Codependency is an ever-present theme in Tuca & Bertie, the titular duo’s friendship frequently put under the microscope by creator Lisa Hanawalt and the show’s writers. We’ve seen the difficult bond the two share, a longstanding friendship that, while built on genuine affection and love for each other, can turn sour fast. Tuca & Bertie is a show with deep faith in the power of friendship and the joy of sharing an inimitable bond with another, yet also understands the innumerable ways that bond can quickly become detrimentimental to both parties involved. As Bertie (Ali Wong) finds healing through therapy this season, we’ve seen her question the nature of her relationship with Tuca (Tiffany Haddish). It isn’t until this week though that these feelings bubble to the surface, exploding as both Tuca and Bertie’s storylines collide in fascinating ways.
After the uneven handling of larger real-life social issues in last week’s “The Moss,” Hanawalt and her writers bring Tuca & Bertie back to where it has routinely excelled for a season and a half: introspective explorations of the characters’ psychology and relationships. While the show admirably tackled the theme of gentrification with some interesting results, the themes were a bit unexplored and underdeveloped. However, the show barely misses a beat as it delves back into the central relationship of the show, yielding new insight into why Tuca and Bertie depend on each other so much.
“Sleepovers” follows the growing relationship between Tuca and Kara, the nurse she met in the season two highlight “Nighttime Friend.” While in “Nighttime Friend,” Tuca’s relationship with Kara held the potential for healing on Tuca’s part, this episode see’s the hint of cracks appearing in the facade of the relationship. Kara appears to center herself in the relationship, playing the victim but refusing to acknowledge her own hurtful actions.
While Tuca & Bertie has explored toxic relationships in the past, it is interesting to see the writers handling a more nuanced dysfunction. Rather than outright abuse, Kara presents a variety of red-flag moments, each signifying that this relationship may not be what Tuca needs. Where the show has exceptional nuance is in how it refuses to make Kara out to be a villain. She’s understandable in where she is coming from, but it doesn’t minimize the harm she brings Tuca.
As Tuca and Kara grow closer, we see Bertie’s anxiety spiral in new ways. Bertie finds herself in a deep hole of anxious thoughts, her newfound loneliness forcing her to confront the issues in her life. Where “Sleepovers” is especially perceptive in its depiction of how Bertie copes with her anxiety, employing a range of distractions to occupy her mind. She pushes her lingering issues with Tuca to the back of her mind, frontloading her thoughts with errands like grocery shopping. Bertie’s thoughts truly begin to nosedive though as she begins to occupy herself with texting Tuca, an obsessive tendency she follows even as it tears her apart. This episode sees Bertie living in a vacuum of sorts, her relationship with Tuca put on hold as Tuca explores life with Kara. Where this leaves Tuca and Bertie is unclear however, and it tears Bertie apart.
While Tuca and Bertie are always serving as foils to each other, “Sleepovers” takes the two friends and explores how they truly differ. We’ve seen both characters embark on their respective mental health journeys, attempting to find healing in different ways. Bertie appears to at least be trying to build up healthy coping abilities, even if she slips back into old habits. Tuca, on the other hand, still keeps her feelings below the surface, especially with Kara. While a new relationship can be thrilling in its promise, it’s also intimidating in its potential, every single self-disclosure a possible red flag in the new relationship. Tuca is especially prone to this desire to put forward the best picture of oneself, as she subsumes her own desires to Kara’s. Tuca easily slips into this mode, perhaps due to her relationship with Bertie being dominated by Bertie’s anxieties.
This is where we see the episode’s themes come full-circle—the codependency that defines Tuca and Bertie’s relationship breaking out of the confines of their singular friendship and reaching into other aspects of both Tuca and Bertie’s lives. We see this destructive tendency manifest in Tuca at the end of the episode, as she navigates the increasingly tumultuous waters of her relationship with Kara. Kara pushes Tuca to suppress her feelings, demanding that Tuca simply “have fun,” a subtle but devastating undercutting of Tuca’s point of view in the relationship. As both leads in Tuca & Bertie struggle with how their relationship defines the ways they relate to others in their lives, Hanawalt and her writers break open the inside world of these singular characters, revealing new aspects of their difficult psychology. “Sleepovers” does what Tuca & Bertie does best, while deepening what came before.
Tuca & Bertie season 2 airs on Sundays 11:30 p.m. EST on Adult Swim and also on adultswim.com.