‘Tuca & Bertie’ offers nuanced insight into female friendships
Pushing the boundaries of traditional animation and storytelling, “Tuca and Bertie”Operates under its own set of rules. Lively apartment buildings speak, subways are reimagined as snakes, and the two main characters are female birds who are best friends. In the same vein as other animated comedies such as “F is for the Family”, “Bob’s Burgers” and “Bojack Horseman”, “Tuca & Bertie” is packed with sizzling humor, fantastic characters and heart.
Developed by “Bojack Horseman” producer Lisa Hanawalt, “Tuca & Bertie” follows two female birds as they navigate the challenging, hilarious and universal perils of adulthood. The incredibly vivid colors and surreal art style harmoniously complement the downright human subjects the series explores. Cast members Ali Wong, Tiffany Haddish and Steven Yeun use their seasoned acting skills to bring characters to life far deeper than their original animations. Much like “Bojack Horseman,” the series has received critical acclaim for its respectful and honest portrayal of a topic normally distorted or ignored in the media. “Tuca & Bertie” uses its humorous charm and brilliant writing to tactfully address nuanced themes of sobriety, anxiety, and the realities of being a woman.
Like its predecessor “Bojack Horseman”, “Tuca & Bertie” seeks to explore important topics while maintaining a humorous charm. This is exemplified by Tuca, a confident and loud toucan who is slowly recovering from alcoholism. While the usual connotations of the path to sobriety are dark, the energy of Tiffany Haddish breathes life and resilience into Tuca. Unlike most television portrayals of recovery, viewers don’t watch Tuca suffering from alcoholism. Instead, viewers watch Tuca learn to readjust to navigating the world without the numbing effect of alcohol.
In an interview with Abraham Riseman from Vulture, Hanawalt explained why she chose such a unique, yet challenging, route for Tuca. She said, “Often times [sobriety] is just a quiet decision. What’s difficult is the social aspect, the anxiety that comes from being in a situation where you used to be hammered, and now you’re not and you can’t even drink a glass to help lubricate the situation. Watching Tuca’s trials and tribulations with his re-acclimatization to the world with a sober mind is both humorous and heartbreaking. Above all, it is a story that many can relate to and that needs to be told.
To outsmart Tuca’s flamboyant personality, Hanawalt developed the character of the anxious song thrush Bertie. Throughout the series, we watch Bertie rush into weird and absurd sequences through different artistic mediums when she feels anxious; the world around him radically transforms into bizarre dreamscapes as Hanawalt cleverly uses animation to tell a story beyond the words Bertie speaks.
For those who struggle with anxiety, this aspect of Bertie’s character is extremely relevant. While our worlds may not merge into surreal dreamscapes, anxiety creates a sense of derealization that is typically not portrayed on television or in movies. Despite the intimidating nature of these elaborate sequences, Bertie’s anxiety isn’t something aimed at making her character appear “flawed.” It’s something that makes her and Tuca complement each other perfectly and underscore the theme of female friendship the series is based on.
The realities of being a woman
One of the most inspiring aspects of “Tuca & Bertie” is that it features stories of women written by women. On the show, we learn that Bertie has a strong admiration for an acclaimed local baker named Pastry Pete, and is offered an apprenticeship. Throughout his work with Pete, he inappropriately pushes Bertie’s boundaries and blatantly abuses his role as superior and former idol. Viewers can practically feel Bertie’s anxieties mounting as she internally deliberates whether Pete is inappropriate with her or if she is overthinking.
This conflict boils over when Pete hires a young apprentice and repeats the same behavior with her, but with a different result. When Bertie tries to comfort the young girl by reluctantly explaining to her, “It’s just part of the job and the way he teaches,” retorts the apprentice. In a poignant but brilliantly subtle scene, the apprentice asks, “Why are you defending him? And you didn’t warn me?
This scene captures the struggles women face when faced with unbalanced power dynamics and the all too frequent rejection of sexual harassment in the workplace. Moreover, it also demonstrates the unspoken due diligence that women feel in protecting each other. In an interview with Jessica Toomer from Hollywood journalist, Hanawalt spoke about using adult animation to share stories that women can relate to: “I wasn’t consciously thinking, ‘How can I make this more accessible to women?’ I was just writing stories from my own life, stories from my friends’ lives, and things I had never seen in adult animation before.
Despite the well-done portrayal of exclusively female experiences, the show is not specifically aimed at women, nor is it a show that seeks to upset men. The show’s male regulars are just as valuable characters as the titular Tuca and Bertie. Steven Yeun voices Bertie’s boyfriend, Speckle, who is incredibly patient with her and is a great example of how to be a good partner for someone facing trauma. Like Speckle, the man Tuca dates on her first sober date respects her limits and doesn’t make her feel guilty when she’s visibly anxious. “Tuca & Bertie” was not written to show malice towards men; rather, it offers a refreshing touch to a typically masculine genre.
Above all, “Tuca & Bertie” is a show that has something for everyone. The combination of the lively art style, witty humor, and the story of an unbreakable friendship makes for a wonderful viewing experience. Although the characters are all birds, they each capture true and candid human emotions and experiences. Whatever your living environment, “Tuca & Bertie” has a character that will resonate with you.
Collect praise from top level outlets such as Vox, the Huffington Post and Indiewire, “Tuca & Bertie” has earned its place in the hearts of critics and fans alike. Although Netflix is dropping the series after the first season, Adult Swim will revive the series for a Second season this summer. Moving from Netflix to Adult Swim, “Tuca & Bertie” will return to the screen with a 10-episode season on June 13.