Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does biting social commentary. It does thoughtful character exploration and broad parody, often in tandem, and nearly always very well. It has, for four seasons, expertly deconstructed and explored the romantic comedy, horror movie, and musical, among other genres, to say nothing of ideas, stereotypes, cultural issues, and trope after trope after trope. It would like, in its penultimate hour, to remind you that to deconstruct or parody something, you’ve got to know how to do it really well.
So here you go, folks, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend seems to say. Here’s a perfect one-hour rom-com with a dazzling bit of Guys & Dolls thrown in for good measure. Oh, and we got Weird Al. Is that in within the fifty dollar limit?
Guys & Dolls is a romantic comedy too, of course. In it, a gambler in need of some fast cash bets that a handsome high-roller can’t get a moralistic mission worker to go out on a date. As a couple, they don’t make sense, and each has an ulterior motive—he to win the bet, she to get more people to come to her mission—but they fall in love all the same. Hijinks (and Frank Loesser’s “Luck Be A Lady,” the song on which “Love’s Not A Game” is modeled) ensue. “I Have A Date Tonight” doesn’t even sort of exist in that G&D, Much Ado About Nothing, 10 Things I Hate About You kind of world. This is just a girl, standing in front of a therapist she stalked, asking her for permission to let three grown men show her how much they love her so that she can decide what happens next.
For all Rebecca’s talk about The Bachelor (arriving right at the top, yet not even the first of the many expert punchlines in this sweet, gentle, thoughtful hour of television), the Dan Gregor-directed, Erin Ehrlich-penned “I Have A Date Tonight” doesn’t dally with the artifice, chaos, or uncomfortable combative nature of that particular reality franchise. Sure, Rebecca goes on three dates with three guys. (No Fantasy Suites, though.) But the reference is most useful as a point of comparison, and the same is true of Guys & Dolls. Somehow, Ehrlich, Gregor, and the rest of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend team manage to make the exercise three things at once: A genuine expression of love put into action by three men whose eyes and hearts are open; an incredibly stressful situation that’s at least a little hurtful to everyone, but which is handled by all with aplomb—yes, even Greg; and a great excuse to gamble and tap dance. It is also one other thing, which should be obvious. It’s wonderful.
First, the dates. This isn’t the first time Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has pulled up its socks and gone swooningly romantic, but my god, this is next level. After getting Dr. Akopian’s (Michael Hyatt, always wonderful) blessing, Rebecca takes a few deep breaths and maneuvers herself past the awkwardness. She’s present, she’s open, she’s honest, and then she’s on her tiny patio with Josh, cooking hot dogs on an open flame and sleeping under the stars in a tent that cost almost $50. Ehrlich’s writing here is lovely—as Rebecca acknowledges, it’s a lovely trip to the past, but as Josh clarifies, it’s not about looking backward. Nor is it delusional. This isn’t “We’ll Never Have Problems Again,” and it’s certainly not “Ping Pong Girl.” If anything, it’s a little bit “Dear Joshua Felix Chan,” which sneaks in as part of the orchestration. It’s about past feelings and present feelings colliding. When Rebecca texts, “It was perfect” to Mama Cookie (who always knows), she’s not even sort of kidding herself, and that’s an adjective that applies equally well to the writing, direction, and performances. Scene: A. Date: A- (a touch precious, and also what if someone stole your shoes while you were asleep?) Even the waking-up lens flare is perfect. Give Paula her money.
Nathaniel’s date is less precious, and as such, considerably more grown-up—evolved, you might say. Bowing to White Josh’s guidelines, Nathaniel leaves the helicopters and gowns behind, instead offering a beautiful view, a thoughtful gesture, and many kinds of crackers. But the best part of this date, like the non-date that follows, is the recovery. Having gotten his dates wrong, Nathaniel gets just a tiny bit defeated about swapping Marty Macaroon in for Michael Bublé, but he doesn’t spin out (not an in-the-mirror water polo pep talk in sight.) And Rebecca doesn’t suddenly pretend to be the world’s biggest funk fan. Instead, they laugh, they dance, they make each other feel more comfortable. They’re well-adjusted. They’re good together. It makes sense. It’s healthy, and it’s lovely. Again, Gregor matches the beauty of the writing with some really gorgeous filmmaking, and both Scott Michael Foster and Rachel Bloom are great. Scene: A. Date: A- (just a couple moments of discomfort, and also where were their sunglasses?) Give Heather her money.
Then she doesn’t go on a date with Greg, and thus does not pee or poop in Weird Al’s balloon (perhaps the best cameo of the series, give or take a Cat.) Scenes: A. Non-date: A- (If Greg bails on the $50 balloon package and orders dinner, doesn’t that put him over the limit?) Give Valencia her money.
What’s great about that non-date with Greg, besides the easy, gentle rapport between Rebecca and Greg (and Bloom and Astin) is—well, a lot. There’s the lovely echo of the ending of “My First Thanksgiving With Josh!” which sees Greg and Rebecca comfortably eating tacos and watching the dog show while Paula gapes in dismay on the other side of a brooch cam. There’s the added context it gives the other dates, placing them in conversation with each other—the first is all romance, sentimentality, and planning; the second, all of those things, coupled with the ability to care for one another when things get sticky; the third, all stickiness and, more importantly, recovery and honesty. They’re unafraid to tell each other the truth. They consider what the other needs and feels without abandoning or burying their own needs and feelings. And somehow it’s this third “date” that has the most swooningly romantic moment of all, arriving at the tail end of the camera’s long, slow retreat—a move that seems designed to leave the two in peace and quiet, to give them some privacy while they share this meal and this time together.
All three men are matter-of-fact in saying what they feel, but Greg’s quiet declaration, arriving as it does so honestly and organically, hits hardest of all. It’s not the kind of “advantage” that can be eliminated, and it’s certainly not the kind of thing that can be handed over to an oddsmaker for assessment.
And so we arrive at “Love’s Not A Game,” which I wish had benefitted from a larger set and some extra cash (about the only criticism that can be levied at this otherwise excellent hour, and one that was presumably impossible to avoid). But even without room for Kathryn M. Burns and the show’s ensemble (up to and including Parvesh Cheena’s Sunil, for crying out loud) to really cut loose, it’s still a wildly entertaining couple of minutes that David Hull knocks out of the park, the town, the county, etc. But beyond the sheer pleasure of watching Hull get his Sky Masterson on, it also echoes the tendency in many to forget that life doesn’t make narrative sense and ‘ship, ‘ship, ‘ship away. It’s a standout song in a lovely final season which is closing very, very strong, and it takes the time to remind the audience that there’s nothing wrong with fixating on romantic endgames, but that it’s (as always) a lot more nuanced than that.
And then it ends on a weird, funny joke. The perfect Crazy Ex-Girlfriend number in a perfect Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episode, ending in the most perfect way. Four great performances, three great dates, one great number, one great cameo, four great seasons. One more to go.
- Hey, TriStar Pictures! Cast David Hull in your Guys & Dolls remake. Please.
- Seriously, he is very good at this shit. Cast him.
- Hector/GGG Award: Weird Al, naturally.
- I wanted to quote all the lines here, but they’re all so good and this is almost 1,500 words. Suffice it to say that I laughed a lot, particularly at Rebecca’s farewell to Dr. Akopian—well until their session that afternoon. Also great: George, a real ride or die, betting his whole life on Nathaniel; Vella Lovell’s “IN A TENT,” the things for which Home Base’s sportsbook board are destined, Elena Kagan, and actually pretty much every Gabrielle Ruiz punchline. But the list is long. It was all great.
- Didn’t have time for screenshots, but I encourage pausing and checking out the sportsbook board as the odds change.
- What about that Donna Lynne Champlin tap break, huh?
- So, I’ve got a few pretty big stories about the end of this gem of a show coming out this week. I’ll link them in next week’s review, but if you want them hot off the presses, follow me on Twitter.
- Scott Michael Foster and Pete Gardner made a short film.