May 7, 2019

Tuca & Bertie: Female Empowerment among Birds

Reading the press -- "Creator Lisa Hanawalt is fighting back against the repressive boys' club of adult animation"; "She expects men to hate-watch her show" -- I expected the new animated series Tuca and Bertie to involve heavy-handed message stories, endless fights against sexual harassment, glass ceilings, income disparities, and women's freedoms of various sorts, "Me Too" writ large.

 But there is nothing in this show that even the most un-woke, objectifying, toxic masculinity-breathing alpha male would find discomforting. Indeed, only three episodes even deal with sexist objectification:
Bertie's boss at the bakery inappropriately touches her.
She recalls a childhood sexual assault
She tries to deal with the catcalls that women get all the time.

Another evokes the glass ceiling: Bertie's ideas at her other job are not taken seriously.  But it turns out that she's just not assertive enough.  When she speaks up, the boss is happy to offer her a promotion.

Maybe they think alpha males will object to the discussions of boobs and other lady parts.  But I thought they enjoyed that sort of thing?

Tuca and Bertie are a pair of active-passive bffs, a female buddy tradition dating back to Thelma and Louise and Laverne and Shirley, or farther,  to the ingenue-sassy sidekick of the 1930s screwball comedies.

Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) is an uninhibited, irresponsible free spirit toucan who bounces through life.  She has to learn to be more responsible.

Bertie (Ali Wong) is a needy, insecure, micromanaging, perfectionist song bird, saying things like "I really should be working on that big presentation."  She has to deal with her crushing anxieties.

The third major character is Bertie's live-in boyfriend, Speckle (Steven Yeun, top photo), who doesn't really have a lot to do except ask "Then what happened?" 

You may have noticed that they are all birds.  This world differs from Bojack Horseman's world, where animals are a distinct minority.  Here it's mostly anthropomorphic birds, with a few other animals and sentient plants thrown in.  Humans are so rare that when they appear, they seem like an oversight; some animator forgot.

I especially like the sentient plants, which are, as far as I know, unique in the world of animation. 

Sometimes inanimate objects are alive and sentient, too.  Bertie's boob plays hookey and comes back drunk.  The subways are giant worms.  A yeast infection is comprised of sentient insects. 

The surreal landscape is more interesting than plots, which we've seen a thousand times before:

Tuca goes on a date, but is so nervous that she ruins it.
She is injured but afraid to go to the doctor.
Bertie and Speckle decide to buy a house.

Beefcake:  None. These are birds.

Gay characters: The upstairs neighbor, the theatrical Dapper Dog, may be gay. 

There are lots of lesbian couples in the background.  Two become pivotal in an episode: Bertie's old swimming coach and her wife.

See also: Bojack Horseman

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