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Interview: Gonzalo Cordova on Writing for Season Three of ‘Tuca and Bertie’

The third season of Tuca and Bertie is currently streaming on HBO Max, and the show is proving to be crazier than ever before! The lovable, titular friends (played by Tiffany Hadish and Ali Wong, respectively) continue to explore what it is like to live with anxiety, deal with expectations and awkward power dynamics at the office.

Awards Radar had the opportunity to talk with Gonzalo Cordova, a writer and executive producer on the show. Gonzalo has been a part of the series since the beginning, and he was more than glad to talk about the characters’ journey, the inspirations behind the show and what makes this story about young, animated birds in their thirties so special.

Awards Radar: You’ve been involved in Tuca and Bertie since the show began. How do you feel about the way it has grown?

Gonzalo Cordova: I joined a few weeks into the first season, and they had already written about three episodes. I think the show really has grown a lot. By the end of that first season, I felt like I really understood the show and Lisa’s (Hanawalt, creator of Tuca and Bertie) vision for it. By the second season, I was very comfortable in the writer’s room, even if it was a long wait because of the circumstances.

By the second season, it felt a lot easier to know what the show was. Figuring out, not just the humor, but that mix with seriousness, a right balance. We really understood it by then.

AR: What makes the relationship between Tuca and Bertie so appealing?

GC: I love writing these characters. I love writing Tuca in particular. She could be a little tough because she’s so heightened. But I always think about them as two separate sides of one person. Lisa always uses the characters to display something she wants to talk about, so they’re two sides of any person’s personality. I really like how people identify with either Bertie or Tuca, but I feel everyone is a bit of both.

I believe that is what makes them good friends, but there’s also plenty of codependency on the show. Is this healthy? Is this good? They need to figure that out. I believe what makes it so interesting is how I see them as one being in some ways. There are some A plots with Bertie, or with Tuca, but everything is connected.

AR: Are you a Bertie? A Tuca? Both?

GC: (laughs) I think I am more of a Bertie. I am a very anxious, nervous person. I love writing for Bertie. I get really happy when I do because I think I can channel a very bratty side of the character. It is really fun to write.

AR: Who is your favorite secondary character from the show?

GC: The easy answer would be Speckle. I love writing for Speckle. We just did an episode focused on him for Season 3 and I feel a lot of guys who watch the show connect with him. Female viewers, too. It is easy to connect with him. It is fun to play around with the expectactions for a “TV nice guy” with him. He is a very supportive boyfriend, but he also freaks out a lot.

Steven Yeun is such a fun voice actor. But my favorite secondary character who is not part of the main three is Dapper Dog. I love writing for him. I use a thesaurus whenever I have to write for him (laughs). When I am outlining an episode, I always try to find a place for him. Considering the moss episode I wrote for Season 2, I tried to put in a lot of Dapper Dog.

AR: You wrote the premiere for this third season of the show. What was important for you to establish after what the characters went through during the last season?

GC: My goal was to understand where Lisa wanted to go with this season, and what she wanted to set up with the first three episodes. Because I believe the Figgy storyline pays off with everything that gets established there. I follow Lisa’s lead and she always has plenty of ideas of where she wants the characters to be.

I remember her making the decision of starting in the middle of the story, with the characters already going through major changes in their life. There were a lot of things that Lisa wanted to do this season. I believe she wanted to give Tuca a job and a stable relationship to start a completely new phase for her and kickstart her season arc.

With Bertie, I think she wanted to explore more of her career. We talked about things that have happened in our careers and we tried to set up these two storylines for this season. I really was just saying “Lisa, what do you wanna do?” (laughs).

AR: How do you think Tuca trying to be a more responsible person is explored in this season?

GC: I wish I could talk the episodes that are yet to air! But right now, I don’t think that would be good. In the writer’s room, we were looking at the growth she had during the last season. After what she went through with Kara, we wanted to show her slowly learning to not depend so heavily on another person. It’s a funny show, but we also like to talk about that sort of thing, when it comes to complicated relationships.

After depending on her aunt Tallulah for so long, we thought Tuca was ready to start moving away from depending on other people.

AR: Speckle was also heavily focused during the course of this season. You wrote a wonderful episode where he is the protagonist. He’s always put other people before him. Why did you decide to explore his breaking point now?

GC: When Lisa comes up with the season and what she wants to say, there’s a lot of broad strokes of the ideas she wants to explore. At some point, the outline begins to take shape and she probably began to sense that I have some connection to Speckle and what he was going through in that episode. I did, at the time, I was very overworked and stressed out (laughs). I felt very connected to that storyline.

I had some opinions and thoughts while we were breaking it down and they fit in really well with what Lisa wanted to tell with the show. I wanted to tell the idea of being too much of a good guy is a form of putting yourself in a box and not wanting to break it. Even though it wasn’t the appropriate way to do it, I’m glad Speckle broke out of his pattern, and he was able to feel comfort by the end.

I think it was important, because I also struggle with being able to admit when I’m falling apart mentally (laughs). You really don’t want to be a bad person and you have to find a way to express yourself without falling into that pattern.

AR: Are there any real life inspirations for Tuca, Bertie, and Speckle?

GC: A lot of the things we do on the show come from things that actually happen to us (the writers and Lisa). Speckle befriending an owl during his episode and having a guy to talk to, that came from me telling the writer’s room that I’ve had difficulty trying to make guy friends during my thirties. And also, sometimes when you befriend someone, there’s a sort of ticking bomb when you don’t know if the person is going to say something really weird, especially when you introduce them to your partner. That came from real life and things we talk about.

I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but I believe a lot of people connected with Tuca’s health problems during the first episodes of the season. That also came from conversations in the writer´s room. A lot of women in the room talked about their struggles with doctors and how frustrating that can be. Smiling faces used as a metric to measure pain levels, that gag came from those conversations.

We almost always start with some reality and Lisa explains to us what some of the characters’ experiences are based on.

AR: Tuca, Bertie and Speckle have wonderful character dynamics, they are like a family. What do you think makes them such a good team?

GC: Tuca and Bertie, to me, are so codependent. As a said, there’s a little bit of them in everybody, I think. Speckle is a really good pairing for that because he accepts Bertie so much that he also accepts this other half of her, which is Tuca. Tuca and Bertie have a relationship that goes as deep as a romance without it being a relationship.

And I think Speckle fits in really well because he is really understanding. I think that is a legitimate thing and not just Speckle being a good guy. It’s just him understanding the person he loves. I don’t want to speak for anybody, but they also work really well because they are based on people’s true personalities. Lisa has a little bit of Bertie and Tuca. So do I.

I believe Speckle is based on people in her life that accept her and when we write, we also think in those terms of relating them to people I know. That’s why people can connect so easily with it.

AR: Where would you like the characters to go in a potential fourth season?

GC: (laughs) I’m only in a position of helping Lisa and following her lead. But personally, I want to see more of Bertie’s career arc, that’s really interesting to me. And also, to keep developing Tuca. It’s been fun to see her grow over three seasons and how she has matured in a lot of ways, with her romantic relationships and her career.

There’s also a lot of story to tell with Speckle, but I don’t want to spoil the remaining episodes. I think we leave them in a very interesting place where they can be further developed, but I can’t get into specifics. I would only get into specifics is I was being interviewed with Lisa (laughs). She always comes up with the best ideas, feelings and the right direction for the show.

Tuca and Bertie is available to stream on HBO Max.


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Written by Diego Peralta

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