‘Tuca & Bertie’ is the future of adult animation

Photo credit: Elaine Chung

Tiffany Haddish is ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille. When Haddish zooms in to chat Tuca & Bertie at the end of May, she materializes on the screen all in character, luminous in an Old Hollywood filter: opera fascinator, spectacular pearl earrings, glossy lipstick.

“Tiffany looks amazing,” exclaims Ali Wong, Haddish’s co-star, as Haddish mimics cigarettes with an elegant cigarette holder. “She eats celery and melon now. She makes curls with a hammer. She is just radiant.

Like their avian characters in Tuca & Bertie, Haddish and Wong are each other’s hottest hype women. Their is a bond of love and laughter formed in the trenches of their beloved show’s roller coaster trajectory through the ruthless jaws of Hollywood: critically acclaimed, canceled and resurrected amid a pandemic. global. But as they prepare Tuca & BertieOn his first outing at Adult Swim, Haddish and Wong don’t look back.

“When we got canceled at Netflix, I knew deep down that the show would have another life,” Wong said. “It’s too good not to have another life. You have Lisa Hanawalt, and you have me and Tiffany.

Hanawalt, previously best known as the production designer on Netflix BoJack Cavalier, launched his authoring idea in May 2019 to rave reviews. Exuberant and surreal, set in anthropomorphic and wacky Bird Town, Tuca & Bertie focuses on two 30-something best friends and former roommates: Tuca (Haddish), an outgoing and impulsive toucan, and Bertie (Wong), a dreamy and anxious song thrush. In ten visionary episodes, between crazy antics and clever gags, the show’s first season probed sensitive truths about codependency, sexual harassment, social anxiety, sexism at work, childhood trauma and sobriety. Tuca & BertieThe dynamic exhilaration of female friendship, combined with its poignant exploration of how women heal and survive, earned the series a dedicated following.

In July 2019, less than three months after its debut, Netflix unplugged Tuca & Bertie, scandalizing the fans (who petitioned to save the series) and calling for condemnation from television critics, who decried the cancellation as “a disappointing loss for television”. Tuca & BertieThe informal end of came amid a spate of Netflix cancellations disproportionately targeting female creators, with eight shows created or co-created by women. chopped in the first half of 2019, representing more than a third of the canceled series for the year. In May 2020, fans rejoiced when Adult Swim announced plans to relaunch Tuca & Bertie, although Adult Swim has its own turbulent past with female designers. After its launch in 2001, it took Adult Swim sixteen years to functionality a show created by a woman (Tender touches, which started in 2017).

According to the nonprofit activist group Women in Animation, women reconcile only 10% of producers and directors in the animation space, and only 20% of all creative roles in animation. In the genre of adult animation, long dominated by white male creators and white male stories, Tuca & Bertie is an anomaly; Hanawalt estimates that about half of the writers on her team are women and just over half are people of color. With two women of color Haddish and Wong leading the show as executive producers, Tuca & Bertie is positive proof of the heights adult animation can climb when a multitude of voices are centered and heard.

In his second life at Adult Swim, Tuca & Bertie retains its familiar charms while relying on the psychological obstacles of its heroines. Premiering on June 13, all ten episodes of season two see Haddish and Wong reprise their roles. Free-spirited Pansexual Tuca packs a date carousel aboard her ‘sex bus’, but she and Bertie are both thrown on a loop when a serious suitor for her heart comes knocking on the door .

“For the first time in the series, Tuca is entering a serious relationship,” Wong said. “You have these friends who are still single and they are still available for you; then they get into a serious relationship and you move down the pecking order. It’s a big emotional adjustment that you have to hide. It’s very real, but not often covered in adult animation. I am excited about a journey as simple in appearance, but ultimately so profound, as this one.

Haddish, now sporting a Zoom filter to show her off as a bird, nods emphatically. It promises a season two that delves deeper into Tuca’s psyche, with the aim of revealing how the complex family history of alcoholism and abuse seen in season one continues to inform Tuca’s way of life.

“Tuca is wondering how to deal with and talk about his emotions,” Haddish says. “Bertie helps him with that. She’s been trying to bury these feelings for years, but when you bury your emotions, guess what they’re doing? They come back. They understand you.

Dealing with buried feelings isn’t just the Tuca Cross to wear. In the first season, the series poignantly unboxes the traumatic events of Bertie’s childhood; “The Jelly Lakes,” a hard-hitting episode about aftershocks of young Bertie’s sexual assault by her swim trainer, landed on the “Best TV Episodes of 2019” lists on Weekly entertainment and Hollywood journalist. In season two, Bertie’s crippling anxiety left her with worsening panic attacks, leading her to seek professional help. “I’m like a haunted house,” Bertie tells her therapist, as she morphs into a haunted house with a beak. “I look charming on the outside, but the more I let others in, the more they’ll see what I really look like.”

“The next logical step in Bertie’s journey is to find a therapist, but she’s struggling to find the right fit,” says Wong. “I really identify with that. It’s such a funny and sad experience with a lot of humor. I am excited to explore something so simple on the show. The simple struggles of modern American life – I like to explore and poke fun at their nonsense.

Resurrect Tuca & Bertie during a pandemic was not easy. Haddish describes a daily process of “playing in a closet”; Hanawalt, Speaking at Wired, said of the home showrunning, “It’s like being the conductor of a three-track circus and doing a show on a desert island.” For Haddish and Wong, the rambling process of recording dialogue from a distance made for a much more hands-on production experience.

“We tried to get solid credit,” Haddish jokes. “We will be creating our own podcast called We Kept the Equipment. “

But even a pandemic couldn’t separate Haddish and Wong. From sound booth to sound booth, they often faced FaceTime to stay connected.

“Tiffany and I always keep in touch,” Wong says. “Our natural affection for each other and the story we have has always lent itself in a very organic way to the chemistry of the show. Witnessing each other’s growth in our personal and professional lives has helped. to the chemistry between these two very fictional characters.

As Tuca & Bertie kicks off its stellar second season, it’s a reminder of just how great adult animation came of the not-so-distant days when Adult Swim CEO Mike Lazzo could say with impunity, “When you put women in the writers’ room, you get conflict, not comedy. It is also a reminder of the way we still have to go. Tuca & Bertie is part of a rising tide of female-created shows at Adult Swim, including three busy arms and Girl with birds, but this is only the beginning of the radical change. Subtle, sensitive and distinctly feminine, Tuca & Bertie is the future of adult animation and it leaves no one behind.

“We are queens,” Haddish says. “You have the best of the best. The show is so diverse. There are men and women who work on this show, not just a bunch of men. People of all colors, of all types, of all beliefs. It’s beautiful when we all come together to create.

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