Famous duos have marked pop culture through the decades: Laverne and Shirley. Sonny and Cher. Kenan and Kel. Key and Peele. They’re great and whatever, but all fall short in one important way: None of them are birds.
The iconic avian pairing we deserve has finally arrived via “Tuca & Bertie,” a new Netflix show about two bird besties living out their 30s in a city called, fittingly, Bird Town. (Peak TV, meet Beak TV.) There, oversized snakes and slugs serve as public transit, giant boobs bounce from building facades, and the bright, colorful tableau feels full of weirdness and possibility.
The show’s creator, Lisa Hanawalt, was a supervising producer on “BoJack Horseman.” Comparisons between the two series seem inevitable — they’re both animated shows with a shared visual style, aimed at adults and populated with humanesque animals — but Hanawalt has made it clear her new show is not a spinoff, or even in the same universe. While the elevator pitch might seem similar at first blush, “Tuca & Bertie” stands on its own, with a sensibility that’s a bit more “Broad City” than “BoJack.”
Tuca, voiced by Tiffany Haddish, is the ultimate party animal, a freewheeling, boundaryless toucan who moonlights as a freelance tour guide, dog walker and mobile notary. (We rarely see her at work, except when she’s putting her own spin on temp gigs she’s picked up on ChoreGoose.) She used to be roommates with Bertie, a Type A song thrush who processes data for Condé Nest, loves baking and is voiced by Ali Wong. In the first episode, we learn Tuca has moved upstairs, and Bertie’s boyfriend Speckle (a robin voiced by Steven Yeun) just took her place in their old apartment.
Now that they’re neighbors, Tuca decides to engage in the most neighborly of activities: borrowing a cup of sugar. Bertie, reluctant to hand over her pricey organic stuff, sees Speckle’s sugar bowl and decides that’ll do. That decision — and the journey to get the bowl back after Tuca lends it to someone else — sets off a comedy of errors involving escaped turtles, deceased relatives, penguin bullies and a culminating bake-off. Accompanying it all is a thumping, dance-floor-ready score.
Sound wacky? It is. And it’s a delightful trip, with exuberant visuals, enchanting colors and spot-on writing that manages to sharply and hilariously capture what it feels like to be a woman today. It’s weird out there, and Tuca and Bertie manage to face it all with zeal and an occasional improvised song or two.
As the show’s 10-episode season unfolds, the chaotic world Tuca and Bertie inhabit makes a sort of beautiful sense. For every human-resources goose or plant person mysteriously rustling their leaves, there is a scenario that looks startlingly like real life: coping with anxiety, asserting yourself at work, staying sober, handling toxic family members. Creeps abound, whether in the form of a harassing co-worker or slimeball downstairs neighbor. There are gray areas and stomach-churning personal decisions to make. The world remains wild and buoyant even with this depth, but takes on a relatable tenor. Instead of being pure escape, the absurdity in “Tuca & Bertie” is a fun house mirror, reflecting our own warped reality back to us.
Like anyone living under the patriarchy, Tuca and Bertie find ways to get through it. Bertie wears special cupcake shoes to give her the courage to leave the house when she’s anxious. Tuca isn’t afraid to unleash a hearty caw-caw when she sees something she doesn’t like. (She is, after all, a bird.) And, through it all, they have each other for support and venting. Like any classic odd couple, they work best when they’re together: Bertie is a grounding force, while Tuca is an outside-the-box problem-solver. Together, no problem is insurmountable, no secret too shameful.
But things are changing. Tuca and Bertie are both in their 30s, a time when the wide-open paths of the decade prior seem to narrow and solidify, for better or worse. Bertie is ready to settle into a routine, while Tuca still embraces uncertainty and chaos. In one episode, Bertie and Speckle contemplate buying a house, which they find during an afternoon of pretending to be a snooty couple touring for-sale properties. The specter of such a grown-up purchase has Tuca feeling a little left out, and wondering if she’s being left behind in Bertie’s forward march to adulthood. So she makes an acquisition of her own: an untamed jaguar, which quickly lays waste to her apartment — and an unfortunate delivery guy who has come by to drop off dinner.
It’s another example of how the show marries the surreal with the all too real, leaving you with the odd sensation that, somehow, two bird women with opposable thumbs really understand what you’re going through. We’re all just winging it, but we don’t have to do it alone.
“Tuca & Bertie” streams May 3 on Netflix.