Tuca and Bertie, the new animated Netflix show about two young, urban, professional birds in the big city, begins with a dramatic ending. “TUCA!” Bertie (voiced by Ali Wong) shouts on an urgent phone call to her best friend (Tiffany Haddish). “I miss you! Ugh, I hate change.”
Tuca is in the process of moving out. The secondary purpose of Bertie’s phone call is to remind Tuca that there’s still a box of her stuff at her place and to ask when she can come pick it up.
That question sets the central tension of the pilot, and in a way, the whole season: Bertie, the detail-oriented, responsible one, wants to know the plan. She wants to know when Tuca will “officially” move out so she can start the next chapter of her domestic life, which includes living together with her boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun). The battle for closeness versus having a sense of their own lives is one that ebbs and flows throughout the rest of the season, leading, at one point, to a hole in the floor/ceiling between them. (They’re both exaggerating about how big of a “change” this is for them; Bertie moved into the apartment upstairs.) As usual, Tuca evades the question like she does any questions about timelines or logistics, sure she’ll figure it out on the fly eventually. Taking her best friend’s call on a bike she stole from a random person in the park, at one point, she assures, “Eh, it’s no big deal, I’m sure we’ll live together at some point.”
The intense, all-consuming nature of their friendship puts Tuca and Bertie in the canon of TV shows in which women value their platonic relationships above just about every other one in their lives. Like the women on Broad City and the girls of Pen15, Tuca and Bertie know almost everything about each other, all the hairy, gross details that might scare other people away. Tuca knows the warning signs of an oncoming panic attack for Bertie, and Bertie knows Tuca gets all her furniture from trash heaps on the street. But the extreme proximity between these two, even as they try to set boundaries and lead semi-independent lives, has armed them with enough ammunition to turn into huge assholes the moment they feel the other has really crossed the line.
Like Bojack Horseman, Tuca and Bertie (also from the mind of the incisive and generous Lisa Hanawalt) is set in a world where animals can talk, have nice apartments and desk jobs, and walk the streets amongst other animals and even humans. It’s also set in a world where the titular characters grapple with anxiety, sobriety, sexual harassment, the gig economy, virtual sex work, and the nebulous road to home ownership for 30-something year-olds. Hanawalt approaches these topics—which a lesser show would reduce to stereotypes—in a generous and open-hearted way, allowing all the real-life ambiguity of adulthood to seep in and color her characters’ worlds. Her approach to female friendship is similar: Tuca and Bertie really are best friends, just like Maya and Ana, just like Ilana and Abbi. But that’s also why they are perfectly poised to take each other down when one decides that the little annoyances piled up. That friction, the way their friendship warps and bends under pressure, lends a realism to the show and the characters that’s refreshing to watch. The happy endings and the tender makeups are all the sweeter when there are real stakes in the game.
In the pilot, Bertie bristles at the thought of living with Tuca again, because it would mean her relationship was a failure. “I mean, I’m kind of hoping things work out, with my boyfriend moving in!” she blurts out awkwardly over the phone. Both of these women (who, again, are birds) are in their 30s and trying to grow up. But the spirit of Tuca’s offhand comment is that she sees their friendship as an inevitability, the one thing in their lives that isn’t set to change. The fact, of course, that it’s not makes the season all the more satisfying to watch.