Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend keeps it simple and sweet with three (non-musical) duets

Rachel Bloom, Pete Gardner
Rachel Bloom, Pete Gardner
Photo: Tyler Golden (The CW)
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This episode goes in a loop-de-loop. It starts and the end and it ends at the start. This episode (almost) goes in a loop de loop. It starts at the end and it ends and the start. This—


Ah, you get it. It’s not a perfect fit, that idea. We never circle back to the Gurl Group’s three-way video chat or to Rebecca’s pretzel shop, and Rebecca and Darryl begin their road trip at the former’s home and end it at the latter’s. But on the other hand, three pairs get into cars. Three pairs emerge from their cars and butt heads. Three pairs head home, and understand each other better. And right in the middle—almost exactly at the halfway mark—three separate storylines converge so that they might live through the three eras of Beacn Boys. Then they once again go their separate ways. In a loop-dee-loop—a pretty healthy one.

“I See You,” directed by writer-producer Dan Gregor and credited to Jack Dolgen (his fifth for the series, to say nothing of a whole shitload of songs), makes the most of that clean, clever structure. These three unexpected pairings (ranking from least to most surprising: Rebecca/Darryl, Heather/Nathaniel, Josh/Paula) don’t do much to advance the plot. The biggest developments are, outside of the major one above Darryl’s upper lip, Rebecca’s decision to date again, Josh’s potential choice to move, and Nathaniel’s decision to do nice things now. You’ll notice that none of those things are big, corner-turned moments. Josh still needs to get his ass out of Hector’s mom’s house. Rebecca has not yet gotten on the apps. And as Bert says of Nathaniel, “One good cry, and that young man... well, he’ll probably have a ways to go.”

Still, there’s forward momentum for all involved, and it comes from, as the episode’s title suggests, being seen. For all we know, Dolgen and the rest of the CExG writers’ room just threw all the characters’ names in a hat and pulled out three pairs, and we narrowly missed on a Father Brah/Madison Whitefeather road trip. It’s not that the pairings don’t feel purposeful—they do—but that the script is so thoughtful about how these characters reflect and contrast with each other that it seems as though they’d be able to draw out similar results with any such pairing. Like any good road movie, or road musical comedy television series in this case, “I See You” is about the journey, not the destination (gross). And the journey isn’t the miles traveled. It’s what happens along the way.

In our three parallel stories, everybody gets a push, and everyone pushes back. Heather confronts her own assumptions about Nathaniel, and though she’s dead-on about a lot of what she sees in him, she also forgets that she, a nice person, once made a bunch of assumptions and discounted the humanity of Rebecca, too. And she gets a new car in the bargain. Paula forgets that Josh, an unbelievably irritating desk-moving buddy, has the capacity to be very kind, and she seriously underestimates how seriously he’s been taking his therapy. And Rebecca is so wisely focused on her needs and on setting boundaries that she forgets that she’s talking to a person who has been unceasingly kind to her, even when she’s often been kind of shitty in return.

Nobody is totally in the right. Nobody is totally in the wrong. In an episode focused on six people who are confronted with the humanity of another, Dolgen wisely lets those people be as messy and flawed as they are. The lazy version of this story would be about Darryl being annoying and Rebecca being an asshole, without taking the trouble to show Rebecca attempting to set healthy boundaries or Darryl rightly calling her out on being regularly unkind to him and acknowledging that her very real struggle is no excuse for cruelty. The same is true of the other stories—they’re all simultaneously simple and complex. Nathaniel is right about Heather’s car; she’s right that he’s a dick. Josh is self-obsessed and oblivious, except for when he’s not.


And then they all almost kiss.

What a great gag. All three of these stories compel, and all six actors do very fine work, but the heaviest lifting in this episode is done by Rachel Bloom and Pete Gardner. “I See You” instantly rockets to somewhere near the top of Gardner’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episodes, as he and Bloom make their way through four surprising, often funny, and occasionally heartbreaking scenes. They fight. They make up. They almost make out. And then Rebecca uses all that therapy to communicate clearly what she wants, and they part as better friends than they were before.


That not-quite-kiss is shot and acted beautifully; it’s surreal, an obviously terrible idea, but isn’t played remotely for laughs. (The other two near-kisses are another story.) Imagine what a wrong note would have rung out, had Gardner and Bloom not taken that scene dead seriously. Imagine the damage it would have done to make either person an object of fun. Blessedly, the Darryl-Rebecca ‘ship is parked back in the harbor within moments, but I love that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend allows that moment of connection to play out without a wink. Darryl is nice. Why shouldn’t Rebecca like a nice guy?

Heather and Josh both seem ready to take themselves more seriously. Darryl and Paula both takes steps to stop avoiding the next chapter in their lives. And Rebecca and Nathaniel are seemingly linked by a desire for more niceness in their lives. How clever, how sweet, how simple. One episode, three duets, no kisses (other than the one Bert lands). What a lovely, surprising hour, brought to you by thoughtful writing, great performances, and a sight gag with bibs hidden in a bolo tie. Long live Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. R.I. P. Mustache Whitefeather.


Stray observations

  • The Beach Boys number is great; the sight gags are great; the line about tearing off Josh’s mouth is great. I have nothing else to add. What an inspired choice.
  • I’m going to need an updated version of Broom-on-a-stand Whitefeather.
  • “That sucked. Ugh, sorry—that made me feel sucked.”
  • Next week, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is off, and I hope you get to be, too. Enjoy your holiday, and we’ll see you on the 30th.
  • G-G-G Award: Carlease Burke, who plays Mrs. Beattie was the perfect blend of kindly and just a little creepy. Basically the nice collector-mom version of Michael Hitchcock’s Bert Bert Buttenweiser.
  • Honorary G-G-G: This gives me great pleasure to award. See below.

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!