Sweet Streams: Birds on the Brain in ‘Tuca & Bertie’

A great palate cleanser from watching Midsommar in theaters three times so far (!!!) has been the ultra-awesome animated Netflix series, Tuca and Bertie. With characters created by artist/illustrator Lisa Hanawalt, Tuca & Bertie is similar to Hanawalt’s previously-designed BoJack Horseman in that all of the characters are anthropomorphic animals living and existing in a world just like ours. Whereas Horseman had morally complex characters and darkly comedic storylines, T&B is much more lighthearted and radiates positivity and humor in good measure. It’s really a feel good, down to earth show about friendship.

Featuring the voices of comedians Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong in the respective title roles, the two play best friends in their thirties with opposing but complimentary personalities: Tuca, the more extroverted, energetic toucan gal and comfortably cautious but sweet songbird, Bertie.  Steven Yeun also stars as Bertie’s lovable and caring robin boyfriend, Speckle.

Most of the plot points circle around Tuca and Bertie’s friendship and how it is increasingly stretched due to their changing lives and career goals, but the two come out of each episode wiser and with more resolve than before. A key, relatable episode that I personally enjoyed was the very first episode, “The Sugar Bowl,” where Bertie feels anxious about Speckle moving in with her, while Tuca feels separation anxiety moving out of the apartment she and Bertie once shared together. Tuca moves in to the apartment directly above Bertie’s, and drops in to borrow some sugar, which Bertie gives away in a bowl that contains the ashes of Speckle’s grandmother. Hilarity and adventure ensues as the two bird broads try to locate the bowl together.

As a fan of both Haddish and Wong’s previous stand up comedy specials and film work, it’s extremely great to see them both work on a project together. Other familiar names like Nicole Byer, Reggie Watts, Tig Notaro, Isabella Rossellini, Tessa Thompson, Laverne Cox, Taraji P. Henson, Jane Lynch, Kate Berlant make up the great cast of supporting and recurring characters, as does Awkwafina in one episode as Bertie’s breast.

One thing to note: this is one wildly energetic animated show, in the sense that the storyline is constantly interrupted by little jokes and asides throughout each episode. If that’s something that gives you a headache or feels tiresome, it may be best to avoid altogether. Otherwise, you’ll find it as delightfully witty and enjoyable as any animated show for adults.

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