Tuca and Bertie, an animated Netflix series starring Tiffany Haddish (as Tuca) and Ali Wong (as Bertie), premiered earlier this year that offered unique, bold, funny and relevant stories for womxn. Created by remarkable illustrator Lisa Hanawalt, Tuca and Bertie were two of the most human cartoons we’ve seen on our screens today. These 30-something characters genuinely captured experiences we go through as young adults, millennials or even Gen Z at this point in time in society. This absurd comedy hit definitely won our hearts and yet, after striking such an important chord with viewers, Netflix has decided to cancel the series after only its first season.
Its cancellation made a distinct cry especially with its audience because this silences important narratives of healing and survival. Nonetheless, we learned to celebrate the tales of womxnhood, friendship and portraits of adulting we saw from the show. The series followed two bird-womxn who were best of friends in a manically colorful world they lived in with other living animals, plants and things. We watched them conquer different phases of their life and how both evolved together and individually.
It’s always easy to spot Tuca, the loud, confident, boisterous party animal bestie perfectly voiced by Tiffany Haddish, comedian and actor. However, I’d like to draw more spotlight on her other half, the chronically anxious, worrisome, uptight Bertie who is wonderfully voiced by writer, comedian, and actor Ali Wong. From its surface whimsical facade and playfulness vibe expressed an adult comedy that was unapologetic to tackle issues of sexism, mental health, and sexual assault.
These hard-hitting subjects were the hard truth of Ali Wong’s character, Bertie, who carried the burden and frustrations of living as someone whose voice often gets shut off and rarely gets a large position and platform because of her male-dominated working environment. A swift transition happened on its second episode The Promotion when she wanted to climb the ladder at her workplace, Conde Nast, but instead encountered a sexual harassment situation from a male colleague.
These relatable, uncomfortable experiences are a rare breed in adult animation which is also a male-heavy industry producing stories starring men mostly. What made Tuca & Bertie refreshing was how very well written these particular episodes were. They gave proper resolutions and brought awareness and actions that might actually help us in the future. All the more empowering was the fact that her best friend, Tuca, had been a champion for helping her navigate this in a fun, feminist way.
Creator and showrunner Lisa tells Deadline: “I have stories I wanted to tell, so it was great to have my own space to tell stories that are entirely from the perspective of the female characters, to get more into the nuances of what it means to be a woman…. And while we explore dark stories and sad themes on my show, it feels a little bit more uplifting, I think.”
All of that remained true. These were characters who could have easily slipped into the usual girl trope yet she introduced us into the authentic and factual stories of two young adult gal pals who are totally opposite of each other’s personalities – observing the multitudes of their behaviors, strengths, flaws, getting caught up in fights, but having deep and meaningful lessons from it.
In their animated universe, the complexity of the human condition laid on animals was very distinct. Bertie was a fragile bird with a particularly feminine shame and self-loathing. Tuca was the outwardly self-assured and it seems easier to find shows about Tuca’s yet it’s harder to make stories out of Bertie’s. It’s quite funny that Asian American actress Ali Wong was the choice and voice for Bertie, she’s far too fearless for her role yet nonetheless did great acting and justice to it.
Bertie’s not a perfect character but her journey to growth was one of the most important things we can take away from here. In the end, one of the most intense episodes, The Jelly Lakes, involved the subject of sexual assault rooting and unraveling her past when they took an impromptu trip to an old summer camp where painful memories resurfaced.
“I wish I could protect them from men,” shared Bertie to Tuca narrating what she went through when she was young. It was a familiar moment like #MeToo movement that provided an understated turning point in her growth as a person. The show allowed its characters to evolve in nuanced ways that served as a good role model to its audience.
Bertie saw her journey with her feminism, individuality, morality, and integrity be continually tested. The show easily conveyed just how frustrating it can be for women to get their voices heard in any setting, and how harmful it can be to their relationships, careers, family and mental health when they do speak out and stand up for themselves. Sweet Beak gave us a perfect ending, encapsulating the depth of her character, and her willingness to grow.
It closed with an emotional yet heartwarming reunion and reconciliation with Tuca and Speckle her boyfriend (voiced by Steve Yeun). She’s more honest and brave with herself now. Of course, the same goes for Tuca seeing her journey with sobriety, STDs, and anxiety. The power of this entertainment to enact a change is one of the main reasons why Tuca and Bertie remain relevant. Not only because the creator is a womxn or because the actors were people of color but most of all are that the characters were shouting for a revolution and celebration in all aspects of their life.
Despite its recent cancellation, I’m still grateful that an adult cartoon about women’s self-discovery and improvement still had its debut and existed — with stupid jokes debunking male gaze and tropes. Wong added, “Some of the twists and turns shocked me in a really cool way. It’s serialized, and that’s something you don’t see in a lot of animation.” You will definitely see yourselves here. Thank you Tuca & Bertie.