After Its Surprise Cancelation from Netflix, ‘Tuca & Bertie’ Gets a Second Life

Creator Lisa Hanawalt talks about reviving her popular animated series on Adult Swim

In the season premiere of Tuca & Bertie, which aired on Adult Swim on June 13, Bertie is searching for a therapist while Tuca is navigating online dating. As their two journeys converge, you might wonder if their close friendship will survive.

Or, as series creator Lisa Hanawalt asks, “Is their friendship even healthy?”

The animated series, which began its life on Netflix in 2019, is an about two best friends—an outgoing toucan and an overachieving song thrush—who struggle with life together. The dynamics of their relationship, as viewers learn through the series, are complex. While there are plenty of times when they help each other, at other times it might seem like they’re holding each other back.

“I personally do not have one best friend that I’m constantly in communication with. I have a lot of different friends,” says Hanawalt, an award-winning cartoonist and illustrator who previously served as production designer and a producer for BoJack Horseman. “I think that sometimes we worry that we’re supposed to have some super best friend that we rely on, but maybe that’s not the best for us. Or, maybe it’s better for some people than others.”

That’s something Hanawalt considers often, particularly in relation to the core characters, who she says began as different versions of herself. Tuca and Bertie, though, evolved as Tiffany Haddish (Tuca) and Ali Wong (Bertie) stepped into the roles. “Tiffany, she just seemed like a Tuca right off the bat. That’s why she was the first person that we went to and it was such a natural fit for her,” she says.

Hanawalt had long been a fan of Wong, but wondered if she might have been more of a Tuca than a Bertie. “When we auditioned Ali, she was just perfect,” she says. “She’s such a good actress and she actually really connected with Bertie’s anxiety and her vulnerability. She felt like such a good fit and the fact that her and Tiffany know each other from comedy, they instantly had a rapport.”

When Tuca & Bertie premiered in 2019, critics loved it, but the series was soon canceled by Netflix. “I had ideas for the second season that I was ready to get running on when they canceled,” says Hanawalt. “When we announced [the cancelation], a lot of other networks became interested and we thought Adult Swim would be a good home for it. It was a matter of seeing if that was a possibility, if we could move it over. That took some time.”

Fortunately, Tuca & Bertie did find a home on Adult Swim. The challenge there was introducing a show to the late-night cable audience, continuing to engage fans who may have binged the first season in its streaming days. “We had to think of an opening episode for this season that would get people up to speed quickly who hadn’t seen the show ever before and also wasn’t much retread for people who were already fans of the series,” says Hanawalt. “It’s balancing those things.”

The other challenge: most of the second season’s production period took place during the pandemic. Hanawalt recalls holding one or two writers’ room sessions in person before transitioning to remote work. “It was bizarre. I’m glad it wasn’t the first season,” she says, adding that, since she had previously worked with much of the crew, it helped the move to Zoom. “I had to be more structured with everything,” she says. “I didn’t want to spend six hours in a Zoom room writing, so I would plan out pretty carefully what we were going to work on that day and then we would get in there for maybe three hours and then work on our homework alone.”

It wasn’t easy, but now that all the second season episodes are complete and the premiere has aired, Hanawalt has had a chance to take in the responses to the premiere. “I’m excited about how many people were happy to see the show come back,” she says. “It’s also really fun seeing people watch the show for the first time, starting with this episode.”

That Tuca & Bertie did get a second life is no small feat and it’s been a good opportunity for the show’s creator. “It’s nice to have a second season where I can get a little deeper into them,” says Hanawalt. This season, she says, viewers will get a few flashbacks of the characters and a glimpse of some of their family members. It’s all a chance for Hanawalt to further explore the dynamics of Tuca and Bertie’s relationship.

“I like getting into the details of this important friendship and how they’re supporting each other and how they’re blowing it,” she says.

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