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Lisa Hanawalt: Adult Swim urges 'Tuca & Bertie' to push boundaries

Tuca (L) and Bertie return on Adult Swim. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim
Tuca (L) and Bertie return on Adult Swim. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim

LOS ANGELES-- June 11 (UPI) -- When Netflix canceled Tuca & Bertie after one season, Adult Swim was the first network to step in and pick up a second season. Creator Lisa Hanawalt said she didn't entertain any other offers.

"They came in and they wanted it," Hanawalt told UPI in a recent Zoom interview ahead of Sunday's Season 2 premiere. "I was like, 'Great. Sounds good.'"

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The animated series centers on the friendship between two birds, Tuca (voice of Tiffany Haddish) and Bertie (voice of Ali Wong) in Bird Town. The series deals with mature themes like alcoholism and sexual abuse, along with the humorous foibles of Tuca and Bertie's love lives and careers.

Since Tuca & Bertie is intended for adult audiences, Hanawalt was free to use profanity and animated nudity on Netflix. Hanawalt said Adult Swim has a few more restrictions.

"Sometimes we have to bleep a swear word or cover up a nipple," Hanawalt said. "Other than that, they really like us to push the envelope."

Hanawalt said that because Adult Swim is the nighttime programming of Cartoon Network, they are extra careful in case children leave the channel on after hours. The 37-year-old artist said she doesn't mind bleeping profanity.

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"Sometimes bleeps are funnier than having the word anyways," Hanawalt said.

Because the first season aired on a different platform, Hanawalt wanted to catch up new viewers in the first episode of Season 2. So Bertie recaps her previous episodes to a therapist.

"I wanted the show to be accessible to brand new viewers," Hanawalt said. "As well, I didn't want people who'd already seen the first season to feel we were retreading or starting over from scratch."

Some of those continuing threads include Bertie's recovery from sexual abuse. In Season 1, she revealed that she had been molested during a family vacation to the lake.

Tuca & Bertie fans saw the abuse Bertie endured working for Pastry Pete (voice of Reggie Watts) in his kitchen. Bertie also witnessed Pastry Pete sexually harassing another bird.

Pastry Pete returns in Season 2 with a food cart in front of Bertie's office. Hanawalt said she wanted to raise issues of coping with abusers even after you've left the abusive relationship.

"Those people stick around, and there's not really a good solution," Hanawalt said. "Where else are they going to go? That's something we have to reckon with."

Tuca's sobriety continues to affect her relationships, and the character feels left out when she's invited to tag along with Bertie and her drinking friends.

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"In this season, she's trying to get into a relationship, which I think, when you're newly sober, can be more daunting," Hanawalt said. "Being sober can come with a lot of social anxiety."

An upcoming episode finds Tuca looking for a new friend to join her nighttime activities. Art director Alison Dubois designed nighttime animation consisting of unfilled outlines of Bird Town.

"It feels like a departure from our regular episodes, both visually and thematically," Hanawalt said. "The design of it really reflects Tuca's loneliness without Bertie."

Hanawalt was a production designer and producer on the Netflix series Bojack Horseman. Bojack creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg is an executive producer on Tuca & Bertie.

While Bojack combined humans and talking animals, Tuca & Bertie focuses on Bird Town.

"This season, we start to get into a little bit of why can some birds fly and some can't?" Hanawalt said. "But I never want to explain anything. I think it's nice to have it open ended."

Other unexplained phenomena in Bird Town include inanimate objects coming to life and plant people. Hanawallt said she'd drawn plant people in her sketch book and printed T-shirts of them prior to Tuca & Bertie and tried pitching them for Bojack Horseman.

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"Only to troll Raphael because he was like, 'No, plants do not talk in this world. That doesn't make sense.'" Hanawalt said. "When it was my turn to make a show, I went for it."

As art director, Hanawalt said Bojack Horseman's animation reflected her work in comic books. Tuca & Bertie uses a similar animation style.

Hanawalt said drawing birds always appealed to her.

"You can just draw a bean and put an eye on it and a beak and it looks like a bird," Hanawalt said. "So I like how simplistic some of the character designs can be and still look like a bird."

Tuca & Bertie airs Sundays at 11:30 p.m. EDT on Adult Swim.

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