Though Tuca and Bertie’s world is plenty outrageous, the series is grounded by its compassion for the women as a duo and as individuals. The protagonists are a touch co-dependent, and their concerns often overlap, but their characters are distinct. (Even the show’s official Twitter account features missives in their separate voices.) Wong’s Bertie is more obviously anxious, about sex and everything else, but she’s also loyal, kind, and deeply intelligent. Haddish’s Tuca is brash and needy, but she’s also resourceful and bighearted.
Notably, the series doesn’t treat its characters’ sexuality as a joke. Bertie, for instance, is in a long-term relationship with a perfectly lovely fellow—a robin named Speckle (Steven Yeun), who moves in with her at the outset of the season. As their relationship deepens, Bertie, an amateur culinarian, finds herself drawn to a powerful pastry chef. In one memorable sequence at the end of Episode 5, “Plumage,” she gets so flustered by an interaction with the hot baking teacher that she runs into the patisserie bathroom to masturbate. It’s one of several such scenes on the show that telegraph women’s lust with both humor and gravity. In another scene, early in the next episode, Bertie is so overcome by her attraction that, while preparing croissants, she vividly imagines herself having sex with her baking instructor. “Bad brain, bad brain, bad brain! Why do I always do this!” one part of her brain yells, to which another responds, “Because you’re horny!”
The relationship between Bertie and the baker takes a heavy turn later in the season. But even at this earlier point, Tuca & Bertie communicates the extent to which Bertie’s interest in the baker is at least partly driven by her anxieties about committing to Speckle. Still, she does make genuine efforts to be a good partner: It’s amusing to see Bertie and Speckle earnestly attempt to jazz up their sex life in one episode by showing one another pornography and, in Bertie’s case, checking out guides such as Hot Sex for Agreeable People and Oral History of Oral Orioles and Areolas.
Tuca, the more free-spirited of the two, seems comfortable with overt sexuality at first blush, but the show gradually complicates her temperament. When Bertie expresses her frustrations and guilt about the illicit fantasies she’s having, it’s Tuca who reminds her that idle daydreams don’t change Bertie’s love for Speckle. “As long as you don’t act on them, weird crushes are cool. Your brain is a free zone,” Tuca tells Bertie, adding, “I got, like, a billion weird crushes going on at a time. In my head, I’m married to three random strangers, I’m having an affair with six others, and I’m terrified that the whole thing is gonna come crashing down on me.”
The absurdity of Tuca’s fantasy, and the fact that she tells Bertie about it while the two are literally hiding from a jaguar that Tuca attempted to domesticate, validates Bertie’s uneasiness about her attraction to her instructor and helps assuage her guilt. Tuca & Bertie weaves enough levity into depictions of its characters’ fears and shortcomings, sexual and otherwise, to offset how daunting just about everything in adult life can feel.