“Which dress says, ‘I’m back, theatre, and this time I’m staying?’”
“That is a lot to ask from a garment, but... the black.”
Like its protagonist, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is often hard to summarize. Not in terms of what happens—you can sum up the plot of this episode, and most others, pretty quickly—but thematically speaking, there’s often a lot going on. One of the truths the show returns to most frequently is that life isn’t a story (call it the “gradual series of revelations that occur over a period of time” maxim), and as such, there are often complications and contradictions that defy a quick, fortune-cookie-length summation of what’s going on and what it all means. And yet “That is a lot to ask from a garment” comes pretty close to doing just that for “I’m Finding My Bliss,” which sees Rebecca, Valencia, Paula, and Greg chase different dreams and find out that hanging a whole bunch of meaning and emotion—like all your hope of happiness, or all your sources of misery—on such things is a surefire way to get your dreams stomped on a bit.
It doesn’t fit perfectly, because again, as Josh Groban so wisely sang, “life doesn’t make narrative sense (whoa-whoa).” But even Paula, whose dreams don’t get even a little bit stepped on, has to wrestle with some complicated stuff despite the fact that everything’s coming up Proctor.
That’s fitting. Paula’s further along on her journey toward her dreams than Rebecca is; she’s already had to reckon with the fact that not everything falls immediately into place just because you want it to. Rebecca’s at the “Maybe This Dream” part of the proceedings. Paula’s in the “wow, I’m a valuable asset” portion. Here’s an example of how the plot can be neatly and quickly summed up, while the thematic undercurrents remain complex: Paula starts fielding offers from firms, which throws Darryl for a loop, but he eventually remembers to be her friend first, and she decides to leave Mountaintop with his support. But it’s more complicated than that might seem at first glance.
Paula’s decision-making is never emotional. It’s rational and professional. She’s not asking a lot from a garment. But Darryl, fearful of losing Paula both as a colleague and a friend, hangs a lot of meaning on what her decision might be. The more narratively tidy version of this story would see Paula unwilling to leave until Darryl gives her his blessing, or Paula choosing to stay because his friendship means so much. But no. As the song says, “Money isn’t everything unless it gets your family out of debt and puts your kid through college.” The money matters. The friendship matters. They are not mutually exclusive. Neither is everything, neither is nothing. Donna Lynne Champlin and Pete Gardner are both excellent as always, and that’s about it for that story.
It’s that everything or nothing framework that’s an issue for Rebecca. Loving people, or art forms, or professions isn’t an unhealthy thing, of course, but pinning all your happiness on them certainly is, and that’s a well to which Rebecca returns all too often. But when something makes you feel like glitter is exploding inside you, that can be difficult to resist. See that photo of there at the top of the page? Now look at this one:
Deciding that a musical theatre revue at a community playhouse is going to be the start of a life-changing, butter-ad-worthy love affair is perhaps unwise, even if that face is the face you make when you’re in that world. What’s heartening about Rebecca’s time in the Covina Theater is that when disappointed by her experience (and mostly by the seriously problematic lyrics of “I’m The Local Lady Of The Evening,” an “I Cain’t Say No”-adjacent tune), she doesn’t pretend to be happy. Nor does she change herself to suit the latest daydream she has of what perfect happiness looks like. Instead, she tries to make it better.
On a purely practical level, you can’t just change the lyrics to a song that’s been licensed. Great way to get a cease and desist. But Cheri Oteri’s scarf-throwing director does a shitty job of handling the situation, failing to see that the person in front of her has engaged with the art in an interesting, intelligent way; rather than use those thoughts and ideas to make something, she gives her a “who do you think you are” and stomps away. As the previously-on helpfully reminds the audience, Rebecca doesn’t just love theater because she loves singing. It’s how she processes the world, and also a communal experience that’s fulfilling, both because she connects with the audience and the others on stage. The director’s reaction temporarily halts both those things, leaving her frustrated and sad. But then she gets them from an unexpected source.
All that nice-guy Nathaniel stuff seems to have built to this moment, a very simple act of love that’s not manipulative and doesn’t have an agenda. And Rebecca’s pleasure in it isn’t based solely on the fact that it’s a romantic partner doing it, though that obviously affects her. What’s really key to the importance of Nathaniel’s too-brief rendition of the updated “Local Lady Of The Evening” is that someone sees this dream Rebecca has, and rather than stomping on it, undermining it, or humoring it, he validates it and helps to make it possible. She then gets the community, both from him and the audience, who laugh, however briefly, at the words she wrote. Hearing them sung is a thrill, but knowing who sang them and why is no less important.
It’s a great little scene from Rachel Bloom and Scott Michael Foster, both of whom play the scene with a gentleness and sincerity that hits home, and whose chemistry has rarely been put to better use. It feels totally earned, honest, and as sharply directed by Kabir Akhtar, quietly romantic. A big moment. Many of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s warmest, loveliest scenes have a basis in one person seeing the other’s wants, needs, and dreams and finding a way to support them. Think Rebecca coaching Paula through a confrontation with a school principal back in season one, or Paula showing up at the wedding at the end of that season; think of Josh hanging a forest mural in their shared apartment, or White Josh showing up at the hospital when Darryl’s baby was born. This is one of those moments, and it’s one of the greats.
That’s in part because it’s totally uncontrived. That brings us to poor old Valencia, who does a classic Crazy Ex-Girlfriend backslide and once again zeroes in on marriage as some kind of be-all end-all, and with such a ferocity that she risks losing something and someone that makes her very happy. Suffice it to say that Gabrielle Ruiz is great in this episode; other than that, I’ll wait to dive into this one until the story continues, as it feels very much like a part-one.
The same can be said of Greg’s story, which as the show so often does, sees one of her love interests work through a storyline she’s already experienced. Here, he goes full “It happens to be where Josh lives, but that’s not why I’m here” on his thesis, before accepting (with some prompting from Heather) that he just might have had ulterior motives. He also realizes that he’d built a relationship up to mean a whole bunch of things it simply doesn’t mean, just to avoid dealing with the reality of his life. With Rebecca, that relationship was with a man (more than one, actually—this is one of her go-tos), and was all about happiness. With Greg, it was West Covina and misery.
With that discovery, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend gets to add another terrific reprise to a list that’s growing ever longer.
I’ve been sold on Skylar Astin’s Greg for some time; I have a feeling that this “What’ll It Be,” while necessarily less emotional than the original, will do the job for many who were previously unconvinced. Astin wisely doesn’t attempt to ape Santino Fontana’s rendition of “What’ll It Be,” instead taking a lighter touch that underlines the wistful, sweet sentiment the reprise communicates. It’s a scene that reaches back to the past, but with its eyes on the future, and in that way, is perhaps as solid a summation of the current state of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as anything. That may be a lot to ask of a garment, but it holds up, all the same.
- Apologies for the lateness of this review—I started late because I’m on West Coast time, for reasons some may be able to guess, and then lost a bunch of copy because I’m an idiot who makes the same mistakes over and over again. Ah, well.
- Hector Award: What the hell, let’s go back to the original name for the home stretch. Seems fitting, as the HA is going to someone who got it really early in the show’s run. Welcome back, Chris (and Jacob Guenther)! You got so tall!