It’s important to be objective. It’s important to realize that even the things one loves aren’t without flaws. That is, in fact, part of what makes watching television (or engaging with art in general) so satisfying—the chance to think about how things work, and what they mean, and discuss those thoughts with others.
Was this the best episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to date? No. Was it as thoughtful, surprising, and funny as some of the previous outings? No. Was it still wonderful? Yes. Is it increasingly difficult to be objective about a show that, week to week offers such delight, so many earnest laughs, and so much audacious theatricality? Yes, emphatically yes. At a certain point it becomes easier to just admit that you’re ready to buy the t-shirt.
It helps when, week after week, stuff like this happens.
Obviously this isn’t the first appearance of Tovah Feldshuh’s Mrs. Bunch, but in her first big episode, director Steven Tsuchida gives her a hell of an entrance. It starts big, and just gets bigger, but it’s not simply about creating a grandiose number for a terrific performer. As is the case, week in and week out, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend manages to take something that’s legitimately really funny and make it do much, much more. Everything about “Where’s the Bathroom?,” from the ever-rising key to the pulse-quickening tempo to the constant changes of subject, creates a palpable sense of anxiety, and mirrors what’s going on with Rebecca internally. It’s a perfect example of what a song in a musical is supposed to do: show a feeling so big that only music can bring it to life. The hills are alive with the sound of Tovah Feldshuh belting about vases.
It’s not the only big musical moment in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s mid-season finale, which manages to squeeze in two big dance numbers into one hour, to say nothing of two sub-plots of varying quality (we’ll get to that), a major smooch, and the delightful spectacle of Paula pretending to be a British Jew who was born on the Abbey Road crosswalk. Not only does Josh Chan get to step in for a really sweet high school kid who fakes a hurt ankle to help his idol recover some of his youthful exuberance—so many backflips!—but he and the rest of the cast get to cheerily dance through the West Covina Mall in their very first ensemble number, a sequence that ends the first of their first season with hearty dose of the charm, joy, and merciless wit that have infused so many of the show’s best moments. Wonderful. Funny. Blissful. Rare.
But objectivity is the goal, so it must be sad that not everything about “My Mom, Greg’s Mom and Josh’s Sweet Dance Moves!” works as well as the high points. There are high points, to be sure, music aside: Rachel Bloom does some of her very best work of the series to date in her scenes with Feldshuh, simmering like a pot that’s guaranteed to boil over at any moment, and as a whole, that storyline works like crazy. It feels inevitable, and from the opening glimpse of Rachel’s ancestors to their tearful goodbye, not a note feels forced.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the Greg’s mom storyline. The unexpected connection between Greg and Heather seems a brilliant move, setting the groundwork for more emotionally confusing shenanigans for Rachel ahead. The story in which it occurred, however, seems more half-baked than previous sub-plots. With Santino Fontana’s killer performance of “What’ll It Be?” and the deft way with which the show dealt with his relationship with his father, the flimsy resolution to his conflict with his mother feels all the more unsatisfying. It was fine, but it wasn’t great, and at this point, there’s all kinds of proof that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (and Fontana specifically) can do better.
Josh’s story, charming though it was, also didn’t quite ring true. Vincent Rodriguez III dances the hell out of Josh’s big Winter Wonderland moment, but as with Greg’s storyline, the resolution doesn’t quite connect. He realizes that he’s a grown-up now because he hurt himself dancing. We don’t see him looking uncomfortable, or struggling to complete the sequence, or being anything other than a little winded. It makes sense that the show would point Josh in the direction of realizing he’s got some growing up to do, but that wasn’t a particularly effective way of accomplishing such a thing. Again, fine, but not great.
Here’s the best part: it doesn’t really matter. The highs are so high, and the accomplishment so impressive—remember when it seemed unlikely they’d be able to have great music week after week?—that a few off notes seem unimportant. No matter what, this is a show that throws its all into everything it does, and never seems to compromise in the least. Perhaps more than any other new show of the season, it feels like any misstep Crazy Ex-Girlfriend could make is a step from which it could easily recover. How could it not? In eight episodes, Rachel Bloom and company have given us “Settle for Me,” a filthy monologue about parking, the butter ad copywriter who left his wife for a prostitute, a boy band made up of four Joshes, a turkey bra, “Feelin’ Kinda Naughty,” an absolutely horrifying childhood party flashback, Cedric Yarbrough scatting, “What’ll It Be?,” a surprisingly effective Dr. Phil cameo, “I Have Friends,” and other moments and scenes that are just as impressive. How lucky for us that it exists, and how fortunate we are to be getting more.
Flaws aside, it’s a terrific end to a great first eight episodes, and the end of January seems too, too far away. Time to spend all of December getting friends to watch, because all I want for Christmas is season two.
- “Put on some pants, Chet!”
- Cedric Yarbrough was back! So was Ava Acres!
- As much as I’ve enjoyed all the clever cuts into the theme song, going straight from Rebecca setting out her mother’s photo to that manic little tune was wonderfully foreboding.
- “I offered, but she said I drive like the grandma she’s starting to think she’ll never be.”
- “But I heard his wife is frigid!”
- “He owns texting.”
- Donna Lynne Champlin kicked the holy crap out of that British scene. Damn.
- Happy holidays, everyone! See you in January.