The Watercooler Guide to Tuca & Bertie

A sleeper hit with a cult following that’s grown across social media, the animated grown-up comedy starring Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong drops its third season July 10th, 2022 — this time on HBO Max.

The clever one-of-a-kind show was canceled by Netflix before making an unlikely return on Adult Swim. Here’s what you need to know about the conversation around Tuca & Bertie.

What’s it about?

Tuca & Bertie follows the daily adventures of Tuca, an extroverted toucan voiced by ubiquitous comedian Tiffany Haddish, and Bertie, an anxious song thrush voiced by equally ubiquitous comedian Ali Wong. They’re thirtysomething best friends who are always there for each other, and they complement each other well because they’re so different. Newly sober and struggling with her dating life, Tuca is outgoing and fun, but she can be thoughtless and too much. Bertie is the responsible one, but she’s completely consumed with anxiety about everything, especially her job and her relationship with her boyfriend Speckle (voiced by Oscar nominee Steven Yeun). Tuca and Bertie always help each other out the best they can with whatever the other is going through.

That includes some heavy and complex topics, like workplace sexual harassment the victim didn’t realize was inappropriate until after the fact, with surprising nuance and well-crafted humor. It has the hyperactive feel of a ‘90s Nickelodeon cartoon like Rocko’s Modern Life, and it uses that style to tell stories about characters that are designed to be relevant for women who grew up watching Rocko’s, but are now adults facing the anxieties of adulthood. There’s no other show like it.

What’s the backstory?

Tuca & Bertie premiered in 2019 to rapturous critical praise (Season 1 has 98% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes) and adoration from fans who had been waiting for something like it – that is to say, an adult animated series unapologetically centered on women’s issues. Which is why it was a big surprise when Netflix canceled the show less than three months after it premiered. The negative reaction was swift and loud. Fans sprung into action with the trending hashtag #SaveTucaAndBertie, and critics like Variety’s Caroline Framke expressed disappointment that Netflix canceled a show that was stylistically and tonally unlike anything else on TV, and one of the only adult animated shows on TV created by a woman — while featuring two women of color as leads and executive producers.

tuca & bertie
Courtesy of Adult Swim

But the hashtag campaign seemed fruitless, and there was no news about Tuca & Bertie for almost a year. Then, unexpectedly, fans got the rescue they were hoping for in May 2020 when Adult Swim announced that it had picked up the show for a second season. Netflix is famous for rescuing canceled shows, but it’s very rare for a show canceled by Netflix to land somewhere else; One Day at a Time moving to PopTV for its final season is the only other time it’s happened.

Adult Swim is and isn’t the perfect home for Tuca & Bertie. On the one hand, it’s TV’s leading source of idiosyncratic adult animated series, which Tuca & Bertie is. On the other hand, it’s exactly the kind of boy’s club in the male-dominated world of adult animated television that Tuca & Bertie is a reaction to. In 2016, Splitsider noticed that Adult Swim’s lineup of shows at the time had 47 credited male creators and zero female creators. That’s finally changing, and now Adult Swim has what might be the most feminine adult animated comedy series ever made.

What are critics saying?

Like the first season, the second season is getting unanimous critical acclaim. It currently has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “If Season 1 proved striking in how it balanced outrageous humor with profound personal truths, then Season 2 astounds in how deftly it blends and deepens both qualities, without ever settling for easy answers,” writes Indiewire’s Ben Travers.

Salon’s Melanie McFarland writes that Tuca & Bertie “demonstrates that shows created in and for the female gaze are inclusive and appealing to everybody – which was why there was such as outcry over Netflix’s premature cancellation of the show in the first place.” And The Hollywood Reporter’s Dan Fienberg summarizes the three things that make the show so vital: “Tuca & Bertie remains a unique blend of exuberant surrealism, cut-to-the-bone psychology and thoroughly relatable camaraderie,” he writes.

What are fans saying?

The show has a very active Reddit community, r/TucaAndBertie, and fans there are loving the first episode of Season 2, because even though it’s about cartoon birds, they see their own lives reflected in it in very specific ways. “Man as someone who is currently going through their own journey to find a therapist, this episode really resonated with me,” Redditor shmeepness writes. “I hope Bertie can find some long-term solutions to her anxiety.”

“As someone suffering from trichotillomania since the age of 12, this episode hit super hard,” user sooperdestroyer writes of a moment where Bertie pulls her feathers out due to stress. The show is exceptionally focused on and good at depicting what having anxiety is like, and people love it for it.

They also love it for the silly gags, like Tuca stealing a city bus and making all the passengers participate in a reality show where she picks who gets to go on a date with her. It’s pure Tiffany Haddish, and a nod to the show’s ability to contain multitudes.

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