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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

In a potent, prickly episode, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend feels like a musical again

Illustration for article titled In a potent, prickly episode, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend feels like a musical again
Photo: Eddy Chen (The CW)
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To try to break down Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s songs into two or three categories is a fool’s errand. There are well over 100 at this point, and if you call one a parody and another an “I want” song, what of the parodies that are also “I want” songs? And if those are the three categories, then what about “I want” songs that aren’t parodies but do underline the themes of an episode? There are too many, and thank god for that. But you can almost do it, when you go really, really broad. There are songs that comment on the world, songs that (like any good musicals songs should) express a moment so big it couldn’t be expressed otherwise, and songs that make illustrate a connection between characters, themes, or storylines. Nearly all the best Crazy Ex-songs do more than one. And in “I’m So Happy For You,” we’re two for two.


It’s a relief to have Crazy Ex-Girlfriend feel properly like a musical again, though prior to this episode, the lack of that quality wasn’t totally evident. It’s not that the music has been bad or disappointing—we may not have had a top-ten contender in those first four episodes, but there are some gems in “No One Else Is Singing My Song” and the undeniably catchy “Don’t Be A Lawyer.” But this is the first episode of the fourth season in which all the pieces come together, where a song can be a sharp parody that dissects an idea while getting at the emotional truth of a storyline, where a heartfelt ballad can also be a genre send-up that’s also a link between stories.

Some of that may be due to the fact that, while there’s still a sense that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is starting to puts some of its toys away, “I’m So Happy For You” feels like it’s once again the story of Rebecca Bunch trying to be happy, even as she goes about it in a very bad way. The Rebecca of season one would have denied the uglier feelings—the jealousy, the resentment, the insecurity. This Rebecca admits and acknowledges what’s going on with her, and then points herself in the wrong-ass direction.

Those ugly feelings stem from two very big changes in Rebecca’s landscape—the impending, and very grown-up, departures of Valencia and Heather. As the former heads off to work for an event-planning company in New York with her partner, and the latter heads for El Segundo to her new condo with her new husband, Rebecca heads exactly nowhere, and so she spirals. It’s understandable. As Dr. Akopian (the always welcome Michael Hyatt) rightly points out, Rebecca’s working at a higher difficulty setting, and she’s chosen to put in the work, so of course she’s not buying real estate or chasing an exciting dream job. And she’s fortunate enough to have friends who understand her, which doesn’t make her actions okay, but does render them forgivable.

As good as Rachel Bloom is when Rebecca’s wistful or particularly vulnerable, she’s never funnier than when Rebecca spirals. This isn’t a “Textmergency” level spiral, and it certainly isn’t a “Scary Scary Sexy Lady” level spiral, but it’s no joke. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always been great at mining Rebecca’s frantic energy for comedy without forgetting that it stems from real anger, fear, anxiety and so on, and that’s true here. It’s part of what makes “The Group Mind Has Decided You’re In Love” so effective. It’s one of those songs that comments on the world—specifically, on the tendency of people to over-invest in the imagined love lives of people (and sometimes characters) they know, as well as people they don’t—but also underlines that it’s easy to become so focused on how you feel about something that it’s possible, and even easy, to forget about or ignore how the actual people concerned feel.

That’s what Rebecca does to Valencia and Heather, and what the entire cast (save a Hector and a Jim or two) does to Darryl and White Josh. In “The Group Mind,” that particular brand of thoughtlessness gets a blithe song and dance number unabashedly modeled on “The Farmer And The Cowman” from Oklahoma.

It’s a shitty thing to do to a stranger, and a worse thing to do to a friend. The show doesn’t stoop to that level, recognizing that it’s unlikely that a relationship ended for sound (if sad) reasons is going to suddenly heal itself and transform into an adorable will-they-won’t-they. Instead, WhiteJoshFeather is fully in a new and healthy phase. They’re friends. The kind of friends who throw water on each other when they perceive that the friendship might be holding one of them back.


That last bit applies to the Heather/Valencia/Rebecca storyline, obviously, and it applies to Paula’s as well. The striking change in Brendan’s character (and Zayne Emory’s winning performance) might be a bit jarring, but once the dust settles, his Peeps for Peace storyline makes for a perfect hell for Paula Proctor. On the surface, not much to it—Paula doesn’t want to let her kid go, it’s familiar—but given Paula’s addiction to drama and tendency to meddle, it’s a dynamic place to start a story. Even if the plot didn’t work, however, it would be a thread worth pulling, because it gets us that most tantalizing of prospects, a solo ballad from Donna Lynne Champlin.

If “Group Mind” is a lark, “I’ve Always Never Believed In You” is a sweet, tender gut-punch. As a parody, it does something few such songs achieve, both satirizing and excelling its genre (a lot like “After Everything I’ve Done For You”). As a character moment, it’s complicated and lovely. The song is a clear standout, the musical high water mark of the season so far.


Both songs work on multiple levels. Both are catchy and fun, and more complicated than they might initially seem. And both feel like they exist in a musical, and whatever else this series might be, it’ll always be a musical. It’s good to have that feeling back.

Stray observations

  • GGG Award: Having trouble finding the name of the Paula’s dance partner, but he’s the clear winner. Such a fan, love you guys.
  • God bless British TV.
  • There’s no way this is the end of the road for Valencia and Heather, but I’m curious to see if and how their roles will be scaled back. 

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!