Tuca and Bertie: An Ode to Womanhood - and all its flaws!
CW // Mentions of sexual abuse and harassment
Bird Town in Birdvember plays out like a feminist fairy tale, at the helm of which are two adult birds—Tuca the toucan and Bertie the song thrush—who breeze past life’s woeful, bizarrely human problems in a series of witty, raunchy and incredibly surreal ways.
‘Tuca and Bertie’, created by Lisa Hanawalt (who is best known as the illustrator/producer of Bojack Horseman) is a largely female-centric show. It spans two amazing seasons where every episode boomerangs back to womanhood—through the trials of being women in their thirties, juggling relationships that feel like a drag, dealing with a less-than-satisfactory sex life, working one’s way through a stinky patch in friendships while simultaneously navigating a world that is chiefly predatorial towards women - you know, the works.
Bertie’s character, played by Ali Wong, is a consequence of living in such a world. She is a textbook introvert, anxious, diffident, and a serial overthinker, juxtaposing Tuca’s “devil-may-care” lifestyle. Tuca is voiced by Emmy-winning Tiffany Hadish, who received critical acclaim for her role in the popular comedy film ‘Girls Trip’. To sum up, Tuca and Bertie sail through a masterfully crafted rollercoaster while discovering the joys of female companionship, as they find themselves in increasingly unnerving, yet strangely familiar dilemmas.
“♪ Mental Health is as important as brushing your teeth ♫”
Roberta ‘Bertie’ Songthrush is our average aviary with anxiety and some characteristically idiosyncratic behavioural patterns that feel far too familiar. She is shown to be an overthinker who works herself into a frenzy, spirals into a panic attack and reaches irrational conclusions when things do not go the way she has carefully planned—in her meticulously kept diary that also describes how her first day of the afterlife will be spent (yikes!). She trivializes her emotions, questions her abilities in a world that is dominated by men with loud voices, and often feels like her identity is not substantial enough for her to stand up for herself or do what she wants to.
Truth is, almost all of us have been there. And that is where the show shines. Unlike other mainstream media that panders to a unilateral, narrow gaze, ‘Tuca and Bertie’ depicts the insecurities that women face in triggering settings—due to repressed trauma—not as episode climaxes, but as everyday situations that are impossible to just discard and move on from.
Interestingly, mental health too is addressed in layered ways that don’t feel intrusive or unfamiliar. We see this in instances where Bertie plucks her feathers every time anxiety overwhelms her; it is a parallel drawn to a rather common, often unnoticed disorder called trichotillomania which is rampant among people who suffer from extreme anxiety. Oh, and if social anxiety makes you want the earth to swallow you whole at the grocery store too, there’s a song titled ‘Losing my shit’, which might practically house the most relatable lyrics you can come across!
What is endearing about all this is, ‘Tuca and Bertie’ does it with a sensitivity that moves you, enough for you to want to hold Bertie through it and make sure she is going to be okay.
Perennially tense Bertie isn’t all alone, though. Tuca juxtaposes as an assertive, happy (and immensely horny) toucan who is self-confident to no end and helps her best friend by pushing her to be assertive and not give in to doubts that plague her self-esteem.
In one episode, Bertie once tries to find the perfect therapist who can magically grant her the life hack she needs to achieve peace. This is far from ideal because we know just how exhausting the quest to find the right practitioner can be. We see that Bertie books countless appointments with all sorts of therapists before finding someone who fits the bill. That specific scene is insightful because it underlines the importance of taking the time to find a therapist who best suits our needs, to a great degree.
Though the show does little in terms of giving us a free, ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to all these problems, we promise it makes you feel a little less alone when dealing with the—all between raucous peals of laughter, and puns that will quack you up!
“It’s just...sometimes I feel like it’s a man’s world"
When Bertie tells Dirk, a fellow rooster colleague, that she would be giving an interview for a job, he asks her if that’s why she is wearing a tight top.
The insinuation that women’s bodies serve as a conduit to success is something that we as a community have been dealing with, for a long time. This is but one among many instances where women’s intelligence goes unacknowledged, paving the way for patriarchy to root systemically deeper.
Most workplaces suffer from what is called “gender fatigue” which is the phenomenon of simultaneously acknowledging that gender inequality exists in general while denying that it exists in one’s immediate work environment. Besides battling this, it is a rampantly observed fact that women also receive fewer opportunities than their male counterparts and thus, have to work harder to prove their worth to break the proverbial glass ceiling.
This modern sexism calls for subtle forms of discrimination; microaggressions. Interrupting female employees, addressing them inappropriately, having ideas not be acknowledged, getting excluded from decision-making processes that affect their work are just the tip of the iceberg. In ‘Tuca and Bertie’, Dirk constantly takes advantage of Bertie’s inability to speak up during interviews, steals her ideas and almost gets the promotion Bertie wants—thus doing a splendid job of addressing this and bringing the topic into the mainstream.
"I deserve to be treated like a person and not an object."
Stats show that almost one in three women globally has faced domestic/sexual violence. ‘Tuca and Bertie’ does a great job of portraying how the lived experience from such hard-hitting trauma extends to daily struggles. It refrains from constructing scenes catering to the male gaze that is triggering and dehumanizing at its crux and instead, has a survivor-centric, thoughtful approach, with allegories that are hilarious and pose an interesting perspective— but this time, from a female frame of reference.
For instance, when Bertie gets objectified by her ‘popular’ colleague, her left boob that is tired of being told to put up with harassment, gets angry, pops out and goes for a drink to calm down - you read that right! The shockingly familiar part is, she is taken lightly when she complains to HR—only to be told that she should feel grateful that he ‘complimented’ her besides being asked to cover her boob-hole. Instances like these serve to highlight how invalidation and victim-shaming goes a long way in showing the relationship survivors of harassment and assault have with their bodies. It's subtle, brilliant and thought-provoking.
So far, slice-of-life sitcoms have refrained from bringing to limelight the difficulties that major mental health issues pose, in ways as refined and molecular as this show has. ‘Tuca and Bertie’ marks an important juncture in addressing issues of social importance through an incredibly honest, unfiltered narrative. The show is a catalyst to feminist literacy. It sheds light on a myriad of socially taboo topics like polyamory, consent and the importance of good sexual health, besides other things.
The visual gags elevate the show. Lisa Hanawalt uses her animations to reveal the raw, clumsy parts of women that aren’t otherwise visible to the world.
“We’re horny idiots,” says Hanawalt in an interview.
She emphasizes the importance of showing people how gross women are—“It’s about breaking down some barriers of what is expected of women vs men and how men are historically able to move more freely through society just doing what they do. Women have to keep everything tight and look perfect and not fart and not burp.”
A show that resonated with the millennials and has a record-breaking 99% on rotten tomatoes, Tuca and Bertie is an ode to womanhood—and a messy, heartwarming one at that. And so, we suggest you steal a Netflix account, get some popcorn and laugh between bouts of tears, while the show tugs at every string in your heart!
Lakshmishree Iyer (she/her) is a Mental Health Advocate at Nolmë Labs and can be often found buried under floof fur, books or her favourite blue blanket on rainy days. She loves sandwiches and will find the greatest happiness in an ice-cream cone!
Deshna Nagar (she/her) is a Mental Health Advocate at Nolmë Labs, pursuing an undergraduate degree in psychology. She dances to old tunes and creates illustrations for amusement!