After Netflix pulled the plug on Tuca & Bertie nearly two years ago, fans of the cult-favorite cartoon were heartbroken. But last summer, Adult Swim came to the rescue, announcing a resurrection of the bold, feminist series. Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong star as a pair of 30something BBFFs—Best Bird Friends Forever—who spend their time frolicking around Bird Town when they aren’t busy managing panic attacks or fending off scores of creepy men. Haddish voices Tuca, a confident, short-short wearing toucan while Wong voices Bertie, a neurotic and sweet song thrush. In their new home on Adult Swim, the duo are back with a vengeance, proving themselves worthy of earning their Lazarus status.
Like many Netflix original series, Tuca & Bertie initially fell through the cracks. It wasn’t as immediately, massively popular as The Algorithm requires and was swiftly canceled less than three months after it premiered. But for the fans who were lucky enough to find it, Tuca & Bertie was a unique and groundbreaking series. Adult animation is certainly a thriving genre of television, but there aren’t many shows like Tuca & Bertie, whose heartfelt, female-driven comedy stands out in the sea of sophomoric humor. The cancelation of a show that felt so personal to so many people was devastating. Now on Adult Swim, the show has a perceived sense of heightened freedom. With less pressure to appeal to Netflix’s entire general audiences, Tuca & Bertie can push its boundaries further, stretching its wings (sorry).
Tuca & Bertie is set in a beautiful, candy colored world. Bright pink buildings dot the streets of Bird Town and each new setting is vibrantly designed. In one episode provided for review, the two go on a bachelorette party to Planteau, a living, breathing terrarium of a city. As Bertie, Tuca, and their girlfriends traipse around, vines and flowers dance across the screen. With surreal visuals and vivid colors, Tuca & Bertie is a joy to watch. Coming off of Bojack Horseman, illustrator and creator Lisa Hanawalt’s cheerful art style makes Bird Town feel alive and inviting.
But where Tuca & Bertie shines most is in its conversations surrounding mental health. The season two premiere features Bertie on the ever-exhausting quest for a therapist that she feels comfortable with. The rate of her panic attacks is increasing, affecting not just her own life and career, but the lives of her boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun) and Tuca, as well. Bertie’s guilt over this and her loved ones’ desire to still be there for her is a moving arc throughout the series. Hanawalt doesn’t shy away from talking about the hardest parts of seeking help for mental health and the assembly line of comically bad therapists Bertie meets is a cheeky reminder that there won’t be any immediate fixes, no matter how hard we will it into being.
In addition to its commentary on mental health, Tuca & Bertie also addresses the overwhelming impact sexual harassment and assault can have on us, no matter how hard we try to manage it. In season one, Bertie confides in Tuca about a childhood incident that has made her a guarded adult, not quick to trust anyone, especially men. She finds solace in baking bread and adorable pastries. That is, until her mentor, the appropriately named Pastry Pete, nearly kills her passion by harassing and touching her at work. Pastry Pete returns in season two, and the show smartly jokes about the way shitty, canceled men often stay shitty and rarely stay canceled. Bertie’s unfortunate experiences make up a major part of her identity, but Hanawalt and the writers take care to avoid making her a one-dimensional character only defined by her trauma.
While Bertie is on her journey for a therapist, Tuca is also growing. In season two she’s becoming even more comfortable with herself and seems less likely to overcompensate for her insecurities. She’s less selfish where it matters, but at the same time, is no longer putting everyone else’s needs before her own. Tuca hides her pain with her jovial and upbeat attitude, and season two explores the way her coping mechanisms eventually turn around and bite her. Of course, she still has most of the funniest one-liners and even endeavors to create a new “untelevised reality dating show” called Sex Bus—which, yes, is exactly what it sounds like.
In the over two years since season one premiered, adult animation has only become an even more saturated market. Returning with something to prove, Tuca & Bertie makes it abundantly clear that this show deserved to live another day. The series addresses taboo topics but reminds us of how easy it can be to find humor in these dark moments. Seeing the way Tuca and Bertie have already started to grow in the first few episodes, we can’t wait to see how the rest of the season plays out.
Tuca & Bertie premieres Sunday, June 13 on Adult Swim.
Kristen Reid is a culture writer and TV intern for Paste Magazine. She’s been known to spend too much time rewatching her favorite sitcoms, yelling at her friends to watch more TV, and falling in love with fictional characters. You can follow her on Twitter @kreidd for late-night thoughts on whatever she’s bingeing now.