Donna Lynn Champlin

There are so many things about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that are surprising. The punchlines often come from around a corner you didn’t expect. The music has been all over the map, in the best possible way. Perhaps most importantly, the precarious balance it strikes between earnestness and cynicism feels really fresh. But in “I Hope Josh Comes to My Party!,” it became clear that there’s one thing that isn’t particularly surprising: what happens.

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As with “Josh’s Girlfriend is Really Cool!,” this week’s episode takes something that’s fairly universal—here, anxiety about social situations—and blows it up on a much bigger scale. That can work, and given that the show is also quite openly acknowledging Rebecca’s mental health issues, it makes sense that the plot would have her confront her own anxieties (or face her fears, if you will). But the actual events of this episode wouldn’t seem all that weird on a much less inventive show, and that imbalance is making the viewing experience pretty odd.

Imagine that Stephanie Tanner was supposed to have a birthday party. She’d be nervous that no one was going to show up, but Danny would talk her into it. She’d invite all the cool kids and convince herself they were coming. They wouldn’t. It would look like her party was ruined! She would be so sad! Then one of the uncles—Joey, probably—would run around and ask random kids and probably a few weird adults to come. Meanwhile, Uncle Jesse would be back at the Tanner house, making a kid wear his sunglasses and turning the party into a cool party. Stephanie would learn a valuable lesson about not worrying so much about being popular, and the party would still be great, and at the very end at least one of the cool kids would show up. Right? Something like that?

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I’m not saying Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is anything like Full House. It isn’t, in tone, style, or quality. But this is a show that, in one episode, gave us a power ballad about the virtues of running with scissors and wiping back to front, a boy band made up of four Joshes who are also mental health professionals, and some valuable insight into the competitive landscape of California barbershop quartets. There’s nothing else like it on TV. It’s a big letdown when the framework into which such things are placed feels so cookie-cutter.

This isn’t a series where all the pieces matter. They’re not taking Rebecca Bunch and turning her from Mr. Chips into Scarface. Having a predictable plot isn’t the end of the world: I’m enjoying the hell out of Grandfathered, for example, and that’s not even sort of breaking the mold. But there’s so much here that’s great, and it throws what isn’t great into even more stark relief.

That’s not just the plotting. Several of the characters still feel like sketches, most notably Greg, whose main function seems to be not being Josh. The show gave us a glimpse into Paula’s life at home, but given how much time we spend in Rebecca’s head, excursions into the real world feel oddly out of place. And while Rachel Bloom is an immensely appealing performer, her uglier stuff—having an anxiety attack in the middle of a mostly empty party, for example—doesn’t really connect. It’s skimming the surface of something honest and awful without diving in. That’s fine, if that’s what this show wants to be, but it’s difficult to tell what that is exactly.

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What made this episode such a frustrating viewing experience wasn’t what was just kind of average, however. It was that so much of it was great. All three songs made me laugh out loud, and like “Feelin’ Kinda Naughty,” I imagine that “A Boy Band Made Up of Four Joshs” will probably be with me all week. Some of the best moments are the jokes that come out of nowhere, like Mrs. Hernandez spending her Friday nights doing parkour. And the little details continue to delight, from the no katanas on the table rule to the Buzzfeed-friendly all-themes party theme.

Best of all, this episode gave the audience a reason to care about Josh, and it’s an incredibly welcome development. His support of Rebecca at the start of the terrible party and willingness to help make it a good one made the character more than a very pretty object of affection and plot device. Afther “I Hope Josh Comes to My Party!,” it doesn’t seem quite so inevitable that Rebecca falls for Greg. It was a surprise that wasn’t musical in nature, and this show could use a lot more of those.

Stray Observations

  • I know I’m a broken record here, but seriously, “A Boy Band Made Up of Four Joshs” was just incredible. Vincent Rodriguez III made me a believer. Each Josh had his own unique boy band voice! Love.
  • “Face Your Fears” was also great, although making fun of that kind of song is pretty standard for clever music theatre now. As I was trying to play the song back in my head just now, I heard “Find Your Grail” from Spamalot instead and it took me a couple of bars to figure it out.
  • For the record: I have friends. I definitely have friends.
  • We finally met the neighbor pictured in the credits and… she made almost no impression on me. Whoops.
  • Room Temperature!
  • Sorry for the delay, folks. I promise to be extra early next week.

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