Bojack is often defined by its nihilism and pessimism whereas Tuca & Bertie deals with the struggles of millennial women in a far more optimistic way.
If I asked you to name some adult animation from the last few years what would spring to mind? Archer, Rick & Morty, Bojack Horseman and Big Mouth might be a few titles that easily come to mind.
Now try that again, but this time think of adult animated shows with a female lead. Sure, there are series with supporting female characters, and the ones listed above certainly have some great ones, but apart from Daria, maybe, there is rarely an adult animation with a female character in the title let alone having a predominantly female perspective.
That’s why the arrival of Tuca & Bertie is such a monumental moment for the art form. Here is a TV show that was not only created by a woman, but its two feathery leads are 30-year-old female characters voiced by two of the hottest stars in comedy right now, Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong.
Tuca (Haddish) is a confident and carefree humanoid toucan who is best friends with Bertie (Wong), a people-pleasing but anxious humanoid songbird with a penchant for day-dreaming.
If you’ve seen Bojack, you’ll recognise the aesthetic of a world filled with animals, humans, animal people and the addition of plant people – and that’s because show creator Lisa Hannawalt cut her teeth on the Netflix animated series as a cartoonist and production designer.
Branching out on her own, Hanawalt has evolved the Bojack style with her own distinct and energetic Tuca & Bertie flavour as well as offered, as she puts it, a more “warm and optimistic” narrative that stands apart from the somewhat nihilistic pessimism championed by her former show. That doesn’t mean Tuca & Bertie shies away from some of the toughest issues concerning mental health, sexual health and consent that are dominating our cultural consciousness right now, especially for women, but it takes a more life-affirming approach rather than a despairing one. It’s also very much grounded in that ill-feeling of being 30 and not believing you’re living your best life.
“I had seen a lot of shows about women in their 20s and they’re great, you know, Broad City, Girls,” Hanawalt told HuffPost. “But I wanted to kind of show what it looks like when you’re getting into your 30s and your lives are moving in different directions and some people start to worry about getting left behind.
“Because, like, ‘Oh, if you’re not married with two children and own your own home by the time you’re 36, are you still an adult or are you a sloppy baby?’ I really wanted to capture that feeling.”
As someone who is literally writing this article on her 31st birthday, who has been single for a long time, and has been living out of her suitcase for a month I can absolutely relate to that feeling.
All I have to do is scroll through Instagram and see people buying their first homes, getting married, having babies - lots of friends are having babies - and it’s enough to make you question your life. Yes, I’m doing a job I absolutely love and have a healthy social life but that doesn’t mean the anxiety of not hitting professional and personal goals aren’t simmering underneath.
But after binge-watching the entirety of Tuca & Bertie over the weekend I got the same feeling I did when I watched Broad City or The Bisexual - I felt seen. These two bird women are going through it too and the way they try and mask their doubts and darkness with positivity is something a lot of women can relate too.
On the surface, Tuca is this free-spirited, single lady who doesn’t have a career but seems more than happy to do odd jobs here and there while having her income supplemented by a rich aunt. Then there’s Bertie, who is in a stable relationship with Speckles (voiced by the Internet’s new favourite boyfriend Steven Yeun) and is working in IT at Birdtown’s leading magazine publisher with a side hustle as a pastry chef.
Soon we realise that Tuca’s flamboyant and outgoing persona, that often leads to drama, is a product of her insecurities that have been growing since going sober.
Likewise, Bertie who goes from exuding positivity and productivity often descends into shame-spirals and anxiety attacks because of an incident in her youth that she has never come to terms with.
The fact we’re seeing all this self-doubt and self-flagellation play out in a rainbow setting, with songs and dancing interspersing lots of scenes, is a reminder of how often women feel like they have to put on a smile, lie back and think of England rather than deal with the root of our stresses and anxieties.
For so long we have just accepted that being a woman means we have to accept slut-shaming, sexual assault or being overlooked for promotions at work but nowadays that is changing - Tuca & Bertie reflects.
These birds don’t wallow in their miseries like Bojack Horseman so often does, or blame other people for their issues. Yes, they internalise a lot of their pain and anguish but over ten episodes, Tuca and Bertie evolve and learn they do have the strength to draw them out of their despair.
It’s inspiring to see and feel and know that there are so many women, and men, who are watching this brilliant examination of the millennial female experience too. That whether they immediately relate or not to Tuca & Bertie, their journey and the issues they face are pretty universal.
I love Bojack Horseman, but I have been waiting for an adult animation that provides a more optimistic outlook on the troubles we face. Tuca & Bertie is that show and I am so happy to be part of its female flock.