US animated online series (2019-current). Netflix. Created by Lisa Hanawalt. Executive producers include Noel Bright, Steven A Cohen, Lisa Hanawalt and Raphael Bob-Waksberg. Directors include Aaron Long and Amy Winfrey. Writers include Gonzalo Cordova, Karen Graci, Lisa Hanawalt and Rachelle R Williams. Voice cast includes Tiffany Haddish, Ali Wong and Steven Yeun. Ten 25-minute episodes. Colour.
This is the story of outgoing, disorganized Tuca (Haddish) and quiet, anxiety-prone Bertie (Wong), two thirty year old women; they are long-time friends who shared the same apartment until Bertie's boyfriend, Speckle (Yeun), moved in. Tuca now lives in the flat above (a hole in her floor allows communication but reduces privacy). Also, Tuca is a toucan, Bertie a song thrush and Speckle a robin.
Though a few humans are seen, most people are anthropomorphized animals, insects or plants, with bird-people predominating – here birdwatchers are voyeurs. Objects are liable to suddenly reveal themselves as sentient, including items of medical Technology (arguably making them AI) or a cake made of Speckle's grandma's ashes; body parts can be autonomous – when groped, an offended breast reaches for its hat and departs. There are normal-looking animals, though even these may be enormous (see Great and Small). Subway trains are giant snakes (except when they are giant slugs): these snakes may also be seen, presumably when off-duty, wound around tower blocks. In the country, giant kittens play on ball-of-wool hills. To summarize: random surrealism abounds.
The story is initially light hearted, even when dealing with Bertie's social anxieties; but later on her childhood sexual abuse (see Sex) and Tuca's own family problems are engaged with in more depth and greater seriousness. Nevertheless, absurdity never disappears and the mood by the end is optimistic – culminating in one of Bertie's tormentors being drenched by the bowel-movement of a giant eagle.
The show's creator, Lisa Hanawalt, was the Production Designer on Bojack Horseman (2014-current) and both series are alike in general design, though Tuca's and Bertie's animation is more fluid and sometimes shifts into other art styles. The storytelling approach is similar too, with the genre elements mainly there for humour and strangeness, whilst the central concerns – in this case Feminism and the handling of interpersonal issues – could be re-told in a mainstream format without difficulty.
Though Tuca and Bertie uses the "odd couple" trope, sitcom Clichés are generally avoided: for example, there is no hostility between Tuca and Speckle, whilst the latter is a likeable and sensitive boyfriend to Bertie. This is a promising new series, already good and likely to improve; funny, peculiar and sometimes affecting. [SP]
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