Editor’s note: This article mentions sexual assault and harassment. It also contains spoilers for “Tuca & Bertie.”
Bouncy, vibrant, smart and benevolent: Ali Wong and Tiffany Haddish have a new project, and, truthfully, it is the women-empowered collaboration of our dreams. Coming from the creators of “BoJack Horseman” is the new Netflix original “Tuca & Bertie.” It follows the lives of former roommates Tuca (Haddish), a carefree, partying toucan, and Bertie (Wong), a small bird riddled with anxiety who loves to bake pastries and spend time with her boyfriend, Speckle. The show traces familiar themes for millennials, championing loving relationships and never misrepresenting them as plain sailing.
Syd: The emotional perception in “Tuca & Bertie” does a beautiful job of focusing on women's platonic relationships. Up until Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” the coverage of platonic female relationships had been majorly reductive or sparse. Tuca and Bertie’s relationship is realistic and relatable, obviously created by people who have experienced the complex — yet unconditional — love of a best friend. It’s a show made by women about women, but it’s clever enough to be palatable for a wide audience.
Ryan: I’ve seen some discourse from “Bojack Horseman” fans saying that “Tuca & Bertie” could be similar to its predecessor. But comparing this show to its cousin “Bojack Horseman” is a disservice to both. Though both shows have anthropomorphic animals, are animated and echo each other in how well they move characters between their emotional highs and lows, “Tuca & Bertie” is not “Bojack Horseman,” nor should it try to be.
Syd: The casting choices, led primarily by women of color, are something to be supported. As an artist, Haddish is known for her frankness in her work, and she channels this perfectly into Tuca. Wong as well, popularized by her light-hearted commentary on Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” blends satire seamlessly into the script.
Ryan: The show’s pacing also strays away from traditional television shows before the Netflix era of content. With “Tuca & Bertie,” watching a single episode each week feels too slow and can leave the plot disjointed at certain parts. When I tried to re-watch the series, I couldn’t only just watch my favorite episodes; for the pacing to work and the story to be compelling, I had to start from the beginning. The show is made to be binge-watched. But that’s not a bad thing.
The animation is also one of my favorite parts of the show. It complements the tone so well — in a way that’s sometimes unnoticeable. The character development feels natural. When Tuca and Bertie are having their high moments, I’m right there along with them. When they’ve fallen to their lowest lows, I’m crying right alongside them.
Syd: A key part of what makes “Tuca & Bertie” so intelligent and self-aware is its not-so-subtle commentary on sexism. My favorite episode, “Promotion,” tells the story of Bertie trying to move up in the workplace while dealing with a super macho coworker who overshadows her work with infuriating sexist behavior. He “piggybacks” off of Bertie’s ideas so he can take full credit, belittles her in meetings and is uninvitedly touchy-feely. This sub-plot weaves throughout the larger narrative, reflecting many real-life experiences with sexual harassment.
Ryan: One of the most emotionally gratifying scenes in the show is the moment when Bertie returns home from her painful visit to the Jelly Lakes. Here is when most television shows would opt to return to the status quo. But instead, the series has Speckle, Bertie’s boyfriend, be confused and frustrated after she seemingly vanishes without any way to contact her. He wails: “You just left! Without any explanation! … And you need to be honest and open and communicative with me, because that’s what a relationship is!” This moment surprised me somewhat. I’m not used to a show having its side characters react in such a way when the main characters go on their character-development arcs. But for “Tuca & Bertie,” this moment was crucial in establishing the essence at its core: portraying real relationships, even the times that aren’t picture perfect.
Syd: I know this may be a gross generalization on my part, but usually I tend to steer clear of animated shows. Animation inherently allows for more physical, fantastical humor that departs from my preferred dry wit. This show is authentic and honest without ever being lazy or crude, a breath of fresh air compared to other popular animated shows that feel liberty to bask in raunchy shock value. The women-centric cast and production team, with features from comedians like Tig Notaro and Nicole Byer, keeps its fierce intelligence and authenticity. The show tackles uncomfortable issues with grace, ranging from expensive rent to sexual harassment to STIs. The ease in which they discuss tough issues is surprisingly comforting.
Ryan: My favorite episode is Plumage. I had really wanted to learn more about Tuca and her family (or lack thereof), and the chance to explore the relationship between the high-energy Tuca and the oh-so-nerdy-and-boring-dad Speckle. It’s the episode I didn’t even know I wanted.
Tuca’s character all begins to come together, particularly her strained relationship with her aunt, exacerbated by sobriety and her aunt’s increasingly pointed jabs at her and Tuca’s mom. This was a high point for me. Other small things I also enjoyed throughout the episode: Auntie Tallulah making her own money in the plumage industry and then marrying and divorcing several high-class men; the dog butler, Bernard, peeing on a potted plant; Bertie’s storyline on sexual harassment and catcalls.
Resources for victims and survivors of sexual violence:
UO 24-hour crisis hotline: 541-346-SAFE (7233)
UO Help for Victims and Survivors website
RAINN and National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673)