TV

‘The White Lotus’ And ‘Tuca And Bertie’ Understand That There’s Nothing More Terrifying Than Teens

At first glance, The White Lotus and Tuca and Bertie do not seem to have much in common. One is an HBO drama about rich white people vacationing in Hawaii; the other is an animated series about talking birds (guess which is which). But look a little closer and you’ll see the similarities. For instance, The White Lotus and Tuca and Bertie are creators Mike White and Lisa Hannawalt first shows since Enlightened and BoJack Horseman, two of the most acclaimed dark comedies of the past 20 years (technically, Hannawalt didn’t create BoJack, but she was the show’s creative designer and there would be no BoJack without her). Also, both series air their season finales this Sunday (each has already been renewed). But what really connects The White Lotus and Tuca and Bertie is that they understand the same universal truth: teens are terrifying.

As a 30-something, I am scared of teens. I was also scared of teens as a teen, but it’s different now. Whenever I’m at the mall and see a group (pack? troupe? murder?) of teens lingering around the Auntie Anne’s, I will go the long way to the Apple Store. I want to avoid their detection. Teens have an uncanny ability to detect your greatest vulnerability. It could be something as obvious as tripping or as minor as wearing a red shirt when you usually wear a blue shirt, but they will know exactly what to say to destroy you. “Hey Elmo, nice shirt.” Devastating. You can’t recover from that. All you can do is George Michael (the rare non-terrifying teen) your way to get your iPhone fixed.

The teens — the cactus, the plant, the… other plant — on Tuca and Bertie love to loiter. It doesn’t matter if they’re chilling on the fire escape or sitting on the stoop outside the apartment building, they’re always around for a disaffected quip. In a season one episode, Bertie (voiced by Ali Wong) greets her neighbors with an “eek, teens!” After they give her a compliment that sounds like an insult, she wonders out loud, “Uh, the words you’re saying are nice, but the way you say them makes them sound mean, so…” Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) cuts her off to point out, “They’re teenagers, Bertie, everything they say is a lie.” It doesn’t feel like it in the moment, though. As Tuca and Bertie flee the scene, one of the teens wonders, “Are we mean?” It’s a rare moment of self-awareness… that’s quickly interrupted by a “no way” from her friend. The emotional maturity will come later.

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The two teens on The White Lotus, Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula (Brittany O’Grady), think they’re emotionally mature, but they’re not. They think a lot of things about themselves actually, in particular Olivia, who criticizes her mother for working on vacation / ruining the world, makes her brother sleep on the beach, and, upon being told by her dad that his dad died from AIDS, wonders if her grandpa was into ass play. The friends, who are introduced by coming up with tragic backstories for their fellow vacationers, think they have it all figured it out — so long as they have their backpack full of drugs. They’re Cher and Dionne from Clueless, if Cher and Dionne were bitchy (I say that with complete affection) zoomers who read Nietzsche and Freud poolside.

I still haven’t recovered from one scene, in particular.

All Rachel (Alexandria Daddario) wants to do is have a nice conversation with two other young women. Instead, they act with she’s-so-cheugy disdain towards the new-bride. “Where’d you go to school?” Olivia asks, 40 percent invested in the conversation. SUNY Potsdam, she answers. Instead of a follow-up question, all Rachel gets is a “hmm.” At this point, she senses their sarcastic detachment, but she’s too far into her life story to stop. There’s talk of student loans, her husband (Jake Lacy) being rich, and Olivia’s CEO mother. Rachel sees them giving side-eye glances to each other, knowing that she’s going to be an inside joke between two friends, but she isn’t ready to bail until she gives an example of something she wrote: “Ten Women Kicking the Corporate World’s Ass.”

HBO
HBO

She gets shut down with a smile. Brutal.

If her husband wasn’t ruining her honeymoon with his rich-guy fixation on the Pineapple Suite (to say nothing of her mother-in-law dropping by for a visit), this would be the only thing that Rachel would remember from her honeymoon. I know I would play this interaction in my head on repeat, like George Costanza coming up with “jerk store” too late. It brings back uncomfortable memories from high school of having a real moment of vulnerability be greeted with a shrug or indifference. I worked hard to suppress those! Even Paula feels Olivia’s wrath later in the season (“She’s my friend, as long as she has more of everything than I do, but if I have something of my own, she wants it”). No one is safe from the withering (and misguided) superiority of teens, even other teens.

I thought of one more thing that The White Lotus and Tuca and Bertie: they’re two of the best shows on television this year, largely because of the plant teens and Olivia and Paula. Don’t tell them that, though. They don’t need their egos inflated any further.

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