"Tuca & Bertie" Absolutely Nails The Second Season

The show has officially moved on to Adult Swim with episodes about talk therapy, toxic relationships, and the ups and woes of being a bro.

“Tuca & Bertie” just wrapped up its second season, which is a huge accomplishment, not only because it was an amazing ten episodes, but also because it was successfully moved to Adult Swim after Netflix pulled the plug.  

Don’t worry; season three was announced during an ad break as the latest episode aired on television. 

Everything lovable about the first season was back in full swing, including plotlines that take issues specifically faced by women, seriously.

Vouge asked show creator Lisa Hanawalt if there was any fan reaction she was always happy to hear. She answered, “It’s so nice when people are like, ‘Oh, I feel attacked personally.’ [LAUGHS] Like, ‘This is my problem, and I’m seeing it on TV.’ It’s just nice that people feel represented and relate to the show.”

There was plenty to relate to this season. The episodes took time to balance specific stories for Tuca or Bertie separately, but also connected the plotlines and wrapped everything together as perfectly as... what's something wrapped together in the show? Wrapped together as perfectly as Bertie's apartment decorating. The major threads involved talk therapy and the tell-tale signs of a toxic relationship.

The first episode begins with Bertie seeking a new therapist. Throughout the season she realizes she doesn’t have to “fix herself” to be loved, confronts her parents, understands how her upbringing shaped her handling of emotions, and ultimately ends with Bertie realizing therapy might not seem to be working session to session, but actually brings her effective coping strategies.  

This is all in contrast to Tuca’s strategy of never talking about her feelings. As Tuca explains it’s better instead to “spew all those bad feelings into a cup, turn it over, and push them behind the toilet.” This of course backfires for the season finale, as the storm (both real and symbolic) makes Tuca feel too much all at once. With help from Bertie and her therapy sessions, Tuca can move through her “feelings cups” one by one.  

Season finale the storm Tuca and Bertie season two adult swim
Image Source: Adult Swim

The cups are one example of a brilliant strategy done by the show, which is to implement visual metaphors into zany cartoon reality. Objects that otherwise would be a visual aide for the audience, turn into something that can actually be seen by the show characters as well. In this case, the cups also become little floating ghosts. This is also done with string lights and Bertie’s inner “bro.”

Stories like these on mental health aren’t usually seen on television but are immensely helpful to destigmatize both the struggle and the process of seeking help. 

It’s not difficult to draw the connection between this season and Lisa Hanawalt’s personal experience, as she has spoken openly about dealing with anxiety and agoraphobia.

When Vogue asked if Bertie’s anxiety was something she drew from life, Hanawalt said, “Yeah, I mean, I’m an anxious person. I have a lot of weird coping mechanisms, and I haven’t quite seen that represented in the same way before. So Bertie felt like a good, original character to me, and it’s just fun to plop a character with those issues into different scenarios and see how she reacts."

While the season-wide thread of Bertie dealt with anxiety, Tuca’s story brought in a fantastic representation of a queer relationship… by showing an absolutely terrible queer relationship.

Tuca starts the season looking to date, so she sets up a bus ride to be “a non-televised, non-filmed reality dating show,” also reestablishing for the audience she’s bi. She boots off contestants left and right for sometimes pretty petty reasons. It’s left to assume Bertie and Tuca’s codependence is potentially keeping Tuca alone... unless... is there something deeper going on?

adult swim - Tuca dating Kara
Image Source: Adult Swim

Partway through the season, Tuca ends up dating Kara, a full-time nurse living in a lighthouse. Later it’s established this relationship is definitely not a healthy one. Kara is quickly judgmental and snarky to get Tuca to constantly rethink her behavior in order to better serve what Kara wants. She’s just plain mean to Tuca and sweeps any chance for disagreement under the rug. When Bertie finally meets Kara, she notices how much Tuca has shrunk herself for the relationship immediately.

While some aspects of the Tuca and Kara dynamic are done with cartoonish exaggerations, it is hopefully a depiction that can still hit home for viewers. They may see a bad relationship they (or someone they know) are in currently, or be able to recognize one in the future. This is particularly the case for women loving women, who don’t have too many examples of their relationships in media but may really benefit from seeing how a girlfriend can become toxic.  

adult swim tuca and kara
Image Source: Adult Swim

Now that American television has been seeing more and more queer representation, we can move beyond the trope of the perfect one-off couple that proves normalcy to the straight characters (and viewers.) Now shows are starting to finally see some different varieties of queer couples. What could be better for normalizing queer relationships, than showing all aspects of them?

Tuca also serves as a window into how a person might justify a bad relationship. Such is the case when Tuca says, “She’s nice to me sometimes. Isn’t that better than nothing?” Or how when Bertie points out the red flags she’s seen, Tuca says Bertie only saw one side of the relationship, but “when it’s good, it’s so good.” Tuca even alludes to the heartbreaking idea that because she’s hard to love or “usually too much for people" she should hold onto any relationship she can find… because it could be her only chance.

These form around the very real issue that it’s easier to fall into a toxic relationship if you undervalue yourself and therefore overvalue anyone willing to give you the bare minimum. 

The audience cares for Tuca and knows not only can she find a better relationship, but also that no relationship at all would be infinitely better than being with someone so wrong for her. If the audience can believe this for Tuca, then they can believe it’s true for themselves.

This, of course, isn’t the only important relationship seen in the show. Speckle and Bertie’s romance this season is purposefully set in contrast to Kara and Tuca’s. Tuca doesn’t feel like she can communicate with Kara at all… even to verify each other’s wellbeing and locations during a natural disaster. No one should feel like they have to fight that hard for basic levels of communications... even a fictional Toucan woman. 

Speckle and Bertie however have a particularly strong relationship because of how they communicate. Speckle never gets upset with Bertie anytime she explains having a particular emotional issue. He doesn’t ever make her feel like a burden and is apt to listen whenever she needs it. Very importantly, he’s communicative of his own needs and feelings, as well.

Speckle and Bertie
Image Source: Adult Swim

Speckle is also so much more than “Bertie’s nice boyfriend.” He’s a funny well-developed male character in a show that sometimes expresses frustration with toxic masculinity. He’s the answer to the “men are trash” characters and episodes. He’s the positive masculinity that’s possible and raises the bar higher than just not being a “bro” in order to be considered a good man in their universe. 

As Salon explains, Speckle is “also one of the means by which ‘Tuca & Bertie’ demonstrates that shows created in and for the female gaze are inclusive and appealing to everybody – which was why there was such as outcry over Netflix's premature cancellation of the show in the first place.”

Adult Swim, whose programs are usually aimed at a younger male demographic seems to be showing “a desire to inspire socially relevant conversations with its programming… reminding us of the many ways that animation tells multi-dimensional stories that speak to everybody, not just the guys.”

Hitting this balance, and seeing the success of the show might bring this network, and others to take more chances on untested ideas and creators. “Tuca & Bertie” is important in its own sake, but also in its potential to bring forth even more stories in its wake.

One last thing about this season that shouldn’t go unappreciated, is the plethora of gay content. This show didn’t say, “Oh, Tuca’s bi? She’s dating a woman? Okay, we’ve done enough.” Instead "Tuca & Bertie" looked at all the Easter eggs, one-off characters, and background jokes and asked, “Why should the default be straight?”

The elderly man who just wants to take Bertie’s dating-show bus home has a husband. One therapist dresses to impress her secretary and is taking dancing lessons with her. The bird with an annoying voice and fake eyebrow ring is rejected by Tuca but gets booted into the car of her next girlfriend.

When a younger Bertie looks out onto a restaurant full of couples, one appears to be both women. An elderly bird passionately shouts “Oh, my word! I’m gay!” after seeing photos of Tuca and Kara making out and is later seen on a sapphic date.

adult swim
Image Source: Adult Swim

There are probably even more examples… and isn’t that wonderful? A show so full of gay content, both from the main character and so many background characters, it’s easy to even miss some?   

With a fantastic season so full of earnest messages and zany-animated humor, it’s worth remembering it wouldn’t have happened without the switch to Adult Swim. While there are absolutely other great examples on television about two female leads, there still aren’t that many. It’s always nice to see a show with women supporting each other in a loving and wacky opposites-attract friendship.

Thank you, Adult Swim, for not letting this brilliant piece of media vanish into the graveyard of canceled-too-soon shows, and for letting fans look forward to having a season three.

Kaydee is a writer who is always looking for her next favorite show. She also loves journaling, graphic novels, and late night comedy.

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