Tuca & Bertie review: Netflix animated comedy combines best of BoJack Horseman and Broad City
By chronicling the exploits of two 30-year old bird women (and yas kweens) in the sprawling metropolis of Birdtown, Tuca & Bertie continues the rich comedy tradition of the odd couple.
Tuca & Bertie is a mood. Or like Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter would call it — "a smoodie", a mood you binge on like a smoothie.
And the mood grows from chirpy to contemplative over the course of Netflix's new animated comedy, which may feel like a freewheeling extension of BoJack Horseman on your first binge-watch. Its world is populated by similar anthropomorphic creatures, blink-and-you-might-miss-it visual gags and goofy wordplay. And like BoJack, the comic absurdities in the first few episodes lay the groundwork for an emotional payoff as repressed traumatic memories become unravelled. The comedy disarms you before the tragedy slowly sneaks up on you and punches you right in the gut.
BoJack Horseman production designer and illustrator Lisa Hanawalt's predilections shift from the equine to avian in the more surreal flavoured, whimsically animated Tuca & Bertie.
By chronicling the exploits of two 30-year old bird women (and yas kweens) in the sprawling metropolis of Birdtown, Tuca & Bertie continues the rich comedy tradition of the odd couple. Tuca (voiced by Tiffany Haddish) is a free-spirited, loud yet lovable toucan; Bertie (Ali Wong) is a more introverted, anxious but highly ambitious robin.
But their odd-couple dynamic is not just another straightforward variation of the id & ego, chaos & order, Thor & Loki, Lilo & Stitch, Mulder & Scully and other iconic mismatched pairs separated by the ampersand. Their closest comedic relatives would perhaps be Abbi & Ilana (from Broad City), two urbanites similarly navigating the pressures and pitfalls of adulting — job dissatisfaction, financial instability and various existential crises amid surging sex drives. Like Ilana, Tuca helps Bertie spread her wings while Bertie (like Abbi) keeps Tuca from flying too close to the sun.
The series begins with Tuca having recently moved out of their apartment so that Bertie can move in with her ever-thoughtful boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun). Tuca struggles to stand on her own two feet and finds ways to worm herself into Bertie and Speckle's lives. Bertie, meanwhile, lacks the confidence to stand up for herself at work as a male colleague frequently undermines and sexually harasses her. Although their co-dependency can often be unhealthy and near toxic, it never spills over to poison their relationship to an unsalvageable extent. While Bertie has a moderating influence on Tuca's excesses, Tuca ensures Bertie never chickens out from following her ambitions. The series thus embraces — rather than hide — their imperfections and anxieties. It is a true celebration of a liberating female friendship, revelling in all their hilarious hijinks than in tiresome catfights.
The success of Tuca & Bertie as a comedy stems from the rewarding chemistry between Wong and Haddish, who voice two contrasting characters but somehow always remain in sync. It almost feels like their characters could be an extension of their real-life personalities. But it is easy to see Tuca and Bertie as a representation of our own duality — our assertive and unassertive selves.
Tuca & Bertie may not be as affecting as BoJack Horseman's recent seasons but it kicks off with a far more exuberant and engaging first season than the latter did back in 2014. It is also more experimental in its animation as Hanawalt uses claymation, paper cut-out sequences and sock-puppetry for various asides and soliloquies. She stitches together a colourful piñata filled with her animation quirks and light-hearted banter.
The world of Bird Town is a stoner's delight, filled with the most absurd visual treats — where snakes and caterpillars are subway trains; exhibitionist plant-women are your neighbours; STDs start an electro-pop band; and a sentient breast (voiced by Awkwafina) pops off a bird-woman's chest in an apparent rebellion against sexual harassment. “I’m finished! I’m done with today. I need a drink,” the boob declares before flying the coop.
In fact, boobs are a recurrent feature in Tuca & Bertie. They're attached to the bodies of the various anthropomorphised flora and fauna of Bird Town. They're found even on inanimate objects like pastries, and seen bouncing on the sides of buildings. This is Hanawalt flipping the bird at gender inequality by normalising and desexualising bare breasts.
Like BoJack, Tuca & Bertie takes a non-judgmental look at its characters as they suffer the consequences of their poor life decisions. Even when it makes you laugh, it makes an empathetic point: Overcoming codependency is important to maintain a healthy friendship. But nothing can help us better overcome mental illness — and the stigma and isolation that comes with it — than meaningful relationships.
Netflix and its algorithms know better than to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. With Tuca & Bertie, the streaming service has clearly used the BoJack Horseman success formula and enhanced it by adding Broad City’s unapologetic feminist elements. So, here’s hoping Tuca & Bertie flock together for more smoodielicous seasons.
Creator: Lisa Hanawalt
Cast: Tiffany Haddish, Ali Wong, Steven Yeun, Nicole Byer, Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Tuca & Bertie is now streaming on Netflix.
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