Imagine what would happen if Broad City’s Abbi and Ilana tumbled down a rabbit hole into the weird world of BoJack Horseman, and you’d have the broad concept of Netflix’s newest animated comedy Tuca & Bertie.
Created by BoJack Horseman’s head designer/producer, Lisa Hanawalt, this colorful but adults-only cartoon is set in a hip city where anthropomorphized animals and hot-pants-sporting plants live alongside people. It centers on the eponymous besties, a free-spirited tucan (voiced by Girls Trip’s Tiffany Haddish) and neurotic song thrush (voiced by Ali Wong). The girls used to be roomies too, but then Bertie’s bland but sweet boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun) moved in, and Tuca moved to an apartment upstairs. The distance is hard for Tuca, who is newly sober and trying to make sense of a life without booze and her bestie ever-by-her-side. But Bertie’s got her struggles too. Sure, she’s got a nice boyfriend, a high-paying job that she’s good at, but something is missing. So she turns to late-night baking, a crush on a local chef, and the fantasy of leaving her career for one in the culinary arts.
Like BoJack Horseman, Tuca & Bertie uses a trippy world to explore very human emotions in a more surreal space. But where the former focuses on a shady character to explore the difficulty of being a good person in a Hollywood obsessed with fame and power, the latter focuses on the struggles of being a young woman in a hip and oft-overwhelming urban environment. Tuca & Bertie explores issues of intimacy, anxiety, sobriety, home ownership, trend pastry, catcalling, and sexual harassment. But where BoJack’s wildest jokes come from lampooning real-life celebs or making character actress Margo Martindale a hardened criminal, Tuca & Bertie leaps to stranger possibilities, like a long-dead granny being reincarnated into a talking cake, or a leered-at tit having enough and taking the day off, leaving a big hole in Bertie’s chest and sweater. And bonus: that irate boob is voiced by Crazy Rich Asians’ scene-stealer Awkwafina.
The voice cast will be thrilling for comedy fans or casting nerds, boasting names like Nailed It’s Nicole Byer, Can You Ever Forgive Me’s Richard E. Grant, Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery, Reggie Watts, Orange Is The New Black’s Laverne Cox, THE Tessa Thompson, and BoJack guest stars like including Shiela Vand and Adam Conover. Plus, there are outrageous plotlines involving cyber-sex work, “sex bugs,” and a free-boobing, pimple-popping plant lady with a small army of pet turtles. But above all its silliness and shenanigans, Tuca & Bertie is about female friendship.
The first time I heard about Lisa Hanawalt was before I’d given BoJack Horseman a shot. In January 2015, the show’s creator, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, talked about how a conversation with one of his crew opened his eyes to an oft-ignored gender-bias in comedy writing, in which the default setting for characters is male, “unless there is something specifically female about them.” It was something Bob-Waksberg had never realized until he challenged his head designer on the unapproved decision to make two characters in a background gag female instead of male. When she asked him why that was “weird,” he realized he didn’t have a good answer. Lisa Hanawalt was that designer, not only crafting sly jokes in the background but also bringing representation into comedy in subtle but important ways. With Tuca & Bertie, it’s not subtle. This show is loud and proudly about the female experience.
Like Ilana and Abbi, Tuca and Bertie are a ying-and-yang, odd couple of besties. One is a carefree wild child who scrapes by with odd jobs and immense charm. The other is smart and creative but racked by self-doubt and anxiety that prove her greatest obstacle to happiness. Together, they support each other and walk hand-in-hand into fun and trouble. And sometimes they fight. But as wild as these stories get—looping in musical numbers, a jelly lake, and serpent subway systems—the emotional story at their core is so grounded that your heart will ache when Tuca feels like the third wheel, Bertie realizes she’s failed as a friend, or together they confront a long-buried secret.
All in all, Tuca & Bertie is pretty sensational. Its style is wonderfully weird, boasting buildings with breasts and whispering teens as apathetic fire-escape plants. Its voice cast is dynamic, bringing verve and sincerity to every animated outburst or hushed confession. And its emotional core thumps courageously, sounding the story of young women trying to figure out a world that’s wild, reckless, and sometimes pretty spectacular.
Tuca & Bertie premieres May 3.
Header Image Source: Netflix