"That's the alarm that sounds when no women have spoken out loud for three minutes." Tuca bursts out, when her best friend, Bertie, is being talked over by a male colleague during a work meeting, where she’s about to ask her boss for a promotion and is clearly the best candidate for the job.
Tuca and Bertie, the revolutionary feminist animated series on Netflix is too raw and barefaced, because if work place harassment goes unaccounted for in real life, so does it for Bertie, in Bird Town. This is exactly what gets to you and makes it so relatable.
The production designer of Bojack Horseman, Lisa Hanawalt, is back with Tuca and Bertie and this time around the main characters are two bird-women played by people’s favourite from the Girl’s Trip, Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong who’s stand up on pregnancy and becoming a mother had taken Netflix by storm. The quirkiness of the animation style remains the somewhat similar to Bojack, with some vibrant tropical colour palettes and a whimsical demeanor that define two bird women who are approaching their thirties.
Tuca, a loud toucan and Bertie a song thrush are best friends who have lived together all their adult life, are now entering a new phase because Bertie’s boyfriend decides to move in, resulting in Tuca having to move upstairs into a different apartment in the same building.
Both the bird-women are shown to have very contrasting personalities that unravel into the complex aspects of a strong female friendship as the show progresses. The themes of sexual harassment, coming to terms with adulthood, taking on responsibilities and making a transition into one’s future are discussed in the most natural manner.
At a point you forget that these are two bird headed women and you start relating to every argument they make. From asking for a promotion at work to questioning your relationship and commitment issues, Bertie, the mature and independent one, seems to have it all, when her best friend is leading the most unstable life. Tuca keeps falling back into the cycle of starting fresh with temporary jobs. Out of which, one is sex work, mentioned so casually, that it almost erases the stigma, and the years of social anxiety that writers have depicted it with.
The show is an answer to the society’s expectations from women who are aged 30. Basically, telling you how to not care about the limitations age sets upon you, and learn how to progress at your own pace. For example, Bertie, besides having a stable job, and a loving partner, is still trying to fill a void in her monotonous life. She picks up apprenticeship at a bakery give her dream of becoming a pastry chef a chance, and comes really close to opening her own bake shop, but at the cost of not calling out her sexually and emotionally manipulative ex-boss, which hits home for so many of us women. She later proceeds to open her own innovative bake and deliver kitchen with the help of her best friend’s and boyfriend’s support.
Tuca, on the other hand is quirky, confident and loud mouthed but struggles with sobriety and finding jobs that she could find a safety net in. Her biggest fear is to grow old without Bertie, because her own family grew distant upon the death of her mother.
Besides the two main characters, this show also portrays elder women as role models, reversing the stereotype of conventional cinema where the only people imparting wisdom are old men with graying hair.
Be it Tuca’s aunt Talulah, who has made a fortune for herself and lives alone in a mansion with her dog chauffer or Bertie’s former swimming Coach Meredith, who revs on her heavy bike through Jelly Lake Town to her immigrant wife - all elder women are ideals that leave us with some of the most important lessons of life.
The scene that had me in waterfalls is when Bertie makes peace with her 12 year old self, revisits Peanut Butter island and comes to terms with her childhood trauma of being sexually harassed by a swimming-pool caretaker. The gravity of a subject such as child sexual abuse is taken up so sensibly by Lisa Hanawalt, that the perpetrator is only shown as a silhouette, not even a fully designed caricature, and that makes you realize how in that moment only what Bertie went through was to be noticed, not the identity of who did it.
Only here you realize how important it is to come to this level of emotional catharsis with one’s self and let go, only to be able to move forward for your own self. Her finally making it to Peanut Butter island and proving her strength is a beautiful depiction of poetic justice where Bertie’s life experiences have come to a full circle.
A major breakthrough that this show was able to make was all non-white leads, which was a common criticism that Bojack Horseman had dealt with. But all in all, Tuca and Bertie is nothing like Bojack, it’s a bunch of anthropomorphic characters which might seem to liken themselves to the visual style Hanawalt has opted for both her shows, but Tuca and Bertie goes beyond just that. It’s unapologetically feminine and yet all the traits women are supposed to be not. Such as prioritizing female friendships and camaraderie over men, and being fiercely present for your number one girl, be it a work place emergency or a broken apartment. The journey that is made just the right amount of bittersweet gives the viewer a sense of safety, that just like all the other essentials of life, this friendship is not going anywhere, anytime soon.