Netflix Review – Tuca and Bertie: Energetic, Stylistic, and Fun

Lisa Hanawalt, the production designer from BoJack Horseman, gives us a show about two women dealing with their lives in a strange, strange world.

SUMMARY

Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) is an irresponsible and formerly alcoholic toucan. Bertie (Ali Wong), a robin, is her neurotic best friend. At the start of the show, Tuca has just moved out so that Bertie’s boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun) can move in with Bertie, but she still lives in the building. Tuca is unemployed while Bertie works for Conde Nest magazine publishing. The general theme of any episode is “something happens, hilarity ensues or doesn’t.”

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Sometimes they distribute flyers for a spontaneous workplace seminar.

END SUMMARY

So, everyone who reads this is aware that I think BoJack Horseman is one of, if not the, best shows currently on television. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s subversive, and it’s stylistically unique. This show is also all of those things, just in very different ways. Do I think it’s as good? No, but I can see some people thinking it’s much better. It really just comes down to taste. Part of it is that I think women will relate to this show more than men.

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Though it is not solely made by women, the majority of the crew is female.

The art style of the show is very frenetic and extremely variable. The coloring, movement, and even character designs can alter from scene to scene depending on what’s happening. The movements can be extremely quick, as can the cuts, even compared to other animated shows. This is largely used because the two main characters are often energetic, bordering on manic, although in very different ways. For the most part, though, you never lose track of the plotlines even when the quick cuts and style changes are happening.

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They also sometimes insert random things like the hand of the grocery store.

The gags in the show run basically the full gamut of humor. There are sight gags, often based on the anthropomorphic characters, as well as brick jokes, puns, gross-out humor, dirty jokes, and slice-of-life observations. Part of what makes this work is that the world that the show takes place in is so off-kilter and wacky that literally anything feels like it could happen. While BoJack (yes, the comparisons are going to happen, just deal with it) has anthropomorphic animals, this show has anthropomorphic everything. There are plant people, potato people, bird people, lizard people, car people, building people, body part people, and honestly I think at one point I saw an anthropomorphic representation of the concept of loneliness but that might just have been my cold medicine. Anything can be alive if it can be used for a gag.

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For example here’s a topless plant lady who uses turtles for decoration. Because why not.

A few other things set the show apart. For example, things that would normally just be one-off gags that animation uses that would be undone in the next shot, like a character’s boob talking or a mirror image commenting on their appearance, are not only not undone but are sometimes plot elements. It’s like watching Family Guy using the cutaway gags to actually accomplish something aside from filler. It’s not quite the same as BoJack Horseman’s “canon ensues,” where things that would be reset in a sitcom are instead incorporated into later episodes (most famously “Hollywoo”), but it’s similar. The show also is more than willing to feature nudity and sexuality, exemplified by the building with bare breasts that is part of the opening sequence.

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And sometimes they’re just dancing around corn chips.

The other thing that the show does well are the dramatic moments. While, like I said, most of the series is fast-paced and off-kilter, when there are actual serious things to address, such as sexual harassment, the show does treat them with the gravitas that they deserve, even if they quickly follow it up with a joke. The show’s focus is often on issues facing women as well as people in their thirties and people with anxiety issues, many of which are not really “resolved” within the episode, which is somewhat more realistic than other ways of handling it.

The voice talent is all superb, particularly the leads and recurring guests Richard E. Grant and Reggie Watts.

Overall, I liked the show. I recommend giving it a try. It takes a bit to really give you an idea of how it works, and it’s not going to work for everyone, but I look forward to more of it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

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Netflix Review – A Series of Unfortunate Events (Spoiler-Free)

Netflix spent three seasons adapting one of the most dark and interesting children’s series ever written.

SUMMARY

A Series of Unfortunate Events follows the lives of the three Baudelaire Orphans: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith/Tara Strong). Violet is a brilliant inventor and engineer, Klaus is a polymath with a love of reading, and Sunny… is a baby that bites things hard. After their parents are killed in a fire, the three are sent to live with their distant relative, the evil Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), a terrible actor who would never have been allowed to play Doogie Howser. Throughout the series, the Baudelaires try to find a place to hide safely from Count Olaf and his troupe of evil actors while making their way through the macabre world in which the series is set. All of the events are narrated from the future by Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton).

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Real talk: Why is it so hard to get cast photos lately?

END SUMMARY

The series is basically divided into two types of adventures: Either the children are taken in by an eccentric/flat-out insane caretaker and attacked by a disguised Olaf or they’re on the run from Olaf and forced to hide in some insane location. The key is that nothing in this world quite operates on real logic, instead operating on the principle that basically everyone is off-kilter and, in most cases, anachronistic. The main characters are often the only sane people within any situation, pointing out that what most of the supporting characters are doing is either stupid or crazy, but, being children, they’re constantly ignored.

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Running gag is that these disguises actually fool people.

The setting for the series is intensely gothic, much in the style of Tim Burton or Barry Sonnenfeld… but more the latter because he’s the one that produces the show. Colors are largely muted, buildings tend to be in the gothic style, and the music often is best described as “eerie as hell.” The time-period for the series is completely nonsensical, with black-and-white movies and telegraph lines being commonplace, while also having jokes about streaming internet services.

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Every building in the show was designed by Edgar Allen Poe.

The tone is one of the darkest forms of comedy that you can put in a show ostensibly for children. People die frequently in this show, often in horrifying ways, and yet the spin on their deaths is usually very comical, because most of the characters refuse to react to death rationally. It also helps that Lemony Snicket is constantly adding levity and sarcasm into the series by addressing the audience directly with some off-the-cuff and off-the-wall observation. Since Snicket’s observations were one of the signature elements of the book series, it’s nice that they managed to work it into the show fairly organically.

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He’s basically riffing on his own show.

The acting in the show is phenomenal, although the way that the dialogue is presented will turn some people off. Neil Patrick Harris is a standout, matching Jim Carrey’s fabulous performance from the film adaptation, while still managing not to duplicate it too much. Harris sings the great theme song to the series “Look Away” which he sings in a different voice whenever he portrays a character in the episode, with the lyrics changing from book to book. They also find some excuses for Harris to let out his broadway side, something that, while it does make it harder to believe Olaf is a terrible actor, is too entertaining to pass up.

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Out-of-Character? A little. Out-Freaking-Standing? Definitely.

The downsides, if they are downsides, of the show are that, because of the nature of the medium, there are fewer of the wonderful ambiguities and hidden messages that permeated the books. Things that in the book series were left up to the reader to deduce are almost all made explicit. Additionally, some of the added scenes and characters are actually more positive than the rest of the tone of the show, possibly because it’s just so depressing to watch something that’s absurdist and, largely, hopeless. Frankly, it didn’t bother me, but I have heard a few fans of the books complaining.

However, there are two things this show does differently than most series that I really hope lead to its success. First, the villains are the ones shunning knowledge, while the heroes are the ones who seek it. A problem with the recurring trope of a criminal mastermind is that you have to make the villain the smart one, which often results in them making the hero a brawny dumbass. Think Lex Luthor versus Superman or Loki versus Thor (though neither Superman nor Thor are stupid, they’re not as smart as their opponents). This show 100% goes the other way, saying that the act of reading, learning, and exploring inherently makes someone more empathetic and therefore more ethical. Btw, studies suggest that this is generally true, reading makes you more empathetic (though not always as everyone thinks).

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Scientist bad. Big Muscled Guy good. 

Second, the show ends up pointing out one of the most difficult truths in the world: People aren’t all good or all bad. People are almost all morally ambiguous, falling somewhere on the scale between “hero” and “villain” or, within the series, between “volunteer” and “villain.” Everyone tends to think they’re a hero of their own story, but that’s likely the product of their own moral relativism: we define good as what we do, rather than defining good as good and then doing it. The show does a great job of exploring this concept.

Overall, I loved this series and I’m sad that it’s over. It’s only 25 episodes, total, so you should take a weekend or a week to watch it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.