One of the first episodes in Tuca & Bertie‘s stellar third season starts with an unspoken taboo. As a young Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) clutches her stomach, her aunt knowingly tells her that her period has arrived. Many shows have acknowledged the horror show that’s learning what a period is as a young woman, but none have done it like Lisa Hanawalt‘s comedy. As the episode progresses, an older Tuca darts from doctor to doctor, desperate to get an answer about the debilitating, life-halting pain she has to endure each month. Instead of sympathy, she’s met with shrugs and accusations that she’s overreacting. There’s no catharsis, just the frustration countless women have felt as the medical system has ignored their pain.
“The Pain Garden” shouldn’t feel bold. Plenty of people have to endure chronic pain at the hands of periods. But by plainly putting the experience of being medically ignored on TV, it feels powerful. That’s the quiet revolution Tuca & Bertie continues to lead in its third season, another installment that uses gorgeous animation to say the things we often can’t.
Not all of the unspoken topics this season covers feel as hush-hush as the medical industry’s dismissal of female-identifying people and period pain. In one episode, Bertie (Ali Wong) has to reckon with the fact that her boyfriend and best friend are thriving while she decidedly isn’t. Instead of pushing her admittedly less harrowing journey to the side, “Leveling Up” embraces it. Through Bertie’s eyes, the episode becomes a saga about the countless irrational ways we overreact in the face of our own insecurities. It’s not a story about failure, per se, but rather one about the crazy-making effects of stagnation.
That same episode also takes care to explore the emotional tolls of success. For Tuca, her new triumphs mean learning to balance personal freedom with the weight of knowing that other people depend on you. For Bertie’s boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun), it means finding a way to enjoy his recent accomplishments without making Bertie feel bad that she’s having a hard time. Speckle and Tuca’s successes aren’t painted as negative things. But instead of acting like most other series and glossing over the sacrifice that comes with new accomplishments, Tuca & Bertie peels back the unspoken layers of unexpected work.
These moments — the panic that emerges when your dreams are coming true, the rush of gratitude when someone confirms that the doctors aren’t listening and they’ll never listen, the ultimatums you swear don’t matter but actually do — they’re often so small that we never discuss them. They don’t seem to matter in the grand scheme of life. Yet they’re simultaneously all that matters. They make up the long, rambling conversations we have with friends, the therapy sessions that go too long, and the invasive thoughts that keep us awake. Tuca & Bertie has always had a unique talent for parsing out these nebulous problems and finding a way to describe them. Based on the three episodes that were available to critics, Season 3 has honed that superpower. One of the most exceptional shows on TV continues to soar.
The first two episodes of Tuca & Bertie Season 3 will premiere on Adult Swim Sunday, July 11 at midnight ET. New episodes will be available to stream on HBO Max the following day.