Donne Lynne Champlin, Rachel Bloom, Gabrielle Ruiz, Vella Lovell
Photo: Greg Gayne (The CW)
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Isn’t it magical? Say it’s magical!

All of my matches on Tinder are grifters from the Czech republic, but you’re right. You have a huge problem.

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You get it, you did the same thing! I’m pulling a Rebecca Bunch.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always been, to some degree, about Rebecca Bunch’s ability, or lack thereof, to see things clearly. Some of her biggest turning points have arrived when her perspective has shifted in some way—think “I’m The Villain In My Own Story,” or Josh’s realization about the rock (rock!) that says “ever,” both back in season one. Even the central conceit of the show hinges on the audience’s ability to see certain things the way that Rebecca sees them, by way of most (but not all) of the show’s musical numbers.

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The point is, things always look different from the outside. That’s why one of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s most successful strategies has been to place Rebecca in front of a mirror. Sometimes that’s literal—that scalloped mirror of hers has gotten quite a workout—but more often, it throws into her path a character who stands as a reflection of her, with one or two circumstances tweaked or exaggerated. The show has done that with Rebecca’s love interests over and over again: Josh’s avoidance issues and compulsive need to be liked; Nathaniel’s sometimes ruthless self-interest and absolutely massive parent issues; Greg’s relentless self-loathing and self-destruction. Here and there she’s seen herself in Paula, Darryl, Valencia, Jim, the list goes on. But when it comes down to it, Rebecca has two emotional doppelgangers. One is Trent. The other, of course, is Audra Levine.

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In “I Need To Find My Frenemy,” written by Alden Derck and Aline Brosh McKenna and directed by Stuart McDonald (the show’s most frequent director), Rebecca once again sees herself reflected in Audra, but this time the reflection has been distorted. Well, not all of it—Rebecca’s flight can be seen as a less extreme, more commonplace version of Audra’s. Still, this is an Audra who acknowledges their shared history and similarities, and chooses to see in Rebecca’s willingness to uproot her life and chase some sort of happiness, a chance to hit an escape lever and bail out of a life that’s become hard for her (and her husband, and triplets, and their three au pairs).

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is very good, and so this final appearance of Audra Levine (and the terrific Rachel Grate) isn’t just about showing how much Rebecca’s grown. Audra has, too. That’s another trick that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend pulls with some frequency—just when you think something is too simple, too contrived, it turns your head slightly to the left and you see things from a whole new perspective. We’ve seen glimpses of a more evolved (word of the day) Audra before this point, but here, even her final jab is tinged with something genuine and sincere. She’s long admired Rebecca. She reflects Rebecca’s life back to her—liberation from damaging parental control, cute business, hot love interests, general satisfaction—and at the same time, reflects what’s happening in that moment—flight from a seemingly unsolvable problem. And before the “JAP Praise Fight” starts, these reflections push Rebecca to a very healthy revelation: It’s never going to be easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not okay.

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Rachel Bloom
Photo: Greg Gayne (The CW)

On the surface and from a distance, “I Need To Find My Frenemy” might seem slight. It is, after all, just about getting Rebecca from that whiteboard to that three-date, Bachelor-style proposal. But nearly every storyline, hell, nearly every gag in “Frenemy” ties back to the ideas of perspective and perception. The slow motion jam, which gets funnier and smarter with each repetition, even plays with these ideas. Actually, it was a very short walk. Going even slower doesn’t really work. Are they envious, or is it just weird that we’re five people walking in a row wearing very similar suits?

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Heather and Valencia, like Rebecca, have problems they decide to avoid, rather than confront; Heather sees her problem reflected in Audra and her “daddy,” while Valencia in the appearance of Denise Martinez, that bitch she cannot stand. Gabrielle Ruiz makes her unofficial “Women Gotta Stick Together” reprise work with very few lines, continuing to ably illustrate Valencia’s personal growth without sacrificing any of that arch, kill-you-dead-with-a-petty-smile mean girl shit she speaks so fluently. She just calls on that power less often. If there’s a dent in this episode’s shiny exterior, it’s that Heather’s story lands just a little bit awkwardly. “And you are not my daddy” works, her presence in the whole episode is pretty much mandatory, and Vella Lovell’s slow-motion Cheeto-eating is truly unparalleled in this world and all others, but the Heather subplot isn’t tied as organically to the rest of the episode as Valencia’s, Paula’s, any of the quadrangle men, or even White Josh’s.

A brief word about White Josh, and David Hull. In an episode full of funny, sweet, and occasionally moving shifts in perspective or perception, it’s WhiJo’s outside eyes that prove the funniest and the most eventful of the episode. By acting as an audience surrogate, White Josh actually grounds the silliness of the “stand down” story in something more familiar and real, because it emphasizes everyone, even Josh, knows it’s absurd. (“Then I shall do... samesies.”) And because they all know, it means that this is something each and every person is either willing to do or willing to endorse because they ultimately think it’s a good thing. It’s ludicrous, but it’s an act of love. Rebecca’s stuck in a love quadrangle, and the other three points are all giving her a way out.

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That’s possible because David Hull is so, so good. The first scene at Serrano’s is one of the episode’s funniest, based purely on the way he plays White Josh’s giddy enjoyment of the mess on display (and Pete Gardner’s take on Darryl’s guilty, sheepish pleasure as well, though that eventually gives way to something more tender and kindly). But his later scenes, while still very much defined by his ceaseless amusement in the proceedings, spring from someplace more genuine. Like nearly every character on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, White Josh has evolved—gone is the smug superiority for which he was sometimes called out; gone is the reluctance to get involved in the lives of his friends when he has the power to do something to aid in their happiness. Mostly, it makes the story as a whole work, but there’s a lot more going on, and that’s a credit both to the writing and to Hull, one of the series’ most valuable, and too-infrequently heralded, players.

All that said, it wouldn’t be fair to call Hull a standout, because every single person in this episode is great. Clark Moore (AJ)? Great. Rachel Grate? Grate. John Garet Stoker (Jesse)? Terrible, and by that I mean great. Donna Lynne Champlin’s every bit as funny as Hull in this episode, taking a confident but relaxed approach to punchlines (“Not a Tim in the bunch!”) that mirrors Paula’s cool-as-hell poker demeanor. Vella Lovell and Gabrielle Ruiz nail every piece of physical comedy and quick-response dialogue. And Rachel Bloom barrels toward the end of the series with a performance as funny as any of them, all while lending Rebecca a quiet sort of earned wisdom that doesn’t prevent her from really struggling with the situation in which she finds herself.

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And that leads to the smartest reflection in the bunch, pun not intended. The old number, pun intended:

Screenshot: YouTube

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And the new:

Screenshot: The CW

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Years of progress, as illustrated in reprise. What a smart choice, made smarter by a great performance.


Stray observations

  • “Keepin’ in TOIT!”
  • “They’re only so-so on BeyoncĂ©.”
  • “I’ve been blessed with gifted lovers. Well, to be fair, I’ve taught them well.”
  • “Did you just forget your name, buddy?”
  • “You have... detention!”
  • “We’re basically heroes! Dare to defy!”
  • Heather’s giant Vegas drink goes in the Crazy Ex prop hall of fame.
  • We have found peak Valencia, and it is her sheer delight at realizing that she can, in fact, control her wedding proposal. She just has to be the one to make it.
  • Audra bemusedly attempting to join Rebecca’s “JAP Praise Fight” direct address is one of the show’s purest, simplest, most delightful sight gags. I will miss her, and this show.
  • It doesn’t seem fair to give the Hector Award to anyone but David Hull, even though White Josh is too important a character to qualify. But dammit, I’m going to do it anyway. It’s my made-up award, and I only get to give a couple more of them. Hull for the win.

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