Welcome to Previously On, a column that gives you an overview of the latest in TV. This week, Valerie Ettenhofer is reviewing the second season of Tuca & Bertie, the animated series that was discontinued by Netflix and revived on Adult Swim.
The opening sequence of Tuca & Bertie is a perfect encapsulation of the series itself: a lively sugar frenzy of the animation, at the center of which is a continuous shot of the two protagonists – best friends and birds Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) and Bertie (Ali Wong) – pounding the street down, legs spread and arms determined. Layers of music and voices come together to turn the names of the two women into a catchy, if fervent hook. The entire short sequence embodies the energy of the series, and after two years of absence and considerable time in the rejection limbo, it is a real pleasure to dance with Tuca & Bertie again.
Lisa Hanawalt’s series is most often compared to Broad City (in its character dynamics) and Bojack Horseman (in its animation style), and while both are exact reference points, the series has proven to be unique with only a handful of episodes to date. At the start of the second season, the anxious office worker and budding baker Bertie is looking for the right therapist. Meanwhile, the impulsive Tuca navigates the sobriety and dating world as she tends to her ailing aunt Tallulah (Jenifer Lewis). The first season of Tuca & Bertie was a bit of a Trojan horse loaded forward with candy-colored hijinks before delving deep into a plot about Bertie’s experience of sexual assault and harassment, but it stayed light-hearted throughout. The four season two episodes available for review continue down this path, centering on a refreshingly dynamic female friendship while maintaining a vein of candid humor.
Tuca & Bertie is one of the most visually creative series on television right now. Hanawalt, who previously worked as a production designer and producer on Bojack Horseman, envisions a city populated not only by speaking animals but also by sentient plants. The world’s animism is a source of constant surprise and joy when the mayor of a shady city turns out to be a rare and expensive flower. The second season of Tuca & Bertie rewrites the boundaries of their world even more than the first; in one episode Bertie brings an imaginary alter ego out of her head into reality, and in another Tuca roams the city at night and her surroundings are reduced to little more than a sketch. Tuca & Bertie’s imagination is often impressionistic and tied to the emotional core of the series; When Bertie tells a therapist that she feels like a haunted house, she briefly transforms into one before our very eyes.
The series hit a cultural nerve on its debut in 2019, and fans were heartbroken when it was prematurely canceled by Netflix. The new iteration of Adult Swim doesn’t have any of the ill effects that sometimes come with a network change. These episodes feel like a natural continuation of the story we saw, even though they reflect our always complicated times. One storyline poses the question, “What is going to happen to all the bad men?” is answered characteristically thoughtful with a song in which men of all kinds sing about the privileges and dangers of masculinity (“My father told me boys don’t cry / so I keep my eye holes dry”).
The series is current, but in some ways long overdue. Tuca & Bertie creates tension out of the everyday life of women in their thirties, not through larger-than-life adventures like Abbi and Ilana in Broad City, but often through an unmistakable, spirited examination of the everyday life of adulthood. For any plot like the one in which Tuca starts an impromptu dating competition game called Sex Bus, there’s another one about whether or not Bertie can stay up long enough to see a movie with Tuca and her boyfriend Speckles (Steven Yeun). The show’s greatest achievement to date is its ability to be both emotionally grounded and wildly inventive.
Tuca & Bertie still has a lot to do; as in many thirties, it is full of situations – including Bertie and Speckles’ romance, Bertie’s career, Tuca’s relationships – that seem only half fulfilled. The season two episodes up for review are all very entertaining, but the great series still seems far from its final form. Driven by the imagination and the clear passion of its creator, Tuca & Bertie will continue to develop in an entertaining way for as long as we – and the TV powers – allow.