Rebecca Bunch is going through a bad breakup, but it’s not with Josh. It’s not with Greg, either. If there’s a dominant arc in the first six episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s terrific second season, it’s the souring of Rebecca’s relationship with Paula, and with “Who Needs Josh When You Have a Girl Group?” that relationship hits a major breaking point. Apologies to everyone who came here for some great escapist television, but that kind of mutual hurt isn’t much fun, and jokes aside — though there are plenty of great ones — this isn’t going to go down as one of the show’s most uplifting hours. It is, however, damn good television.
That’s not to say that “Girl Group” isn’t wildly entertaining. It is, thanks in no small part to two terrific musical numbers and some top-notch turns from the episode’s guest stars (looking at you, Stephnie Weir). Episode writer Jack Dolgen and director Stuart McDonald (the helmer of “I’m Going on a Date with Josh’s Friend!”, one of the best episodes of the series to date) give some of the show’s oddest oddballs a chance in the spotlight, with predictably strange and mesmerizing results. That the pair manage to fit in Angelique, a Maya-Darryl confrontation, the return of Trent, and a murder house backstory while still crafting a thematically-rich episode that hangs on such an important storyline is no small achievement. Add in that genius Spice Girls number and Heather’s bathroom jam and you’ve got a hell of a winner.
Part of what makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend such a consistently excellent show is its ability to balance the weird, subversive stuff with honest emotional stakes, a combination in full force here, thanks in part to the aforementioned guest stars. Weir is always great as Karen, but here she’s in especially fine form here, both when she’s talking about her friend Angelique (Rebecca might be kind of thick sometimes) and when she shows up in her latex drag, ready to eat some lube and spit it back up as needed. Normally Weir would be a standout (and she is!), but this episode is so rich with supporting weirdo goodness that she’s simply one of many. Maya (Esther Povitsky, killin’ it) suggesting she and Darryl dress up like caterers! That amazing dance! Theater major Sunil, who does in fact lie like he’s playing Pepper in a touring production of Annie! All top-notch.
And of course there’s Trent (Paul Welsh), who gets a kind of episode-within-an-episode all to himself. An unexpected but incredibly welcome return, many of the episode’s strangest and funniest moments come courtesy of Welsh. Whether it’s the blood seeping through the back of his shirt after “The Trent is Getting Ready Song,” the carefully practiced bro-isms, or the perfect delivery of lines like “I’m gonna get a basket full of four chicken wings,” every moment Welsh has strikes the perfect balance of hilarious, terrifying, and so weird it’s difficult to imagine someone dreaming that guy up. It’s probably too much to hope that we’ll see him again, but a girl can dream (or have nightmares).
Trent and Maya’s stories share a common thread with Rebecca’s. Let’s call it the fall of the Croisstazzinut, or perhaps just the folly of man. Each person is trying desperately to cram all the things they want into their lives by any means necessary, not realizing that feelings can’t be forced. You can attempt to bend a person (or a baked good) to your will through manipulation or way too much effort, but whatever you get probably won’t be good. It may seem that Rebecca forced her friendship with Valencia into existence, but there was already a basis for that friendship, and while Maya certainly demands that Darryl treat her better, the emergence of that friendship is anything but forced. Trying is good, but trying too much, or in an underhanded way, never really leads to good results.
Rebecca’s attempt to create a friendship Croisstazzinut results in her disastrous sex toy party, an evening that makes pretty much everyone but Karen uncomfortable. Part of what makes that scene so delightfully awful is the contrast provided by the earlier girl group outing, topped off by “Friendtopia,” a song every bit as demented and catchy as season one stunners like “Feelin’ Kinda Naughty” and “I’m a Good Person.” The music in season two has been solid by and large, but even the best songs have been missing that manic touch, and “We’re gonna braid each other’s hair then cut each other’s braids / and turn the braids into a rope to hang all of Congress” brings it back in full force. It’s a nice contrast with Heather’s first solo, a “Trapped in the Closet” style slow jam that essentially narrates what’s going on as we see it happen. Essential? No, but damn is it funny and unexpected (and let’s give Vella Lovell more songs, please).
Still, songs and supporting characters and Trent’s virginity aside, the big story here is Rebecca and Paula. At the end of last season, I wrote that the real love story of the show seemed to be that complicated, messed-up but wonderful friendship, and the events of this season seem to reinforce that view. Two lonely, complicated women came together over something truly bizarre, and while the love that grew between them isn’t a fiction, the roots are so deeply dysfunctional that it’s no surprise they’re still reeling from that first big blowout. Who’s at fault? Well, they both are. Who makes this story so compelling? Well, they both do.
Rachel Bloom and Donna Lynne Champlin are always great, but they’re best together, whether they’re on the same page or at odds. Their confrontation tonight rings especially true because it feels inevitable, the result of careful, thoughtful acting throughout this season and the last. Think of every time Paula’s stopped herself from saying something to Rebecca about a moment of selfishness. Think about the look on Rebecca’s face when she signed that contract, or when “After Everything I’ve Done For You (That You Didn’t Ask For)“ reached its bombastic end. This blow-up is a long time coming, and it feels earned because it is, thanks to the actors (and writers) who’ve invested in this complex, problematic, lovely female friendship.
Rebecca may have new #squadgoals, and Paula may have a new friendship bracelet, but from the moment Paula joined in on that reprise of “West Covina,” this relationship has been the show’s most important. It’s fortunate for the show (and for all of us) that the women bringing it to life treat it with such care and fearlessness every week.
- I looked and looked but can’t find it, so to whoever predicted the return of Trent in last week’s comments section, you have no idea how badly I wanted to tell you that you were right then and there, and now that I can, the comment’s been lost in the shuffle. Alert me below and I’ll give you a GIF prize or something.
- Hector Award: all the supporting roles are great this week, so let’s give this one to surf shop girl, shall we?
- That moment when Heather sits down at the table and just stops working: amazing.
- “And this was before all those different like options, so people didn’t know what to do.”
- “Hey Maya, has anyone ever told you that your voice sounds like a mouse with throat cancer talking into a little tiny mouse voice box?”
- I first saw this episode a few weeks ago, and I’ve been saying “Czar of Torture!” at least once a day since. Gabrielle Ruiz’s single funniest moment yet.
- Someone wanna Photoshop an Emmy into this woman’s hand?