In her first big episode post-denial, Rebecca Bunch makes one thing clear: she’s still not doing great. The good news is that, in this more than any other episode to date, she’s far from alone. Josh and Rebecca might be the only two regular cast members headed off to camp, but nearly everyone starts wheeling around their baggage.
“I’m Back at Camp With Josh!” might be merely the latest in a line of strong episodes from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but it stands out in how nimbly it balances not one, but three big storylines. Maybe something on that party bus was contagious, because Rebecca isn’t the one being driven around (on a party bus?) by their own personal hang-ups. Greg gets one little hint of seriousness from Heather and flips out. Darryl finds himself sobbing without his daughter (but with Snailiana Grande!) and flips out. And Rebecca goes to camp and, you guessed it, flips out. West Covina meltdowns are nothing new, but something about that club getting just a little bit bigger makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s tenth episode feel like something new.
Part of that newness comes down to the show’s increased focus on the ex-girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. For the second week in a row, Vincent Rodriguez III displays some previously unseen depths, thanks in no small part to an episode (written by Jack Dolgen, to this point a songwriter for the show) that gives him something to do. It’s a simple story, but a clear one: Josh gets cut-down by someone (Valencia) for doing something about which he’s passionate (and, it’s worth noting, something generous), then gets a boost of confidence and appreciation from someone else (Rebecca), which in turn gives him the confidence to push back against that first person a bit. Nothing groundbreaking, not unfamiliar, but it’s so honestly told, and with such softness, that it’s surprisingly affecting. He isn’t merely reacting to the Rebecca-storm he finds himself in, but growing—just a little.
Of course, it’s the aforementioned Rebecca-storm that drives “I’m Back at Camp With Josh!” As always, Rachel Bloom is terrific, giving Rebecca in initial sunny glow of love that gets swiftly stifled under the swelling bug-bites and social anxiety—although credit where it’s due, Rebecca gets her seat at that table instead of hiding in the bathroom or serving up another sad reprise of “I Have Friends.” Her twin letter scenes with Rodriguez punch all of the funny and sad buttons, with both performers doing some of their best, simplest work, and adding a nice dash of honest and totally earned ache. Yes, Rebecca’s letter is hilarious, what with all the frolicking in the forest, but Josh’s laughter doesn’t come from unkindness, and while it may mean something different to both of them, what matters is that it means something. It’s a point of connection in a hostile world filled with black eyes and anaphylaxis and the yoke of the patriarchy, and it’s a huge credit to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that they can make something so little and silly mean so much.
More than just the world makes Rebecca’s trip to camp a rough one. A troupe of teenage girls, winningly led by Lulu Antariksa, Marisa Davila, and Jazz Raycole, start knocking “Cabbage Patch” down from moment one, with that uncanny sense that young people—hell, people of all ages—have for smelling blood in the water. It culminates in Rebecca’s female empowerment lecture, a doomed affair that basically immediately devolves into tears. It’s a set-up for the big musical number of the evening, a fairly savage send-up of groups like the Pussycat Dolls (R.I.P.) and, most directly, Fifth Harmony. While it may not number among the show’s best songs, “Put Yourself First” doesn’t pull punches, tying into the aborted empowerment lecture by showing exactly how deeply our self-worth can be tied to the male gaze (here, in the form of an appropriately sleazy Terry Richardson stand-in wearing a shirt that actually says “male gaze”):
“Put yourself first girl, worry ’bout yourself.
Wear fake eyelids just for yourself.
So when dudes see you put yourself first,
They’ll say, ‘damn you’re hot, let’s buy a house in Portland!’”
The deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy or loneliness aren’t limited to camp, however. Pete Gardner’s increasingly endearing Darryl Whitefeather gets his very own subplot, dealing with the absence of his daughter by throwing a pay-per-view party for his new party-bus friends, thankfully not on a party bus. It comes complete with its own song, which feels more like a commercial for an EDM paint party, and isn’t all that far off from Rebecca’s own ill-fated shindig. Darryl has friends, he definitely has friends! He pays all the money to have 25 female friends!
One of the non-female friends at this party is Greg, who spends his time on the prowl, since one drama-free hint at seriousness from Heather (Vela Lovell, always a welcome addition) sends him running out the door. While Greg’s reconnection with a kindergarden crush doesn’t work quite as well as the rest of the episode—other than getting Greg to realize he probably has some stuff to work out, she doesn’t have much of a purpose—the rest of the subplot is nearly as winning as the primary storyline, with Santino Fontana turning on the charm and making the most of his two brief scenes with Lovell.
Still, the party is Darryl’s, and he does get one friend to appreciate his, er, spread. At long last, we learn something about White Josh that isn’t gym-related: he’s… a cheek-kisser. On a show that’s obviously committed to diversity, it’s nice that White Josh’s little smooch—which is left somewhat ambiguous, though the direction and scoring make it feel pretty romantic—doesn’t incite even a hint of “no homo” in Darryl. Gardner’s great here, seeming bewildered for sure, maybe a little worried, a trifle pleased and flattered, but not even a little grossed out. While this particular development, whatever it may mean in the future, certainly came as a surprise, the way the show handled it is just about what you’d expect from this thoughtful show.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s got a character’s name in the title. It’s always going to be about Rebecca, and that’s as it should be. But it’s incredibly reassuring to see that, when the wealth—and the “crazy” —gets shared around, the storytelling is just as strong, the jokes just as potent, and the honest, aching heart at the center remains firmly in place. The events may be minor, but the impact on the people in them is big, and how fortunate that we all get to experience that, too.
- This week’s Hector Award (for the best person with a small part who steals the show) goes to Chloe and her pocket full of almonds. I watched it three times.
- Is this our first-ever “previously on”? I think it is, but I didn’t have time to go back and check.
- “Your morals are not up to code, honey.” I love that they’re continuing to dive into this surrogate mom thing. It makes Paula’s advice (often bad) all the more weird and wonderful.
- “S’more? S’when? S’where? With s’who?”
- Valencia water-watch: boxed, with straw.
- I love this show’s commitment to giving even people who just have one scene some great stuff to do. The camp director, camp nurse, and Nicki-short-for-Samantha were all great this week.
- “It’s not ironic for me anymore. Taraji’s my everything.”
- “My ovaries are hustle and flow.” That’s two Taraji references in one episode!
- “Am I in the Matrix? Am I Neo? Am I Gretel? Where’s Hansel? Did you eat him?”
- That bloody ear, though.