The term adult cartoon sounds pretty funny (though I’m sure that’s not the proper term for it). There’s usually an expectation to be raunchy, irreverent, and provocative. There’s a certain breed entertainment that feeds specifically into this, using the animation medium to augment even more shock value. We remember these adult cartoons for championing anti-PC culture or pushing the envelope on how messed up their subject-matter could be. I’m not saying these shows can’t be hilarious, but they do tend to be the glossary of references every dudebro who thinks this generation is too sensitive turns to.
In the age of streaming, we’re luckily spared from too many South Park-esque rehashings. Adult cartoons have gotten a little more cerebral. It’s a great improvement for television, but it poses another problem: there still aren’t many female-led shows. Netflix’s most popular creations, Bojack Horseman, Big Mouth, and (formerly) Rick and Morty, all surrounded the same uncharismatic-yet-relatable male archetypes. So, a change in the status quo felt imminent. Netflix’s newest offering, Tuca and Bertie, was a breath of fresh air.
Admittedly, it could be met with a little bit of skepticism. Talking animals again? Is this because Broad City ended? Tuca and Bertie, being led by two women of color, Ali Wong and Tiffany Haddish, could have been one of those moments where a TV show just haphazardly gives us our representation and goes. Who knows? I was mostly jaded by the same thing happening with other Netflix creations like Dude and Someone Great, that seemed to simply pander to millennial women. As a fan of both comediennes, I really wanted Tuca and Bertie to succeed, but was prepared for the usual missteps.
It’s a world ruled by absurdity, where buildings can grow boobs, and walking plants can keep animals as pets.
Going into the show itself and it’s vivid, playful opening, it’s easy to see the clear influences from Broad City, Bojack Horseman, and Steven Universe. It’s a world ruled by absurdity, where buildings can grow boobs, and walking plants can keep animals as pets. Here, we meet Tuca, the zany, outgoing, and spontaneous odd-job-hopper, and her best friend Bertie, a nervous, responsible, career-chaser. The show begins as the two reach a pivotal moment in their lives and in their friendship. Tuca moves out from their once shared apartment, into a unit a floor above. Meanwhile, Bertie keeps the apartment to try her hand at living in with her boyfriend, Speckles. The two women navigate their parallel struggles as talking birds trying to make it in the big city. Viewers can identify easily with either of the leads, and most of the time a little bit of both. They both battle their own demons as the show tackles the burdens of generalized anxiety and recovery from alcoholism. It doesn’t feel like relevant social issues shoehorned in, just realities that many in their twenties to thirties tend to face.
For something that risks living in the shadow of its predecessors, Tuca and Bertie exceeds expectations in almost every front. Specifically, it makes several refreshing departures from the shows that came before it. The animation is fast, imaginative, and never dares to take itself seriously. The way that mental health is approached is never self-effacing, but always teaches us that we should forgive ourselves for our shortcomings. Whereas the majority of women-led comedies tend to be laden with weed, alcohol, and psychedelics, Tuca and Bertie dares to be a sober affair. This isn’t to say that the show has its shortcomings too — there are a couple of moral lapses in the storyline, and some jokes can feel a little oversold. However, these things never outweigh the undeniable charm of Tuca and Bertie. It’s a stunning revelation in adult cartoons. No casual bigotry, no tortured genius, no excessive dick jokes — just finding ways to get by with a little help from your friends.