Out of the many ongoing comedies that discuss the trials and tribulations of navigating everyday life as a millennial, no show has come close to being as distinctly imaginative and profound as Lisa Hanawalt’s Tuca & Bertie. The animated sitcom follows the misadventures of two girlie birdy besties in their 30s—bodacious toucan Tuca Toucan (Tiffany Haddish) and anxious song thrush Bertie Songthrush (Ali Wong)—living in an anthropomorphic animal and plant city, and has made its place as one of the best adult animated series airing today. After its unprecedented Netflix cancellation in 2019 immediately following its inaugural premiere—one of the dumbest mistakes the streamer has made—Adult Swim swooped in and picked up the show. Throughout its run thus far, the show has explored a myriad of timely themes such as anxiety, mental health, gaslighting, trauma, and toxic relationships in a well-balanced approach using vibrant imagination, subtlety, and/or raunchy outrageousness. Recently the series entered its third season in its more suitable home and it hasn’t skipped a beat, soaring higher than ever before.
Picking up after the events of Season 2, the titular duo have entered a new chapter in their lives. The junior season finds Tuca and Bertie attempting to restructure themselves after the destructive flood and moss that infiltrated their city of Birdtown. Bertie’s pursuit of her independent baking service gets put on the backburner when she begins a new job offer working for a famous chef idol of hers. Tuca finds newfound stability both professionally and romantically after breaking up with her gaslighting girlfriend Kara. She has a secure job as a tour guide for the city’s new waterway stream, a position that works for her upbeat personality perfectly, and a new relationship with a muscular tree named Figgy (who has the seductive voice of Matthew Rhys). Though these new positions are ever so promising for the two, they’re simply set-ups for the season to explore new subjects that further the psychological hurdles they must face.
From the jump of the premiere episode “Leveling Up,” Tuca & Bertie dives head first into exploring variations of anxiety specifically with imposter syndrome, a subject that is rarely depicted or discussed in media. As Tuca’s life fast-tracks to normalcy and prosperity (she’s valued at her job and is in—what at first seems to be—a healthy relationship), she begins experiencing self-doubt. The overwhelming weight goes full throttle as Tuca’s over-enthused boss gives her a double promotion, resulting in her self-sabotaging because all of this goodness is new to her, and she doesn’t feel deserving of it.
Much like the previous seasons, the colorful, ever-changing world-building of Birdtown paves way for Hanawalt and her team of writers to explore the intrusive psyche of her characters and discuss thematic material that resonates with fellow millennial viewers. A great example comes in the recent episode titled “The One Where Bertie Gets Eaten by a Snake,” where Birdtown is infested by baby snakes who are straight up eating folks across the city. Bertie is finding difficulties in her day-to-day life being both far too approachable, as strangers engage her in unwanted conversation, and feeling unvalued at her baking new job under Chef Garcia (Justina Machado). When a snake comes to her door and gobbles her down, her social anxieties wither away as she finds newfound confidence in the skin not entirely her own.
Season 3 has become more Tuca-focused; her plights are often the central focus in each episode thus far and she’s dealt more obstacles than Bertie. Three episodes deep and the show has Tuca facing imposter syndrome, the frustrations of female pelvic pain during the menstrual cycle, and a tree boyfriend who drinks heavily, which messes with her sober lifestyle. Due to her dating a tree, let’s just say his leaves become part of the metaphor that cuts real deep. Bertie is still very prominent, along with her supportive, can-do attitude boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun), but her recent plotlines don’t hold much of a candle compared to the tribulations Tuca faces.
Tuca & Bertie is still thoroughly comedic and silly regarding its set-ups and inventiveness; the show is filled to the brim with visual gags and creative cutaways. It still strikes that perfect balance between comedy and drama: letting the comedy take a breather as Hanawalt’s ambitious imagination runs wild to hit home an episode’s message during poignant emotional beats. The episode entitled “The Pain Garden,” where Tuca is embedded with soil to soothe her throbbing pain from her undiagnosed pelvic disease, will surely resonate with many female viewers, as it takes a caring approach to chronic illness. Sometimes the show relies on comedy as a natural form of levity when stuff gets dark, as we do as a coping mechanism in real life, too.
Adult Swim may have put some bumper railings on the side, limiting the amount of raunch that they got away with on Netflix, but the show is more confident because of it. The writers have honed the dialogue-based jokes and are more subtle with their depiction of the topical themes that are presented. With the new model being that HBO Max drops each aired episode a day after it premieres on their streamer, it might as well still be as it was on Netflix, for they come uncensored. No bleeps about it! It’s more suited for the network anyway, as its wild quick wit and polarizing themes depicted through vibrant creativity aligns with other shows such as Birdgirl, Rick & Morty, and, if we’re adding HBO Max titles to the mix, Harley Quinn.
While there are many more episodes to air this season, Tuca & Bertie continues to achieve great heights, exploring the challenging turning points in life as a millennial and creating discussions that are underseen in the media. What other series are you going to see discuss the rare chronic illnesses that come with menstruation in animation? It’s safe to say Tuca & Bertie is one of the best adult animated series airing today, hitting close to home with depth while being visually inventive and emotionally profound.
Rendy Jones is a film and television journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. They are the owner of self-published outlet Rendy Reviews, a member of the Critics Choice Association, and a film graduate of Brooklyn College. They have been featured in Vulture, The Daily Beast, AV Club and CBC News.