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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Rebecca's shame fuels a melancholy, hopeful, and spoooooky Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Gabrielle Ruiz, Rachel Bloom, Patton Oswalt, Vella Lovell, Donna Lynn Champlin
Gabrielle Ruiz, Rachel Bloom, Patton Oswalt, Vella Lovell, Donna Lynn Champlin
Photo: Scott Everett White (The CW)
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Meet Rebecca! She’s too hard to summarize.

That’s a point that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been making about its protagonist—about most of its primary characters—since the very beginning. It makes that point with its title, in fact. It uses a harmful trope to underline how silly it is to reduce a person to one idea alone, because in reality (say it with me now), the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that. “She’s so nice,” the selfie guy says as he walks back to his friends at Home Base after snapping a photo with the rooftop killer. “She was so nice!”


A trope doesn’t sum a person up. Neither does a moment, a purchase, a relationship, or a costume. (Maybe a costume sums up Tim. That peach is very Tim.) The theme may be familiar, but Rebecca’s connection to that theme is brand new territory for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She’s still inventing ways to avoid, deflect, gloss over, drown out, or plain old ignore her issues, but she’s not trying on different personas or projecting meaning onto others in order to do so, and she’s able to figure things out much more quickly. It took Rebecca nine episodes to admit to herself that she moved to the Cov for Josh. It took Rebecca one episode to admit that her murder house ghost fixation was all about shame.

That, as they say, is progress—even taking into account all the steps back, and sitting and rocking, and fridge-cleaning, and sting ray research, and the six hours of masturbation. “I Am Ashamed,” credited to Erin Ehrlich, reinforces a shift that began on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend near the end of last season, and which was made even more apparent on last week’s episode. It establishes a new rhythm, a new pattern of resolution, and a new tone. Even the episode title, in conjunction with last week’s, underlines the importance of the shift. “I Want To Be Here.” “I Am Ashamed.” Not a Josh, Greg, or Nathaniel to be found. Rebecca may not be grabbing life by the scrotum yet, but she’s on her way.

While the episode’s two songs—“Time To Seize The Day” and “The Cringe”—both feel like classic Crazy Ex-Girlfriend numbers, they’re also different in fundamental ways that relate to that shift. Songs that narrate either Rebecca’s action or her mental state are very common (“Textmergency” for the former, “(Tell Me I’m Okay) Patrick” for the latter). But “Time To Seize The Day” doesn’t see Rebecca try on any sort of genre, instead living in a more general musical theater place, like last season’s “A Diagnosis” and the second season “Rebecca’s Reprise.” Those were songs about big, climactic emotional moments. This one’s about being terrified to leave the house and risk facing people, which is big, but it’s not exactly a turning point in Rebecca’s life.

The direction in “Time To Seize The Day,” as with most of the episode, is thoughtful and slick, following Rebecca to every corner of her apartment as she tries again and again to leave, googles sting rays, masturbates, etc. Because the camera stays with her, steady but moving at her pace, the effect is to whip the audience around a bit, giving the sensation that you, too, will need to sit on the floor and rock until you feel better before heading out to nostalgically watch Hocus Pocus. We can go on that journey because we know what she’s feeling, and why. There’s no wall of pretend up. We empathize, because who among us hasn’t wanted to hide indoors forever after feeling kinda humiliated? We may not be rooftop killers, but we know from shame.

And that’s the root of “The Cringe,” of course. After some bad advice from Gwyneth and a spooky seance for which there is a weird, if reasonable, explanation, Rebecca finally leaves the house, and it’s to be kind to a dead girl, and also to herself. The scene in which Rebecca leaves flowers at Devon Lee’s grave is terrific, a melancholy moment that’s still ultimately hopeful, because it’s rooted in Rebecca’s self-awareness and her readiness to move on. In a strong episode for Rachel Bloom in general, it’s the obvious highlight. And that highlight earns Rebecca Bunch a reward, of sorts, when a creepy security guard, her three closest friends, and a bunch of dead people come together to remind her that literally everyone does something cringe-worthy every once in awhile.


“The Cringe,” like “California Christmastime,” is a nice seasonal ditty with something a little more potent running beneath the surface. Even if it didn’t, it would still be a gem—Melina Root’s bone-dresses alone make it an absolute pleasure to watch—but its arrival on the heels of Rebecca’s moment of acceptance and self-forgiveness makes it all the sweeter and smarter.

It’s not a tidy ending. It’s still hard for Rebecca to walk through that door, and it’ll stay hard; she’ll still avoid and deny, and she absolutely owes Dr. Akopian some kind of cancellation fee. But people aren’t only one thing. She’s not “better,” she’s not “crazy.” She’s dealing—sometimes badly, sometimes beautifully, often with help. Meet Rebecca. That piece of her, at least, can be summarized pretty easily.


Stray observations

  • “I Am Ashamed” was directed by longtime CEX-G writers Audrey Wauchope and Rachel Specter, though only the former is credited. For the reason why, see this thread. Cheers to them both for putting together such a stylish, entertaining hour; it is really too bad the experience had to be soured by such a backward decision, and that Specter won’t get recognition of that kind for her excellent work as a result of that decision.
  • I suspect tracking every reference to the first season throughout season four will be pretty much impossible, so I’ll just say my favorite of the week was the callback to West Covina’s town slogan being “Live Work Play,” which Rebecca points out to Greg in their first conversation. Ghosts being obsessed with Valencia: also a fact established early.
  • That said, I cannot believe that no one mentioned Rebecca getting poo on her shoes in season two.
  • George Award: Olivia Edward, who plays Madison Whitefeather, is as always a total delight, and as Patton Oswalt and Michael Hitchcock are otherwise in a dead heat, let’s give it to the young lady who made “You snailed it” work so well.
  • “I’m a woman of science, not seance.”
  • “He’s the new guy. I don’t trust him.”
  • “He cannot tell a lie. That’s like his whole deal.”
  • “You’re like David Copperfield without the assault allegations!”
  • White Josh is back! Hurrah, White Josh!
  • Snailor Swift > Katy Beary.

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!