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Tuca & Bertie makes the leap from Netflix to Adult Swim this summer with surprisingly little malice. It has become customary for network-hopping shows to at least give a nudge in the ribs to the outlet that canceled them. But the new episodes of Lisa Hanawalt’s bubbly and neurotic celebration of codependent avian friendship jump right back into business as if nothing has changed; there’s nary a chirp about cold-hearted streamers with cancellation trigger fingers.
Maybe Hanawalt and company know that their characters have more on their animated minds than petty broadcast grievances — Bertie’s panic attacks are, after all, getting worse. Or maybe there’s some resigned acceptance that in an increasingly cluttered TV landscape, little shows can sometimes slip through the cracks, no matter how beloved by those who do make time for them.
Such shows include TV’s other best half-hours returning in June for second seasons: Netflix’s Feel Good and HBO’s Betty. Along with Tuca & Bertie, they form a trio of comedies to celebrate and nurture — especially since one has already been canceled (and resurrected), one was renewed only as a “second and final season” and one has generally just been under-the-radar. These are three series that are full of joy and generosity of spirit, bursting with new and inclusive voices and fast and easy binges if you need to catch up. They also pull off the none-too-easy trick of delivering rich and satisfying sophomore seasons.
Netflix’s hasty decision to pull the plug on Tuca & Bertie continues to baffle me. Was the audience for Hanawalt and Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s BoJack Horseman put off by their subsequent show’s frantic female energy and lack of ironic remove? Or by the relative dearth of ‘90s sitcom references?
Either way, bless Cartoon Network for picking it up, because Tuca & Bertie remains a unique blend of exuberant surrealism, cut-to-the-bone psychology and thoroughly relatable camaraderie. The pairing of Bertie (Ali Wong), all pastry-producing ego, and Tuca (Tiffany Haddish), the embodiment of id in short-shorts, is perfectly balanced by Bertie’s astonishingly understanding boyfriend, Speckle (Steven Yeun). The show has become a savvy vehicle through which to explore repressed trauma, workplace sexism and what may be the most simultaneously nurturing and corrosive friendship on TV.
Other than the bleeping out of a few words, there’s no sense that Tuca & Bertie has been altered in the shift from streaming to cable. The four episodes sent to critics are delightfully weird. Highlights include Bertie’s discovery of her inner “bro,” a bachelorette party in a strange plant city and, best of all, an episode tracing insomniac Tuca’s nocturnal ramblings around Bird Town. It’s all accompanied by a supporting vocal cast including the great Nicole Byer, Richard E. Grant, Jenifer Lewis and John Early.
Unlike Tuca & Bertie, Mae Martin and Joe Hampson’s Feel Good got a Netflix renewal for a final season. But this bittersweet rom-com proves complicated to wrap up in the allotted six episodes; Martin’s Mae has enough going on that ten seasons might not have been sufficient. The performer has come out as nonbinary since the first season, and the fictionalized Mae isn’t sure of their gender identification (“I’m still, like, working it out, I think,” they note). Mae starts season 2 returning to rehab in Canada and trying, and failing, to address a tangled relationship from the past. That would be plenty to handle without going back to London to pick things up with George (Charlotte Ritchie).
I called Tuca/Bertie “the most simultaneously nurturing and corrosive friendship on TV,” but Mae and George may be the small screen’s most simultaneously nurturing and corrosive coupling — a dyad Feel Good acknowledges is at once the worst and best thing for both characters.
Martin was the revelation of the first season, an inexperienced lead who immediately displayed astonishing on-screen ease with both comedy and pathos. The second season somehow amplifies the two extremes of the performance perfectly. Also improving on an already terrific turn is Ritchie, who benefits from George’s very accurate realization that she needs to figure out a personality beyond her sexual pairings. Throw in even more Lisa Kudrow and Adrian Lukis as Mae’s parents, and these episodes rush by, perhaps too quickly, with an abruptly resolved series finale.
HBO’s Betty also breezes through its second season in something of a blur — which makes sense since Crystal Moselle’s adaptation of her 2018 feature Skate Kitchen is all about momentum and kinetic movement. The first season of the skateboarding series captured a vibrant New York City moment on the eve of COVID; the second season picks up during the pandemic, which means that it’s a darker, sometimes more fragmented narrative. The characters, clearly unable to be contained by a mere quarantine, are making a greater number of mistakes as they deal with the changing world. Sometimes those mistakes make Betty feel more plotted and structured than is natural for this easygoing show.
Still, the series’ winsome vibe is impossible to resist in storylines like Camille’s (Rachelle Vinberg) unlikely rise to influencer status; the group’s search for a winter skating hub; and, in what is sure to be a fan favorite, lesbian stoner Kirt (Nina Moran) becoming a kind of guru teaching the community’s uncouth young men how to treat, and please, women.
From COVID to Black Lives Matter, the outside world intrudes into this diverse enclave, and Moselle, directing every episode, deserves credit for recognizing that denying reality wouldn’t have served the show well. Betty is best when it gives viewers the near-documentary sense that they’re just embedded with these young women. Things come together beautifully by the season finale.
There — that’s two series with six-episode first seasons, plus an easy-to-digest animated bird-com. Catch up, and then tune in for these new episodes of shows that are just too good to have their fates left up to network caprice.
Feel Good premieres Friday, June 4, on Netflix.
Betty premieres Friday, June 11, on HBO.
Tuca & Bertie premieres Sunday, June 13, on Adult Swim.
A version of this story first appeared in the June 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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