There’s nothing like realizing your family is absolutely nothing like the families of your friends. Messy, convoluted, and intense, family dynamics are radically different from one family to the next, each family operating on a singular wavelength of their own. The experiences shared by a family shape the people within, molding personalities and signifying the type of person each member becomes. While Lisa Hanawalt’s animated comedy Tuca & Bertie acknowledges the families of the show’s titular protagonists in previous episodes, this week’s installment, titled “Corpse Week,” delves deeper into each character’s respective family.
Tuca and Bertie are radically different people, so it makes sense their families would differ in significant ways as well. The event that serves as this week’s episode’s namesake, Corpse Week, bears some similarities to Día de Los Muertos, mainly in the iconography used in both. The presence of skeletons in this episode is particularly potent, serving as an ever-present visual reminder of the baggage both Tuca and Bertie’s families are carrying, their skeletons in the closet. Over the course of “Corpse Week,” both families examine the skeletons they keep in their closets, and the distinct ways these are processed by each family speak volumes not just about the families themselves, but about Tuca and Bertie as well.
Upon meeting Bertie’s family, it is obvious their skeletons are being masked by a Midwest nicety, a put-on amiability projecting the image that a family is meant to project. Distant despite this outward friendliness, Bertie’s family avoids talk of messy emotions, a quiet refusal to discuss any kind of deeper emotions, especially regarding trauma. Bertie’s family is the kind of family that feels nothing is wrong ever, defined by an inability, or a refusal, to acknowledge the ways they may in fact be broken. Instead of dealing with these difficult feelings, Bertie’s family delves into the comfort of materialism. Defining their lives and surrounding with their copious possessions, Bertie’s family buries themselves in objects in the hopes of smothering any negativity they feel.
When the time comes for Bertie to let her grievances out, to confront her family with exactly what is wrong in their relationship with each other, Bertie’s unburdening is powerful. By airing out exactly what is wrong with her family, Bertie helps herself move on, as well as her family, a major stepping stone for each in character development. One of the many highlights of season two of Tuca & Bertie is seeing Bertie blossom as a human being, as she finally gathers herself together to actually stand up for herself for once. We’ve seen Bertie in therapy during this season, and it is clear she has worked on herself and how she processes her feelings. From how she relates to Tuca, to the difficult relationship she shares with her family, Bertie is finally taking her life into her own hands and defining the kind of life and relationships she wants.
While Bertie’s family represses their emotions to the extreme, Tuca’s family operates on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, instead constantly airing out their feelings at a consistently high intensity. This is especially true when it comes to Tuca and her sister, Terry (Taraji P. Henson), the two siblings constantly raising their voices at one another. While Bertie is put off by the openness of this communication, finding it abrasive, the episode does convincingly make the case that this communication style is in many ways healthier than that of Bertie’s own family. Many families speak with this kind of brutal honesty and abrasive openness, constantly yelling at one another even in the presence of guests, and the writers of Tuca & Bertie cleverly convey that this is just one communication style that, while it may have its issues, is better than not communicating at all. While she may yell and fight with them, Tuca clearly loves her family, and her intensity in dealing with them only signifies the deep loyalty she feels towards her family.
Throughout “Corpse Week”, the animators of Tuca & Bertie find inventive ways to portray the interior anguish of Bertie. Constantly finding surreal and novel ways to depict interior emotions (who can forget inner dude-bro Kyle?), the animators find another apt visual metaphor for Bertie’s conflicts this week in depicting her limbs falling off. As Bertie’s anxiety peaks and her discomfort heightens, we see her body literally betray her as she is consumed by her thoughts. Especially effective is this emotional torment juxtaposed against the feelings of Bertie’s family. As Bertie literally tears herself apart over her feelings towards her family, they stick their heads in the sand and ignore their own issues. Hanawalt and her writers perceptively note the generational gap in terms of mental health care as well, with those Bertie’s age more likely to engage in their emotions through care like therapy, while those her parent’s age tend to neglect this aspect of their own health.
Through all the skeleton-centered imagery of the festive “Corpse Week,” Tuca & Bertie manages to compellingly examine the emotional skeletons hiding in the closets of two distinct families. While both families still have their issues they are dealing with, they both have managed to examine why they operate the way they do, finding a newfound self-awareness going forward. While both families certainly have their faults, “Corpse Week” settles on the strong conclusion that it is never a good idea to let your skeletons gather dust in the closet, but rather to take them out, dust them off, and confront why we put them there in the first place.
Tuca & Bertie season 2 airs on Sundays 11:30 p.m. EST on Adult Swim and also on adultswim.com.