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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend gets surreal and subdued in a table-setting episode that’s so not a big deal

Photo: Scott Everett White (The CW)
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When you break down the events of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in a dramatic sense, not that much happens. Four of the five big developments—Paula takes the bar, Rebecca discovers what her dream might be, Josh and Greg get in a fight, and Darryl meets someone new—each have an element that eliminates or lessens the drama or the stakes. Paula’s test happens off-screen, she doesn’t get her results, and is totally confident (and not in a particularly hubristic way). Rebecca finds the flier and makes the realization, but doesn’t actually start down that path just yet. Josh and Greg come to an understanding without anyone getting arrested or breaking a bone or anything. Darryl gets Parent Trapped by two meddling kids with the help of the Little Cough Boy, but it’s just the beginning, and nothing more than a possibility at this stage.

The fifth—Rebecca and Greg’s break-up—is handled calmly and rationally; there’s hurt there, but there’s no blow-up and nothing particularly final. The more intense elements are similarly light and easy: There’s a quarantine in which no one is at risk, a trip to the morgue that’s in no way dangerous or damaging, and a “heist” that, post-morgue, goes off without a hitch.


But if not much happens on a dramatic level, there’s a ton that happens on the level of the personal. It’s all about what comes next, and that means it’s all about waiting. Even when life is a little on the nose, there’s no guarantee that such a wait will be particularly thrilling.

That’s oddly fitting for this, the first Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episode in the post-antidepressant era. For some, beginning a course of medication makes you sleepy, or makes you gain weight; it can also take the edge off of sharp anxiety and make the lows just a little less low. (I am not a medical professional, just one of the everybodys who has taken antidepressants who knows other everybodys who have done the same.) It’s almost as if the show itself has joined Rebecca on her course. It’s a bit tired, but steady. It’s firmly on its own two feet, but it could really use a nap.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the giddy surreality, coupled with its usual emotional sensitivity, keep “I Have To Get Out” from sinking like a shark that forgot to keep moving. There’s plenty of movement, actually. These are moments that could, in theory, change the course of a life. Paula’s dream is one test score away. Rebecca realizes hers is still out there, and that she maybe has a sense of what it might be. Darryl meets a woman (Maribeth Monroe!) who brought bean dip to a hospital. A friendship is broken and then repaired within reason, mostly at the behest of a character who has not so long ago totally incapable of anything resembling such an action. (Seriously, is Nathaniel also seeing Dr. Manakopian?) Those aren’t everyday moments.

Photo: Scott Everett White (The CW)

But it’s not the actual events that are riveting here. It’s the weird shit that surrounds those events. The teleplay, credited to Rene Gube and directed by Stuart McDonald, seems to hold the wounded pieces of its story tenderly (a quality hard to define, but one shared by some of the other episodes McDonald has directed, chief among them “I Never Want To See Josh Again”). It allows the characters to experience things on a recognizable scale, and instead unsettles or confuses the audience. Like some of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s earliest episodes, it uses incongruity and strangeness to heighten the story; rather than sending Rebecca into a panic-induced spiral of uncertainty and self-loathing, it puts three corpses named Rebecca in a morgue and then lets her roll her eyes. Instead of tasking her with slowly accepting that medication might be the solution and that it’s not weird for it to be so, it gives her a chorus of familiar faces and a pair of tap shoes in a pill bottle.


It also, in one of the single moments of matter-of-fact weirdness in the history of a show full of them, gives Rebecca’s love interests (Can we call them Rebetzel’s Pretzels, because they’re all tied in knots? No? Too much?) a little coughing boy called the Little Cough Boy, who runs into the hospital lobby like he’s chasing the girl he likes through airport security after the big Christmas concert and coughs on all three of them, infecting them with squirrel flu. Who run the world? Squirrels. At least the ones that infect many small children, four adult men, and one adult woman.

Photo: Scott Everett White (The CW)

That kid is a Santa Ana Winds if ever I saw one. His role is to trap Rebetzel’s Pretzels (I’m making it happen) in a room so that two of them can work out their shit—which, as it happens, doesn’t have much to do with Rebecca. The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend take on “Kung Fu Fighting” allows Vincent Rodriguez III to put together some clips for his action movie reel while letting choreographer Kathryn M. Burns trot out several different styles of dance-fighting. (It also gives her a fun cameo.) They realize what lots of adults eventually realize—that not every friend you loved in high school is going to remain your sweet bestie forever, and that’s okay, and it doesn’t even mean you can’t be friends anymore. And as a bonus, it’s another demonstration of the continued personal growth of Nathaniel Plimpton III, and another solid showcase for Scott Michael Foster, who even while playing the straight man gets the biggest laughs. (Congratulations to the group’s D’Artagnan.)

They resolve it, as best they can. Rebecca makes a decision, but decisions take time. Paula takes the test, but it’s not an instantaneous thing. A solid episode with two solid songs and one solid reprise; good, funny performances, plenty of quiet tenderness, and a whole lot of weird. This may not be the most thrilling episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but it’s certainly one of the clearest examples of how this show differs from others. Getting trapped in a morgue can be funny, weird, and personally significant all at once; TV can be entertaining and moving and still, like life, not make perfect narrative sense.


Stray observations

  • In the “Antidepressants” chorus: Jayma Chan (Tess Paras) and her husband and new baby, Ally the grocery store clerk (Sofia Gonzalez), and the mover from the pilot and two subsequent episodes (Garrett Mendez). Anyone I missed?
  • GGG: Maribeth Monroe! Is Darryl in the Medium Place? Mountaintop could totally be the Medium Place.
  • I spoke with Kathryn M. Burns for a bit yesterday and she mentioned that “Have a good show!” is something she often says on set, so there’s a fun little easter egg for you.
  • So we know Nathaniel’s geeky about both The Three Musketeers and the Harry Potter series. What else do you think he secretly loves?

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About the author

Allison Shoemaker

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves television, bourbon, and dramatically overanalyzing social interactions.