How Tuca & Bertie Depicts Anxiety

So, for all of those who have watched Tuca & Bertie: Do y’all remember the scene in episode 4 when Bertie loses her shit at the grocery store? I remember the scene where Bertie loses her shit at the grocery store, because I have absolutely been there before. Let me just say that that one little scene is kind of a perfect summation of my life.

Since the day I saw the first trailer, I was ecstatic for Tuca & Bertie. From what I saw in said trailer, to what I read about the show online, I knew it was going to one big old recipe for success in my book, and that I was going to scarf down those ten episodes faster than you can say, “Holy streaming service, Batman!” Lisa Hanawalt, who’s the production designer for my favorite show, Bojack Horseman, having her own adult animated series with women at the forefront??? It’s like they somehow got ahold of my birthday wishlist from the past five years!

The show certainly did not disappoint either. Although the art style is similar, to say the least, I didn’t want to go into Tuca & Bertie thinking that I was going to get something like Bojack. In fact, I didn’t want the show to be anything like Bojack. I wanted it to have that same razor-sharp, yet somehow ridiculous sense of humor, but I didn’t think I would be able to handle another show that makes me feel as much sadness, heartbreak and existential dread as the sad horse cartoon, because let’s be honest – I have enough of those feelings in my life right now as is.

Thankfully, my prayers were answered, and watching Tuca & Bertie felt like an entirely new experience: one that was zanier, more lighthearted, and more familiar to me, as a woman who deeply feels almost everything that those two titular bird girls experience on a daily basis.

Tuca & Bertie, first and foremost, is a cartoon. Although the situations that take place in the show are fairly grounded in reality, the show’s entire atmosphere takes advantage of the imagination by fully embracing animation and the cartoonish wackiness that you would find in old Looney Toons specials (that is, if Looney Toons had apartment buildings with big, bouncing boobs introducing you to its world). Although the chaotic, high-energy nature of the show’s humor feels slightly overwhelming at first, it’s easy to get used to as you learn more about the cast of lovable, nuanced characters.

tuca and bertie
Hmmmm……. I wonder which one is Tuca and which one is Bertie….. This is too hard…..

The two leading lady-birds, Tuca the toucan (Tiffany Haddish) and Bertie the songbird (Ali Wong), could not be more different from one another. Tuca is a fun-loving, carefree spirit, but she’s also impulsive, a recovering alcoholic, and she has trouble financially supporting herself (LOL relatable). Bertie is intelligent, and has many talents on top of a steady job and relationship, but she also tends to let others use her as a doormat since she has trouble speaking out and opening up. Despite their differences, however, Tuca and Bertie also couldn’t be more well suited for each other. Tuca helps Bertie come out of her shell, and Bertie keeps Tuca grounded and encourages her to be her best self. Their relationship isn’t perfect by any means, but it feels uncannily real for so many women out there with close female friendships. 

From the very first episode, I could tell that something was up with the character, Bertie. Although she’s overjoyed to finally be living with her boyfriend, Speckle (Steven Yeun), she expresses her fears to Tuca about that sort of commitment. While this is a very valid fear to have, it’s the extremes that her mind goes to that show me there’s something off about her. Her fear that one microscopic disagreement between her and Speckle could end their relationship in an instant feels a little far fetched. However, for someone who suffers from anxiety, this is just a normal thought.

Once we reach episode 4, my suspicions are confirmed. Bertie is indeed a victim of a crippling anxiety disorder. She calls out of work to avoid giving a big presentation, she fears that if she leaves the house, one of her co-workers will see her playing hooky, and of course – She absolutely loses her shit at the grocery store. Tuca honestly explains Bertie’s situation better than I ever could:

You’re having one of your “I can’t go outside because literally everything terrifies me and my body is holding my mind hostage” days!

Tuca does eventually get Bertie to leave her apartment by having her accompany her on an errand to the grocery store (I’ll spare you the details so you can watch that hilarity unfold yourself). Bertie is okay at first, but once Tuca leaves her alone, things quickly spin out of control. Bertie can’t even look at the other people in the store without feeling judgement, and she freaks out for seemingly no reason at all. This panic attack leads into a musical number, daftly titled, “I’m Losing My Shit.” This number is funny, stressful, and lowkey genius. I’ve also gotta say, it really hits close to home.

For those of you who don’t know, I too suffer from anxiety issues. I can tell you first-hand that it is a very real, and highly debilitating condition that affects everyday life. Tasks that should feel simple, like talking on the phone, attending a social event, and yes, going to the grocery store can feel impossible because my brain produces hundreds of intrusive thoughts and scenarios by the second that end up stumbling over each other and overcrowding my head. Slight inconveniences or changes in my schedule can send me spiraling into panic mode, and almost every interaction I have with other people leaves me wondering, “What if this person actually hates me?” I won’t sugar coat it – It is not fun or quirky living with this condition, and it has certainly caused more harm in my life than good.

That being said, I have always been the type of person to turn my pain into something that I can laugh at. As corny as it sounds, laughter really is the best medicine for me. When I’m laughing or making others laugh, I feel unstoppable. So watching this character who suffers from the same shit that I do express her deteriorating mental state through whimsical song felt incredibly comforting, even if it resonated a little too well with me. Especially since I have most certainly reached high panic levels in the middle of a Wegmans before, when all I wanted to do was just buy some cat food and Naan bread. Isn’t my suffering kind of hilarious?

As the show continues, we learn the reasoning behind many of Bertie’s fears, but despite any of these reasons, it still feels undeniable that her anxiety stems from mental illness – Something that her brain has no control over. Bertie even acknowledges this in the song, but like many others who suffer from panic disorder, she internalizes it and tries to convince herself that it’s just the world around her that makes her act this way. 

While Bertie may not always have the most healthy ways of coping, one thing that the show gets so right about anxiety is how having a good support system can make all the difference. Tuca and Speckle may not understand exactly what’s going on in Bertie’s head, but they love her unconditionally anyway. They don’t tell her to just “calm down and get over it”; instead, they encourage her to speak up when something is bothering her. With their endless support, Bertie is able to overcome some of her greatest struggles, and by the end of episode 4, she gains the confidence to give her presentation, and accept an apprenticeship under the baker she admires. Of course, this doesn’t “cure” her anxious disposition, but it’s still progress, and that is what counts.

tuca bertie and speckle

Anxiety isn’t something that can be cured overnight; in fact, it’s something that may never be cured altogether. However, if you surround yourself with good supportive people who inspire you and encourage you, then all of those little thoughts and fears in your head can become a lot less daunting. I may have a long way to go, but I am still proud of what I have been able to accomplish since those days of feeling too anxious to even leave my own dorm room. Now I have a college degree and a job that requires me to be on camera, for goodness sakes! When I was 18, this would have sounded like a nightmare to me! With the amazing support system I have now, though, including a wonderful family, and a group of friends who changed my life, I know that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to – even with a brain that tells me I have no chance.

I think if you’re a fan of adult animation, then you should definitely give Tuca & Bertie and chance. While I think the characters’ experiences may resonate more with women, I don’t think you need to be a woman in order to enjoy the show. Everyone experiences feelings of anxiousness and inadequacy at some point in their lives – It’s just how our brains are wired. Tuca and Bertie’s friendship is something that a lot of people can surely relate to if they have someone they’re deeply close to, platonic or not. Just having that one person in your life who understands you and wants to see you succeed can make a huge difference, and seeing that portrayed on TV feels like such a breath of fresh air in a sea of depressing, emotionally draining dramas and mean-spirited, heartless comedies.

For all of you who are suffering: I’m sure you have heard this many times, but really, know that you are not alone, and having just one person to talk to can make even the scariest moments of your life feel a little more manageable. I sure hope you all have that Tuca to your Bertie, or that Bertie to your Tuca.

tuca and bertie friends

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