Absurdity, Anxiety, and Friendship in Tuca and Bertie
A spoiler-free review of Tuca and Bertie Season One
If I were to describe the last 2 years, or maybe even the last 5 years in one word, I might go with surreal. Often life just doesn’t make sense. I don’t know why things happen the way they do. A worldwide pandemic is an event that only a movie like Contagion or the Simpsons could predict, and we’re still grappling with all this uncertainty.
Life can just be weird and events sometimes don’t make sense; I often wonder where I fit into it all, but nevertheless, here I am, embracing the absurd parts. Of course, other times, I get so wrapped up in habit and routine that life feels boring and predictable. I want silliness, oddness, and just to laugh again.
From snake busses, purple jaguars, careless plant teenagers, to bouncing boobs on buildings, Tuca and Bertie is a goofy show. If you’ve ever felt a craving for some more oddity, with some adult content, or if you’re just looking for a well-written animated sitcom, Netflix and Adult Swim have something for you.
Tuca and Bertie takes place in a world way more surreal than ours, it’s with a catchy theme song that juxtaposes their names. Tuca and Bertie are zany and bold as they wave their arms wildly to a catchy bop. Their theme song slaps, there, I said it. They’re both dancing around and doing their thing as they navigate the fun, stressful, and just plain absurd parts of life together.
The theme song is really fun, but to tell you the truth, the show gets dark. It’s not too sad, and it’s so good, I promise.
I discovered Tuca and Bertie partially by surprise. I had just completed the last episode of Bojack Horseman and felt completely wrecked. I’ll have more thoughts on this in other reviews, but basically, I simultaneously felt like I both never wanted to see anything that could make me feel things again and to dive into a new show to help me get over Bojack Horseman. I kind of wanted more Bojack too. Netflix kindly displayed a new program that seemed perfect. Tuca and Bertie were written and produced by Lisa Hanawalt, the animator of Bojack Horseman.
I found Tuca and Bertie more fun than Bojack, it deals with difficult topics at times, but Hanawalt’s show is nowhere near as bleak. Their world is bright and colorful and though Tuca and Bertie are so zany, their lives feel grounded and accessible. For me, it’s partially because the show is written from a female perspective. In adult cartoons and television generally, there aren’t a lot of narratives like Tuca and Bertie.
Creator Lisa Hanawalt said in an interview:
“I wasn’t consciously thinking, “How do I make this more relatable to women?” I was just writing stories from my own life, stories from my friends’ lives and things that I specifically haven’t seen in adult animation before. Like, that feeling when a plumber is in your apartment and you don’t know if he’s going to attack you or not. That’s really common for women.”Lisa Hanawalt
Tuca and Bertie isn’t a tale of the lives of Hollywood celebrities, they’re real people, well, birds, learning about themselves and their place in the world. In comparison with characters from a lot of adult animation shows, the characters in Tuca and Bertie seem pretty put together on the surface.
Typical of TV best friends, Tuca and Bertie are classic polar opposites. Tuca, played by Tiffany Haddish is fun, free-spirited, resourceful. She’s “friend, hero, connoisseur of snacks, confident but relatable, wearer of short shorts.” She sounds like the cool girl that I’d want to be friends with but would be a bit intimidated to approach her. But once that first conversation started, by her making a snarky comment and me bursting out into uncontrollable laughter, we would know this friendship was going to be one for the long haul.
Once a Tuca is in your life, she and all her belongings become utterly intertwined with your apartment and your heart. Tuca is confident and kind, and as you get to know her, you see she’s got insecurities as well. Tuca begins the show as a recovering alcoholic and fears being alone. She’s given a lot of depth and even if you’ve never been the life of the party, you’ll feel for her as the show goes on.
Bertie, voiced by Ali Wong, is the total opposite, she’s a total introvert who admires Tuca’s ease with talking to people. She’s equally awesome. She’s introduced as a “professional amateur chef, people pleaser, fuss bucket”, which sounds like she could be a little stuffy, but early on, we learn that Bertie’s behaviors stem from her anxiety. Bertie’s kind of living the dream that many of us crave in our twenties, she’s got a nice apartment with a supportive partner, an awesome best friend, and a job as a senior operations analyst for a magazine.
That being said, Bertie’s anxiety often dominates her life. Television is just beginning to show characters with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and Bertie is one of the few characters that portray anxiety well. She is hardworking and passionate, but her thoughts can spiral, and she makes mistakes and feels isolated and alone at times. She’s also super kind, a total introvert, and a lover of romantic period dramas– I can totally relate to that last part, I could rewatch BBC’s Prude and Prejudice all day, and some of her experiences with anxiety as well.
I’ll say it now, Hanawalt is fantastic at writing self-aware humor. Hanawalt makes jokes in scenes portraying Bertie’s anxiety without mocking or discrediting the character’s or anyone else’s experiences. Bertie is totally hilarious, and the show mocks anxiety itself, because it makes no sense at times. Anxiety isn’t an overreaction or done for attention, in fact, these feelings are often the last way an anxious person wants to feel, but here they are right in the middle of the work, a date, or the grocery store. Luckily, she has friends to be there during the worst moments.
Tuca, Bertie, and Bertie’s lovable boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yuen), have a fun and complex dynamic together. Friendship is weird sometimes, especially as we grow up, relationships shift in some ways and stay the same in others. We put value into our relationships with others while juggling life, work, and for some, romantic relationships that also require our energy and time. Friendship isn’t always dancing and rainbows and the show digs into the complexities of our relationships with one another, the role of a friend, and all the uncertainty and stress we experience as we figure out what we mean to each other.
The background is totally wack, the jokes are unapologetically bawdy at times, but it never felt gross or offensive. The style is fun and Hanawalt uses the drawing style to show some side commentary on the characters and effects.
Needless to say, Tuca and Bertie is a great show that explores complex and dark themes with care and humor. It made me laugh and grow to care for these two silly birds. On days when things felt totally surreal, I’d watch this show and feel a little less alone.
I’d recommend Tuca and Bertie to anyone who doesn’t mind adult humor. The show also references to anxiety, sexual assault, and harassment.
If you’re curious about learning more about the show’s creator Lisa Hanawalt and her perspective writing the show, I found an interview of hers on the first season
The Perusing Muse is a site where I look to culture as a means of understanding life and analyze what it says about living a meaningful one. In less overly philosophical mission terms, I analyze shows, books, movies, and comics that I like and talk about why I love them so much.