INTO: The Moody Teenage Plants of ‘Tuca & Bertie’

Published May 9, 2019

“Into” is a series dedicated to objects, artworks, garments, exhibitions, and all orders of things that we are into — and there really isn’t a lot more to it than that. Today: Our Associate Editor, Sarah Nechamkin, makes a case for the stoned foliage of Lisa Hanawalt’s new series, Tuca & Bertie.

Among the vibrant zoological wonder world of Tuca & Bertie, a new comedy about a glorious friendship between an anxious songbird and an exuberant toucan (voiced by Ali Wong and Tiffany Haddish), there are no creatures as enticing to me as the Plant People. The Netflix show, which is worth the spillage of buckets of digital ink, is the brainchild of Lisa Hanawalt, the illustrator of Bojack Horseman. Hanawalt’s Plant People make little sense in a city populated mostly by creatures of the avian variety (there are some dogs and a couple potatoes, too). But this whimsical anti-logic is the show’s biggest charm, and the Plant People are its pure embodiment. There’s Draca, a towering plant that sprouts foliage from the neck up, sporting a crop-top, a Juul, and a bra tan (which she proudly bares to both birds). Her apartment is littered with turtles, macramé, and, inanimate houseplants. In another episode, there’s a group of plant teens who habitually loiter on a stoop, gazing at their smartphones and dangling cigarettes, indifferent to the loopy shenanigans of Birdtown. The Plant People are a thought experiment, a la Toy Story or The Secret Life of Pets, on what would happen if our beloved houseplants came alive after we abandon them for the office, though in this version, they steal from our stash of shrooms and lazily free the nipple as they spread across our Ikea furniture.

Plants are oft-personified as a loving, low-maintenance solution to millennial ennui, but Tuca & Bertie gives them the attitude that they deserve. Our plant children may need water and sunlight, but they also need space, Mommm. Like all of us on occasion, they need to be left to their own devices. They also need pet turtles, candles, fire extinguishers for said candles, and certain herbal aids of their own. Some find a host of at times contradictory needs, wants, and interior design choices to be marks of immaturity — a time-honored target for those without ideas. But in Hanawalt’s world, the cliche is lovingly flipped on its head, embracing the knotty nuances that make us who we are. Maybe, one day, we’ll follow her lead.