The absurdity of “coming of age” as a millennial — even as an anthropomorphic bird species — continues to fuel the craziness of Tuca & Berti. Lisa Hanawalt’s former Netflix series is now housed at Adult Swim (a better match it seems). And there’s a lot more fodder to play with in season three as the show expands the cast of characters and storylines centered around its titular duo. For those of us who enjoy watching the friendship play out between the messy good energy of a Tuca Toucan (Tiffany Haddish) and the righteous neutral vibes of a Bertie Songthrush (Ali Wong), this latest batch of episodes (i.e. those who were sighted prior to this review) is a real delight.
After the flood that served as the crowning glory of season two – the one that nearly decimated Birdtown – we first meet our dynamic, role-reversed duo. While Tuca thrives as a chatty tour guide alongside the waterways that now dominate the city’s cityscape (“To your right are the remains of Parakeet Park, where I used to cut my hair unsolicited,” she says, after twerking on a duck boat ). , Bertie falters as a prospective baking entrepreneur. It doesn’t help that Bertie’s friend Speckle (a never-cute Steven Yeun) is also rising in the world and helping to rebuild the city, with a focus on affordable housing. Because yeah, while this wacky show loves to wallow in their own weirdness (after all, this is a world where a toucan can go giddy with a fig tree voiced by Matthew Rhys), that doesn’t mean they won’t comment on tonight’s pressing will expenditure. Everything from NIMBYism and girl bossing to our broken healthcare system and alcoholism is handled with a lightness that feels neither cheap nor exploitative.
But there’s no denying that, as the title suggests, Tuca & Berti is at its best when it focuses on the odd couple at the heart of the show. Female friendship, which remains a rare central thematic concern in the world of post-peak television, is what anchors Hanawalt’s colourful, animalistic dreamscape of a show. Even though the two birds struggle to help each other (even during one episode when they were both eaten by snakes – yes, really), the love and care they have for each other unconditionally leads them towards the common goal, just something to make it through the day. It shows a world clearly crumbling around them (Birdtown seems to have barely survived the flood, with its crumbling infrastructure affecting everything from homelessness to public transit) and a system that seems designed to support each and every one of their Taking advantage of kindness (Bertie’s do-gooder attitude keeps her from being a ruthless entrepreneur in order to be successful on her own), the Adult Swim series reminds us to value and nurture the relationships around us. Even or especially those who push us out of our comfort zone.
Beyond what really makes Tuca & Berti singing is his two stars. No matter how outrageous their dialogue is (“Bertie, I don’t need a doctor anymore! This website says if I give myself a celery enema I’ll be cured!”), Haddish and Wong find a way to do a comedic tour de force deliver performances that inspire us for a toucan who keeps failing at his job and an anxious songbird who frets at the yak reviews of their burgeoning bakery business. Indeed, the voice work all around – including new additions to the cast like Justina Machado as the famous chef who’s keen to offer Bertie a job on the spot and Rhys as the obviously very British Figgy (Baum) – make up the ever-growing ensemble of characters from Birdtown some of the funniest on TV.
As in BoJack Horseman (where Hanawalt served as producer), part of the joy of watching Tuca & Berti is the thrill of seeing how many gags and puns its writers and animators can cram into a given framework. When Tuca has to visit Hive Medical and is seen by a bee doctor to deal with her chronic debilitating menstrual pains, we see Bertie reading beep Magazine, while the rooms are adorned with art by Anne Beeddes. Likewise, some of the throwaway jokes are downright adorable: hearing Tuca say that a certain piece in the Evocative Juxtaposition In New Birdtown Art exhibition at the Gagoosen Gallery could have been painted by a baby before she’s revealed to be staring at you A painting that reads “I struggle with the persistence of objects” is just one example of the show’s razor-sharp wit in any given scene.
If some of the subplots can feel pretty silly or insignificant at times – and sometimes both (see the plague of snakes in the third episode of the season) – that’s less of a criticism than an apt description. With his quirky character designs and even crazier sense of humor, Tuca & Berti lives in his own rare animated space where a tree can be an alcoholic and a line of insect-themed baked goods make great comedy fodder for the workplace. All we have to do is enjoy the ride and enjoy this most outrageous modern menagerie and maybe learn something about ourselves as a toucan fights with his gynecologist over which holes the doctor won’t treat.