had entered a new era of their friendship. Bertie was
adjusting to living with her boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun) while
dealing with her own sexual trauma and career uncertainty; Tuca was
newly sober and trying to figure out what to do with her life.
The 10-episode first season
[[link removed]] of
Lisa Hanawalt’s imaginative adult cartoon didn’t  provide any
easy answers or pat resolutions; instead, it set a path for Bertie and
Tuca to build a healthier relationship with one another. The show was
a critical darling, racking up rave reviews and revitalizing interest
in adult cartoons helmed by women
[[link removed]].

A lot has happened in the two years since _Tuca & Bertie_ premiered
on Netflix, including a notable change regarding gender inclusion in
[[link removed]].
At the time, fellow Netflix show _Big Mouth
[[link removed]]_ was
the only other adult cartoon that prioritized gender parity in the
writer’s room, and the streaming network seemed ready to do the one
thing Adult Swim
[[link removed]] couldn’t—namely,
give women the funding and support to produce funny, successful
animation for adults. That revelation was short-lived, with the news
of _Tuca & Bertie_’s abrupt cancellation
[[link removed]] dropping
shortly after its well-received first season. In an unexpected twist,
network TV stepped into the breach; FOX in particular has evinced a
newfound respect for female-led adult cartoons, with a string of
animated shows created or cocreated by women: _Duncanville_, _Bless
the Harts_, _The Great North_, and _HouseBroken_. 

In the company of these new shows, _Tuca & Bertie_ still feels like
an outlier by keeping its narrative focus solely on female friendship.
And now, after a year in limbo, the critical darling has returned for
a second season in a surprising place: Adult Swim
[[link removed]].
The bird besties are back; and with the show’s entire creative team
on board, the network long known as a boys’ club
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poised to give _Tuca & Bertie_ the space to grow and mature. Judging
by the first four episodes of its second season, that is exactly what
Hanawalt and her team are doing. In the second-season premiere,
“Bird Mechanics,” the title characters are dealing with the
struggles of dating. Tuca is assessing her options by turning her
dating life into a reality TV–esque competition; Bertie, meanwhile,
is “dating” potential therapists in the hope of finding one she
feels comfortable with. 

The juxtaposition of Bertie having nightmare therapy sessions and Tuca
“eliminating” potential partners works perfectly to highlight the
struggles of building new relationships. So much of life involves
trying people out to see how they fit, and the plot point illustrates
that while we may need each other, many of us don’t have the tools
to build lasting relationships grounded in mutual respect—especially
in a time when even friendships are increasingly framed in
cost-benefit terms that suggest we should view interacting with loved
[[link removed]] as
a form of labor. The first therapist Bertie meets is brutal: “It’s
clear that Tuca is a toxic element in your life and you need to cut
her out”—a sentiment that mirrors the recent harmful rhetoric
about troubled friends as a barrier
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personal happiness. The episode’s final moments drive the point home
when Tuca writes “Bertie is keeping me alone” on a plastic cup.

One of the most fascinating things about _Tuca & Bertie_ is how it
refuses to be an ensemble show. Most adult cartoons—like FOX’s
recent slate of offerings, as well as Hanawalt’s first animated
hit, _Bojack Horseman
[[link removed]]_—are
about families or family-like groups. There are characters we see in
every episode, like Speckle, but for the most part the show is a
two-hander. This can lead to story challenges, most notably that Tuca
and Bertie only have each other; there’s no larger friend group to
serve as an argument moderator or neutral conflict assessor. Speckle
is very respectful of their friendship, mostly staying out of their
way when there’s any sign of trouble. While watching this season, I
couldn’t help but think of _Girls_, which surrounded the constantly
feuding Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Marnie (Allison Williams) with other
friends who were able to tell them when they were both in the wrong.

_Tuca and Bertie only have each other; there’s no larger friend
group to serve as argument moderator or neutral conflict assessor._

There’s no question that Bertie is in the wrong in the second
episode, “Planteau,” in which the best friends attend a chaotic
girls night out. Speckle’s soon-to-be-married sister decides to have
her bachelorette party in Planteau, a city inhabited by plant people.
Tuca, as usual, is the life of the party, but Bertie finds herself
consumed by her characteristic crippling doubt. Though she’s
promised Tuca an evening of sober solidarity, it’s not long before
she  breaks that promise in a desperate attempt to, for once, have a
good time. It’s easy to empathize with both birds: Bertie had an
agreement with Tuca, and defaulting on it was disrespectful. But the
moment of rebellion was necessary for Bertie, who spends so much time
in her own head she can’t seem to enjoy anything. It’s a relief to
finally see Bertie let loose a little, with Wong letting some of
her brash, loud, sexual comedy persona
[[link removed]] spill

As it was in the show’s first season, Bertie’s anxiety stays at
the center of the story. But Tuca gets a moment to shine in the
season’s fourth episode, “Nighttime Friend,” which explores her
trouble with insomnia and loneliness. Here we learn that Tuca
doesn’t really sleep; instead, she walks the streets at night,
observing everyone and everything around her. She gets a late-night
snack of boiled eggs. She goes to a store that’s open late and
doesn’t buy anything. But her main activity is going to see her
cantankerous aunt Tallulah, played with easy humor by Jenifer Lewis.
Their relationship is much the same as it was in Season 1’s
“Plumage,” with Tuca subjected to her aunt’s cutting
manipulation. And it is in these scenes that Haddish really flaunts
her emotional range, her usual confident tone eroding into something
much quieter and unsure. Having only seen the first four episodes,
it’s difficult to know if Season 2 will do a better job of giving
Tuca space to grow as a character, but “Nighttime Friend” is
definitely a high point.

All this emotional storytelling is couched in Hanawalt’s fluid
animation style, with plenty of side gags and unique takes on
well-worn social topics. The season’s third episode (“Kyle”)
tackles sexual harassment, #MeToo, and “cancel culture
[[link removed]]:”
Pastry Pete (Reggie Watts) is back and Bertie doesn’t understand why
the public is embracing him again. Her solution is to find her
“inner bro,” whose name is Kyle; he teaches Bertie how to assert
herself by harnessing her inner douchebag, an intervention that lets
her work through her repressed aggression. The highlight of the
episode is a musical number about being a bro that showcases
everything wonderful about _Tuca & Bertie_—the humor, the playful
animation, and the top-notch voice cast. Those who were worried about
how the change of platform would change the show can rest assured that
it’s still the special show we all fell in love with. With _Tuca &
Bertie_, Hanawalt and her team have created something truly unique,
with a world that grows organically with every episode. And once Tuca
gets more space to shine, the show will get even better.


View profile » [[link removed]]

Jourdain Searles is a writer, podcaster, comedian and cinephile who
hails from Georgia and resides in Queens. She loves tequila, the
cinema and drinking tequila at the cinema. You can follow her deranged
rantings on Twitter [[link removed]].


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