The new Netflix Original, Tuca and Bertie, takes place in a pastel-colored world that follows little to no rules. In fact, the setting of Tuca and Bertie is best described as a good kind of weird; everything from roses to dogs to humans coexist as equally personified characters. At the heart of the show are two bird women, Tuca voiced by Tiffany Haddish and Bertie voiced by Ali Wong. As season one unfolds, we watch them navigate their evolving friendship, workplace harassment, mental illnesses, trauma, and more. The show’s unique animation style allows for an artistic expression of emotional hardships that is arguably unmatched using live acting. Tuca and Bertie is able to animate the emotional waves that accompany women’s trauma and mental illness, and they do it in a uniquely healing way. The show’s ability to animate complex emotions is fully realized in the second episode when Bertie is sexually harassed at work.
Bertie’s left boob needs a f*cking drink:
Dirk, a rooster that works with Bertie at Conde Nest, takes up way too much space in meetings and even steals Bertie’s ideas. After Bertie tries with little success to assert herself and ask for a promotion, Dirk makes a comment about her boobs. In this moment, Bertie freezes up, but her left boob comes to life. It jumps off her body leaving a boob-sized hole in her chest. Bertie’s boob, voiced by Awkwafina, is “done with this shit” and stomps off to go get a drink, taking with it the anger Bertie is unable to outwardly express.
When Bertie comes home to Tuca and her boyfriend, Speckle, she continues to repress her emotions. The truth comes out, however, when Bertie’s drunk boob strolls in late, plops on the couch next to Tuca, and expresses the anger Bertie is feeling. Together both Bertie and her boob are able to represent the complex emotional reality of being harassed. Part of Bertie–the part she is acting on–feels humiliated and remains silent. Another part of Bertie–personified through her left boob–is angry and wants to escape her masculine, corporate work environment.
Tuca’s mom was crafty:
In episode five, the show once again uses its unique animation style when Tuca describes her mother’s death. Reminiscing fondly about her childhood, Tuca explains her mother raised five kids by herself, so she “didn’t have a lot growing up”. Despite the lack of material wealth, Tuca’s mother was “crafty” and filled their home with love. In this moment, the animation style changes and we enter Tuca’s childhood memory made entirely of craft material. Popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners make up Tuca’s childhood home, while her family is made up of string. When Tuca describes her family “falling apart” after her mother’s death, the craft material also falls apart. First, the string that makes up her mother’s body strips away. The same happens to her siblings until baby Tuca is left in front of the crumbling popsicle stick house. In the final shot before we exit Tuca’s memory, the child Tuca stands in front of a blank, white page; she is all alone.
Tuca’s mother created a safe home for her kids using love and a crafty attitude, and the animation translates this by literally using craft material to represent Tuca’s childhood memories. When her mother dies, so does her ability to hold the family together and Tuca is abandoned. She is left with a blank page and must learn how to fill it without her mother and siblings’ presence. By contrasting the filled page of Tuca’s childhood against the final blank page, the weight of Tuca’s loss is fully realized by the viewers. She did not merely lose her mother; she also lost her sense of family.
Bertie meets a shadow of her younger self:
In the second to last episode, Tuca and Bertie travel to Jelly Lakes where Bertie spent her summers as a young girl. During their time at Jelly Lakes, Bertie is confronted with a childhood trauma that stole from her the joy of swimming. Bertie opens up to Tuca, telling her she was sexually abused on the morning she planned to complete a long swim to Peanut Butter Island. In an effort to heal her trauma and take back her love of swimming, Bertie goes out to complete the swim she was unable to as a young girl. Bertie struggles to stay afloat, eventually sinking to the bottom of the lake where the shadow of her younger self is sitting. Bertie embraces her shadow self, and they begin to swim circles around one another with Bertie eventually following the shadow to the surface of the lake. As Bertie surfaces the water, she gains resolve to finish her swim.
Both the visuals and the sentiment of the scene are stunning, and it is arguably the most significant example of Tuca and Beritie using animation to create artistic metaphors that grapple with women’s trauma in a deep, healing way. By showing Bertie confronting her trauma and embracing her younger self, the animated series went beyond merely using women’s trauma for entertainment. Instead of focusing on the violence inflicted on women, Tuca and Bertie highlight how these two women cope and heal from trauma, taking back their personhood. And in this way, Tuca and Bertie is a show that truly embodies empowering women through storytelling.