Over half-way into a stellar second season, Tuca & Bertie’s writers demonstrate time and time again a firm grasp on psychological nuances, an ever-present finger on the pulse of what makes the show’s cast of characters tick. We’ve seen Bertie (Ali Wong) struggle with her lingering trauma, and Tuca’s (Tiffany Haddish) intensifying loneliness and insomnia. Television protagonists don’t come more fleshed-out, more human, than these two lovable, if flawed, bird-friends.
However, it can be rewarding to see a show step out of its comfort zone, taking a detour into a direction previously unexplored. Some of television’s greatest episodes break the format of previous episodes, a challenge to writers that welcomes innovation and risk. Tuca & Bertie did this in a way with this season’s “Nighttime Friend,” an emotionally stunning and visually imaginative study of loneliness that took us deeper into Bertie’s psyche than ever before. This week’s episode of Tuca & Bertie, entitled “The Moss,” took another detour from the show’s general format, but to less successful results.
The internal emotional conflicts of previous episodes take a backseat to larger societal woes in “The Moss,” addressing real-life issues that deserve addressing but feel a bit glossed over here. Creator Lisa Hanawalt and her team of writers center the conflict of “The Moss” on gentrification, introducing a rent hike in the titular friends’ apartment complex, as well as shifting ownership. While this real-life issue may seem like an odd fit in the colorful world of Tuca & Bertie, the show’s writers do find a clever visualization for this systemic issue: moss. An all-consuming entity, the moss suffocates the tenants of the apartment complex, an effective visual for a concept as non-visual as gentrification. The moss is effective in its creepiness, reminiscent of something out of a horror movie rather than this brightly-colored half-hour comedy.
As the moss takes over the apartment complex, Tuca takes things into her own hands as she attempts to find a way to prove the apartment bears historical significance, a sure-fire way to preserve the building. In her search, Tuca learns of horror writer Patricia Ramsay, a long-dead former tenant of the building. Delightful interludes exploring Ramsay’s life and past follow, a fun if somewhat inconsequential excursion in the grand scheme of the episode. Tuca, seeking out the help of a couple of cactus teens, finds a way to summon Ramsay from the dead. Ramsay reveals Tuca’s apartment is where she wrote her first novel, establishing the historical significance needed to save Tuca’s apartment from a rent increase. However, this conclusion is falsely optimistic, as while Tuca’s apartment is saved, nobody else’s is spared from the moss.
While “The Moss” centers larger societal issues in its narrative, there are delightful character moments to be had. In particular, Bertie’s boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun) shines in this episode, after previously taking the backseat in the last few weeks. One of Tuca & Bertie’s most consistently engaging supporting characters, Speckle is given the opportunity to go “full Speckle” this week, leaning into his obsessive personality at work. He dives headfirst into designing his and Bertie’s starter home, putting his architectural passions to good use in designing his own home. After working with clients at work, he relishes the chance to design a home his way, but crumbles as the pressure mounts. “The Moss” takes Speckle to profoundly personal places, exploring his own desires in ways he never has before. Speckle constantly takes the backseat to both his clients and to Bertie in his life, rendering him incapable of identifying what he wants. It is touching to see Speckle become more in-tune with himself, the scene-stealing character developing gradually throughout this season.
The conclusion of “The Moss” is as cynical as Tuca & Bertie gets. The bitter ending, with tenants being forced to move and Bertie having to move in with Tuca in order to continue living in the apartment complex, is a far-cry from the series’ typical optimism. While the titular protagonists may struggle with their emotions and personal lives, there is a continual sense of improvement, or the hope that Tuca and Bertie can learn from what they are experiencing. This kind of optimistic ending would be an ill-fit for the themes of “The Moss,” as gentrification is a societal issue that bears no easy resolution. The situation is out of the hands of Tuca and Bertie, and a sense of defeat punctuates this episode. While having Bertie moving back in with Tuca promises some fun storylines, the move-in feels like a defeat, a backwards slide for Bertie. She struggles with separating herself from Tuca, and defining herself as her own person, so this move-in hardly feels productive for her. This conclusion may be the most effective part of “The Moss,” an episode that expands the scope of Tuca & Bertie, but feels a bit too broad to hit any specific target.
Tuca & Bertie season 2 airs on Sundays 11:30 p.m. EST on Adult Swim and also on adultswim.com.