The first season of Lisa Hanawalt’s Tuca & Bertie marked both one of the strangest and one of the best Netflix cartoons I saw during the 2010s. Set in a world populated by anthropomorphic fauna and flora, the show follows two ambitious gal-pals, the boisterous toucan Tuca (voiced by executive producer Tiffany Haddish) and the anxious song thrush Bertie (voiced by Chinese/Vietnamese-American executive producer Ali Wong), as they navigate the adversities of adulthood in Bird Town. Hanawalt demonstrated animation’s potential for stimulating storytelling and entertainingly surreal humor, while Haddish and Wong delivered the necessary chemistry, comic dialogue timing, and pathos. Future Korean-American Oscar nominee Steven Yeun provided a versatile co-starring performance, as Bertie’s boyfriend, the nerdy robin Speckle. Even though Netflix didn’t end Tuca & Bertie on a cliffhanger, the first season finale still left the door open for additional storylines. When Adult Swim announced a revival, it became my most-anticipated cartoon of this year.
Airdate: June 13, 2021 (#11)
Director: Aaron Long
Writer: Shauna McGarry
You know, if your car’s broken, you go to a mechanic. Well, my brains are broken.-Bertie
Bertie and Speckle prepare to celebrate the fifth anniversary of their first date, with Speckle scheduling a “res” for the two of them to share a swanky dinner at Two Twigs. Intimidated by the thought of spending a night in an unfamiliar environment, Bertie searches for a therapist to help her curb a likely panic attack. Tuca tries to find her own love by challenging the passengers of the “Sex Bus” to impress her.
Tuca & Bertie remains clever and entertaining, despite the two year gap and platform switch in between seasons. The duo again either experiences or instigates ludicrous scenarios, ending up learning relatable lessons. Bertie meets more therapists than humanly possible over the brief timeline, but ends up only determining one of their various stress-relief tactics helpful to her. Even after she decides which therapist to visit again, she acknowledges the impossibility of finding one who can instantly eliminate her anxiety; in contrast with her earlier hopes for a therapist who can end her panic attacks in “a session or two”, she instead states that she’ll “keep on seeing” her preferred choice. Tuca’s wide variety of trials on the Sex Bus comically amuses, while overtly demonstrating doubts that any romance could satisfy her as much as her friendship with Bertie does. Considering how often Adult Swim reduces LGBTQ love to punchlines or opportunities for shock value, Tuca & Bertie impresses when Tuca gleefully accepts both male and female contestants, and when minor LGBTQ characters draw humor from other aspects of their respective personalities. Several gags across both plotlines deliver ingenious payoffs, such as when Bertie personifies and verbalizes a unique metaphor regarding her unapproachably nervous behavior, but eventually spins it into one explaining Tuca’s and Speckle’s willingness to kindly calm her down.
The show’s transfer from Netflix to Adult Swim predictably toned down the content, but not to any major detriment; this story felt funny and engaging enough without any F-bombs or detailed nipples. The biggest disappointment of the transfer involves the trimming of the intro, especially since it no longer has the segment in which Tuca and Bertie performed a different dance for each episode. I can’t tell yet if Adult Swim permanently shortened the intro, or if they only did it to accommodate this week’s succinct reintroduction to Bertie and the most important people in her life. However, these ultimately feel like small prices for new Tuca & Bertie content, on a platform that’ll hopefully garner more views than their lightly-advertised Netflix run did. “Bird Mechanics” provides a promising introduction to this avian pair’s long-awaited new misadventures.
Violence towards Asian-Americans has reached alarming levels. I’ve donated to charities dedicated to eliminating hate crimes towards AAPI people, and would like my readers to do the same, even if I personally take no share of the funds: