There’s nothing quite like the thrill of seeing something that’s perfect for the first time, and one such perfect, ugly, aching, wonderful gem sits inside one of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s best episodes to date. Is that a surprise? Not to anyone who’s been watching regularly—the series proved seven episodes ago that it was as capable of greatness as anything else on TV. What is surprising is that it just keeps getting better somehow, expertly walking that precarious line between comedy and drama without ever sacrificing the audaciousness that makes it so bold. Nothing else on the air comes close to the number of laughs, tears, cringes, groans, fist-pumps, and jaw-drops per hour. It’s uncompromising and daring and sad and smart and wholly original, and it doesn’t settle, not even a little.
That’s a long way of saying that one of the best shows on television just put out a hell of an episode. Bow down.
Key to the success of “That Text Was Not Meant for Josh!”—expertly written by Elisabeth Kiernan Averick and directed by Daisy Mayer—is a return to the ol’ song-and-dance magic. That’s not to dismiss the really excellent stuff that happens without accompaniment, including series-best work from Vincent Rodriguez III, Donna Lynne Champlin, Santino Fontana, and especially Rachel Boom, but the musical numbers do a heck of a lot of heavy-lifting. Giving us a pitch perfect hair band pastiche would be treat enough without assigning them the power and insight of a greek chorus—seriously, when was the last time you saw something with a greek chorus?—but “That Text Was Not Meant for Josh!” ups the ante with a torch song that’s simultaneously funny (“… and lose some weight”) and upsetting. There have been some truly incredible explorations of mental illness on television in the last few years (and if you haven’t started You’re the Worst yet, you’re missing out) but I can’t think of any three minutes as painful and perfect as “You Stupid Bitch.”
Maybe there are people out there who can’t relate. I suspect there are. Some people surely grow up steady and solid, and when they make mistakes, they deal with them in a healthy, productive way. They get knocked down, but they get up again! You’re never gonna keep them down! But for many people—for this writer, at least—“You Stupid Bitch” will ring almost terrifyingly true. And just when it seems it couldn’t get more wonderful and awful, the singalong chorus starts. If you can find a better way to capture the kind of self-loathing that’s so deep that it includes room for loathing the self-loathing than a woman encouraging her audience to sing about what a stupid bitch she is because she deserves it, I’ll send you a nickel.
I could write many, many more words about what may be the best song of the series thus far, and I probably will, but it would be a discredit to the rest of an excellent episode to focus solely on those three minutes. “That Text Was Not Meant for Josh!” continues the arc started in the previous two episodes, seeing all Rebecca’s chickens coming home to roost, for good (the letter, the end of her denial phase) or ill (basically everything else). In this case, it’s one chicken after another, with her lovesick giddiness leading to the titular text, the text leading to a break-in, the break-in leading to the shirt-smell, which leads to getting caught, which leads to another lie, which leads to a broken window, which leads to a cop, which leads to fondue, which leads to the rock (ROCK!), which leads to Greg, and so on. Rebecca’s digging a hole basically, and it just gets deeper and deeper until there’s no getting out.
Fittingly for an episode in which Rebecca can’t get far enough ahead of her own lies, not so much as a second is wasted. Even a throwaway bit that the beginning, an inappropriate police escort, ties into the tag on the end of the episode. A quick shot of Rebecca’s decor sets up the climax. Greg’s awkward stop for a hard drive sets up his big scene at the end. The trip to Father Brah’s office sets up all of Paula and Scott’s storyline. It’s almost dizzyingly efficiently, creating a sense of the episode’s walls closing in, making “That Text Was Not Meant for Josh!” merely the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that’s downright anxiety-inducing to watch.
Part of that anxiety is due to the set-up itself, a cringe-inducing and utterly relatable situation, and part is due to the relentless writing and direction (particularly in those rock jams) which never stop for more than a breath or two. Still, the lion’s share of the credit has to go to the ensemble, who throw everything they’ve got at the walls in moments both big (“And I really don’t want to know why you were in my apartment before”) and small (“There’s another way to get out of this building and I walked by your patio”). Outside of Bloom, the episode MVPs have to be Donna Lynne Champlin (Paula) and Steve Monroe (Scott), who sell their storyline in both the moments of over-the-top comedy and simple, sweet honesty. Champlin in particular stands out, especially in Paula’s last scene with Rebecca—she combines Paula’s (now admitted) addiction to Rebecca’s love life with genuine care and compassion, and blends concern with her own moment of happiness. It’s a hell of a performance, one of many excellent turns in the episode. Literally everyone, from the “Textmergency” band to the fondue guy, is terrific. There’s not a bad one in the bunch.
Still, the name of the show says it all. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always felt deeply personal without ever straying into self-indulgence. It wears both its cynicism and its heart on its sleeve. Bloom (and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna) have made something really remarkable. No one gets a free pass, but it’s far from unfeeling. It can only have been made by people who’ve been through (and probably, from time to time, still fight through) the shit, and know how hard it can be, and how awful it can make you, and how dark and funny it can be, all at once. Honestly, it’s the television equivalent of the kind of friend you want when things get really bad—full of hard truths and kind words and jokes that might not get you out of that hole, but at least help fill it with laughter.
It’s brilliant, dammit. What did we do to deserve it?
- This week’s Hector Award (for the best person with a small part who steals the show) goes to everyone in the “Textmergency” band, particularly Jeff Hiller, who kicks the hell out of both songs and then nails that wonderful little throw-back tag.
- “They’re the good kind, with plots. That’s why the hard drive is so big.”
- Welcome back, Father Brah! We missed you!
- “Do you have, like, a recital today?”
- “I think I have a UTI!”
- It’s pointless to quote, but that scene when Paul and Scott recited the lyrics to the theme song was brilliant.
- “So this is not about cheese.” I hope we see more of that Fondue Me guy.
- One last thing about “You Stupid Bitch”: any number of songs could be its direct inspiration, but this is the one I thought of right way.