×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Tuca & Bertie’ With Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong

Netflix's new comedy from "BoJack Horseman" producer Lisa Hanawalt is a uniquely filthy and mature treat.

With:
Tiffany Haddish, Ali Wong, Steven Yeun.

There are precious few TV shows that take thirtysomething women and their thirtysomething problems seriously. Onscreen, women are more often slotted into the roles of sexy teen, sexy and/or hapless twentysomething, and that ambiguous post-40 “of a certain age” designation that somehow encompasses half a lifetime. The thirties timespan, an especially crucial time for women figuring out what they want and can reasonably achieve, rarely gets the attention it rightly deserves — let alone from the wild and extremely male-dominated world of adult animation.

This, among about a thousand other things, makes “Tuca & Bertie” a rare treat of a show. Following reluctantly reforming party girl Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) and anxious amateur baker Bertie (Ali Wong), Netflix’s bizarre, insightful new comedy tells the story of a tried and true friendship between adult women. It picks up shortly after Tuca’s moved out of their shared apartment so that Bertie’s aggressively lovely boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun) can move in. From there, it traces their struggles to shift their expectations in order to fit this new stage of their relationship, for better and for worse. (Comparing Tuca and Bertie themselves to Ilana and Abbi of “Broad City” would be reductive; describing the show “Tuca & Bertie” as the spiritual continuation of “Broad City,” which ended with its pair of codependent friends learning to prioritize their own needs alongside each other, is not.)

And yes: “Tuca & Bertie” also happen to be birds (a toucan and a songbird, respectively). “Tuca & Bertie” takes place in the trippy, technicolor city of Birdtown, in which a typical day might consist of taking caterpillar trains to work and crushing on hot monkey men at the deli. Bertie gets a part-time job working for an intimidating penguin baker; Tuca lives across from a plant woman who spends her time vaping topless amidst a sea of pet turtles. But even when “Tuca & Bertie” threatens to go fully off the bizarro rails — a danger more imminent in the first couple episodes that err towards constant format experimentation — its characters and conflicts are always firmly rooted in reality.

That impressive blend of surreal and almost too real won’t surprise anyone even glancingly familiar with series creator Lisa Hanawalt. A prolific illustrator and graphic designer, Hanawalt is also the “BoJack Horseman” producer responsible for the show’s unique look, extremely relatable anthropomorphic citizens, and constant background sight gags that make pausing “BoJack” for clues so fun. On “Tuca & Bertie,” however, Hanawalt finally gets to play in a sandbox entirely of her own making, and the results are as weird as they are wonderful. In her hands, Tuca and Bertie’s world manages to both play fast and loose with its own rules — its birds encounter everything from jelly lakes to sentient STDs to their own exhausted boobs — and retain enough similarity to the one in which we live that its more serious moments land with sharp pangs of recognition.

So while the show itself isn’t related to the “BoJack” universe beyond its shared creative team, “Tuca & Bertie” does share a similar tendency to interrupt its own ridiculous misadventures for sudden moments of truth, pain, and most satisfying of all, catharsis. As 30-year-old (bird)women, Tuca and Bertie are dealing with issues like anxiety, sobriety, sexual harassment, and yes, chronic horniness. So even if the show’s hilarious first and foremost (and it is!), it also doesn’t shy away from the bitter realities of its adult subject matter. It’s an extraordinarily tough balance to pull off without dulling the surrounding comedy, but Hanawalt, her writers, and Haddish and Wong’s enthusiastic rasping voices walk that tonal tightrope with ease.

There’s so much to look at and latch onto while getting lost in “Tuca & Bertie’s” fever dream world of witty, filthy chaos. But what it does best is simple: It lets its adult women be adult women without stripping them of everything that makes them interesting people (…or okay, fine, interesting birds). Tuca wants to be good and useful without losing her intrinsic buoyancy; Bertie wants to be bolder and better without losing the sources of comfort that keep her level. Both are funny, smart, selfish, caring, gross. They’re animated birds that are nonetheless recognizably human, and it’s a joy to watch them mess up and around as so few women ever get to do onscreen.

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'Tuca & Bertie' With Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong

Production: Executive producers: Lisa Hanawalt, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Noel Bright, Steven A. Cohen, Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong.

Cast: Tiffany Haddish, Ali Wong, Steven Yeun.

More TV

  • Anne Hathaway Modern Love

    Anne Hathaway Talks Mental Health Awareness, Playing a Bipolar Woman on Amazon's 'Modern Love'

    In Amazon Prime’s upcoming “Modern Love,” Anne Hathaway sheds light on an important facet of living with mental health issues, playing a bipolar woman who struggles with dating. “We’re all becoming more sensitive, wiser and more cognizant of gentility, and especially emotional gentility. I think those conversations are starting to happen. And I think the desire [...]

  • Sarah Silverman I Love You America

    Sarah Silverman Sets New HBO Comedy Special, Late-Night Series Pilot

    Sarah Silverman is headed to HBO. The comedian has signed a deal for a new comedy special with the premium cabler, with HBO also giving Silverman a pilot order for a late-night series. The news comes less than a year after Hulu canceled Silverman’s Emmy-nominated talk show “I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman” after [...]

  • Succession

    'Succession': Is Kendall a Killer Yet? Brian Cox Thinks So

    The Roys set sail aboard a refitted yacht in the Mediterranean in the Season 2 finale of ‘Succession’ Sunday, but it is hardly a vacation. Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox) gathers his family (including Gerri, among others) to figure out whose head would be put on a stake as Waystar Royco’s sacrificial lamb offering [...]

  • Patrick Moran

    Former ABC Studios Head Patrick Moran Signs Amazon Overall Deal

    Patrick Moran has signed an overall deal with Amazon, Variety has learned. The news comes around three months after it was announced that Moran would be exiting his role as president of ABC Studios following restructuring in the wake of the Disney-21st Century Fox merger. Under his new deal, Moran will work with Amazon Studios to [...]

  • Atresmedia-Studios-and-ITV-Studios-logos

    ITV Studios, Atresmedia Studios Co-develop New Family Format

    ITV Studios and Atresmedia Studios are joining forces to co-develop new gameshow format “Trust Me I’m A Six-Year-old.” The format will see celebrities go head-to-head across four competitive rounds, where their only guidance comes from a group of rowdy kids with their inimitable style of instruction. From undercover pranks to hilarious physical challenges, the celebrity [...]

  • love-island

    Glance Analyzes Young Adult Audience Consumption

    CANNES — What excites young adult audiences? Three answers are authenticity,entertainment and the environment,  according to a Glance study presented Monday at Cannes Mipcom trade show. The presentation also underscored radical changes in TV consumption now sweeping not just the U..S and U.K. but now major territories in Western Europe. Five takeaways: 1.Authenticity This “relates [...]

  • 'Watchmen,' 'Arrow' and More What To Watch This

    What to Watch on TV This Week: 'Watchmen' Debuts, 'Arrow' Returns for Final Season

    Welcome back to Tune In: our weekly newsletter offering a guide to the best of the week’s TV. Each week, Variety’s TV team combs through the week’s schedule, selecting our picks of what to watch and when/how to watch them. This week, the highly anticipated “Watchmen” premieres on HBO, and “Arrow” returns for its eighth [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content