Skylar Astin, Rachel Bloom
Photo: Robert Voets (The CW)

That’s funny, you are Greg, you’re funny.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has played with perspective often throughout its four seasons. In the series premiere, Rebecca felt that the universe pointed her toward Josh, and that Josh pointed her toward California. By episode’s end, an apparent adversary had become a friend and a confidante, stepping into her world and way of thinking by bursting into song. They’ve winked at the conventions of television, deconstructed the tropes of the rom-com over and over again, and had Rebecca make musical realization after musical realization. All the while, they’ve kept the series rooted in Rebecca’s emotional life, making sure that even the moments of undiluted comedy—even “Heavy Boobs” and “Having A Few People Over”—sprung from something honest, something sincere.

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Skylar Astin’s entrance in “I’m Not The Person I Used To Be” is, perhaps, the ultimate example of that practice. The practicalities of making a television, transformed into emotional fodder.

I’ve been writing these reviews for quite awhile now. (Hey there, folks who’ve been reading since the very beginning!) There are episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that I found more moving than this one, episodes of with better music, better jokes, and better twists and turns of the plot. But “I’m Not The Person I Used To Be” could easily have been a disaster. It’s an episode that does its own stunts, riding a motorcycle up a ramp and preparing to attempt to clear a chasm. It’s a toss from a trapeze. It’s a perfectly good episode with a few terrific moments that’s a flat A, no question, because of the degree of difficulty. The bullseye for this moment is incredibly tiny. It lands dead center.

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It’s almost certain that some viewers won’t quite make the leap that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend asks them to make here, but it’s just as certain that many—this writer included—will make it with ease. That’s a remarkable achievement. In the season and change in which Santino Fontana was on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, he was a key part of some of the show’s best moments. He’s stamped all over the show’s DNA. That version of Greg will always be key to the show. And yet, within moments, Greg just... is someone else. Santino Fontana is Greg. Skylar Astin is Greg. The latter doesn’t erase the former, but if you asked me to draw a picture of Greg right now, you’d get an indistinguishable blob—I am bad at drawing. What I’d picture, though, would be Skylar Astin’s face.

It helps that he’s a pretty damn good actor. Astin and Bloom have an immediate rapport, the all-important chemistry locking into place immediately, but more importantly, their scenes together are—like Bloom and Fontana’s were beforehand—positively steeped with subtext. Their scenes progress from awkward, to warm, to winning, to enjoyably tense, then well past enjoyably and into uncomfortable. It’s great stuff, and would be impressive if the episode, written by Rene “Father Brah” Gube, didn’t take the reality of Greg’s recasting and make an incredible amount of hay. But because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend once again acknowledged realities both internal and external, it’s a hell of a lot more than that, too.

The themes Gube and company draw out from Astin’s arrival in the cast—those of shifts in perspective, and of the sting of a moment missed and unrecoverable—crop up in each of the film’s subplots. Valencia and Heather navigate what she learns about a lost love, Josh gets an education in how the other high-school half lived, and Paula misses everything, experiencing the episode’s primary plot in full in a matter of seconds. Each works as a storyline in its own right (even Paula’s, slight though it may be—she and Kamala Hare-is have a lot of studying to do!), but helps to make the main event that much richer. Valencia and Father Brah’s story suggests that Rebecca and the man her closest friends consider her meant-to-be may have missed their moment. Josh’s experience implies that Rebecca, at least, was so focused on her own (admittedly very important and difficult) stuff that she didn’t even suspect how much was happening outside her immediate circle—after all, she still hasn’t acknowledged Darryl’s baby, really. How clever. How honest.

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Stick any of those stories in another episode and they’d work just fine. Here, they’re perfect; they make what’s already daring and intelligent even more so. It gives you George, underlining the themes with a beat borrowed from Gwen Stefani, and then it gives you Greg, startled, shattered, impressed, confused, hurt, and maybe, just maybe, healthy.

Greg and Rebecca’s final scene together here is, in the capable hands of Astin, Bloom, and Gube, one of the series’ best. When Astin first walks through the door of Home Base, he’s a stranger. By the time he leaves Rebetzel’s Pretzels, he’s Greg. A new Greg, a strange Greg, but Greg all the same, and he makes it possible to believe that it’s really Rebecca that’s changed. What an accomplishment.


Stray observations

  • I spoke with Aline Brosh McKenna about how the new Greg came about, what it means for the show and for Rebecca, and what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend might have looked like if Santino Fontana had not departed near the beginning of season two. It was very interesting, and you can read it here.
  • GGG Award: Let’s give it to the Abrocadabras en masse, with a special mention for the kids who were wearing black flip flops.
  • This might be Vella Lovell’s best episode. She is so funny.
  • Give the people what they want, and what they want is Bart, but with a face and a voice and an endless supply of sherry.
  • “Oh my god, that’s so intense, I just got that tattooed on my ankle.”
  • “Hector, maybe we should go check out the sushi bar, because it is so… over there.”
  • “You’re drinking like you’re on a civil war operating table.”
  • To be candid, I expected this to work. This show has earned the benefit of the doubt. But wow, did it exceed expectations. 

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