Few things call for some cartoon-induced escapism quite like a mid-pandemic heat wave, and with the recently announced revival of animated comedy series “Tuca & Bertie” in the works for 2021, I keep returning to the show’s excellent first season. It would be worth rewatching based on the sheer volume of visual gags alone, but its rare balance of zany humor and heart manages to be even more impressive.
I can’t help but think that Netflix execs must be kicking themselves right now. The streaming platform canceled the show after just 10 episodes last year, but in the months that followed, “Tuca & Bertie” went on to become a cult favorite and gather heaps of accolades. Now, the series has been scooped up by Adult Swim, which is a natural fit for its particular blend of wit and whimsy.
It’s garnered more than a few comparisons to “Broad City,” though I partially attribute those to the fact that it’s one of only a few female-friendship-driven comedies that revels in its frankness.
Tuca the toucan and Bertie the songbird (voiced, respectively, by Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong, both executive producers) are best friends in their 30s, living in the same apartment building in a visually indulgent, surreal world.
Tuca is the free spirit of the duo, living off odd jobs and the support of her wealthy aunt, while Bertie is career-focused and anxious enough for them both. The pair’s opposites-attract dynamic fuels the show’s charm and chaos: They keep each other in check and infuriate each other while navigating work challenges, love lives, and the awkwardness of their evolving friendship.
It might sound like the stuff of any typical fluffy sitcom, but the show balances raunchy humor and heart, while thoughtfully diving into heavier territory. Tuca is six months’ sober and fumbling her way through dating without drinking. Bertie wrestles with her career as a dissatisfied data analyst at Conde Nest. Their cartoon world is far from perfect, and the series addresses sexual harassment and past trauma with nuance and sensitivity.
It might look familiar at first glance, thanks to the work of showrunner and series creator Lisa Hanawalt, who’s best known as the production designer and illustrator behind “BoJack Horseman.” But Tuca and Bertie’s world is both weirder and less cynical than BoJack’s. Surreal elements do some heavy lifting: They maintain the show’s sense of whimsy on the surface (there’s no shortage of subtle visual gags) while giving it additional emotional weight. As shows about cartoon birds go, it’s impressively human.