That beautiful, wonderful, weird, little meta show CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND is back and still as good as ever. Before I get to this episode, allow me to tell you why this show is amazing. I have elaborate treatises about how I will and will not accept romance in fictional stories and why to the point where minor transgressions make me stew at shows for weeks and major ones are unmentionable. I didn’t want to watch this show until I actually heard Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna talking about how they had created it specifically with the intention of undercutting the bizarre cultural myths we have about romance. I basically went home and watched the entire thing in one sitting after that (which I actually don’t recommend if you have any kind of mental illness. Take it slow. This show is Too Real™.) There are basically two kinds of shows that I like: sci-fi and so meta it hurts. “Where Is Josh’s Friend” definitely reaches that pinnacle of meta.
To my mind the three criteria anyone would need to accurately assess this show are as follows: they have to be crazy, they should at least examine their acceptance of romantic narratives, and they should like musicals. I didn’t know anyone but myself who checked all three of those boxes, so here we are.
This season picks up with Josh living in Rebecca’s house and the two of them in a friends-with-benefits situation. Already I love this because most romance narratives end after the two romantic leads get together. The course of the first season followed that traditional path, with the two of them finally making out right at the end. This is like post-togetherness, with their relationship in a state of non-being that neither of them can quite define. Rebecca is trying to force her fairy tale romance while Josh is trying to stay as unattached as possible. It’s perfectly modern and Rebecca keeps trying to play her role as “cool girl” by rarely discussing their relationship and by agreeing with everything Josh says when they do rather than actually communicating. Women can’t communicate their feelings, that would scare off men! The sex magazines say so! </sarcasm>
We need to talk for a minute about how awful Rebecca is and how that’s actually a good thing. She started off this episode by gaslighting Josh into thinking he’s the one being a creeper and Josh is too simple to really figure out how she’s spinning his head. Gaslighting is an abuse tactic where you tell someone that they imagined things that actually happened until they start to question their perception of reality. (This should sound familiar if you’ve been following the 2016 election cycle at all.) What’s fantastic about this is that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn’t try to play off Rebecca’s behavior as “cute,” “girly,” or “romantic.” The show knows that what she’s doing is terrible and abusive and it condemns her rather than condoning her. Nowhere is that more clear than when he co-conspirator Paula basically resigns as co-conspirator. Arguably, Paula is crazier than Rebecca in the way she eggs on her monomaniacal obsession with Josh. I love that Paula recognizes that their Josh-related activities are unhealthy and lays out such strict boundaries that she has Rebecca sign a contract to keep herself from doing anymore illegal activity. Particularly in light of last season where everyone repeatedly said that Paula and Rebecca had “boundary issues,” the contract shows at least one character taking a nice healthy step forward. I’m not even sure Rebecca knows what boundaries are (and how could she?), so someone imposing them on her and her accepting them is good to see. Rebecca also mistreats Paula with a mix of seduction and puppy dog eyes explicitly calculated to manipulate her. It’s very well done in that you can see Rebecca doing it and that it’s really not okay.
I also loved how this episode called out both Paula and Rebecca as addicts. The two of them find Greg at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and he specifically says that alcohol makes him feel like “glitter was exploding inside” of him–exactly how Rebecca describes her feelings for Josh. It’s super smooth, both because it portrays alcoholism in a down-to-earth way instead of the overblown mannerism we’re so used to seeing in movies and because it’s Rebecca’s exact words but she isn’t the one who realizes she has a problem. It’s Paula who sees the toxic behaviors in herself when she hears Greg’s words. It’s so perfect just because Rebecca is so lacking in self-awareness that she can’t even recognize her own words in a slightly different though applicable context.
It wouldn’t be a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend review without talking about the songs! As usual, there were three: an MGM Dream Factory-style number, a send-up of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and then a sexy Latin song. The highlight of the episode was of course “Love Kernels,” the Lemonade-style exploration of Rebecca’s obsession with Josh. Many have tried to emulate Lemonade. Most of them come off as racist. In true Crazy Ex-Girlfriend style, “Love Kernels” makes more fun of itself than of the source it’s pulling from. I also enjoyed how it sounded like Lemonade but wasn’t riffing off of any particular song. By the end, the song itself strains under the weight of its own production budget, swerving anxiously into recasting Daryl as a broom and fretting over how expensive everything is. This show has gone meta before–that’s kind of where it lives–but directly calling attention to the fact that it’s a TV show for such a long period of time is a new height. The Josh parts of the song are great as well, casting basically anything Josh says as romantic from Rebecca’s point of view. The MGM valentine-looking song is short but well produced. That kind of number is hard to pull off well. Finally, the sexy Latin song involving actual sex scenes is hilarious and manages to never be awkward which is a monumental achievement. People singing during sex has more potential to be weird than anything else, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend of course just makes it hilarious and plays it to a T.
I also felt like this was intentionally a bit of a primer in how Crazy Ex-Girlfriend works. I’ve tried to explain it to so many people–especially the musical numbers–and they just look at me confused. The tag where Rebecca explains to the dancer that they’re all in her imagination was like a big flag planted in the show’s main conceit. It makes perfect sense but for some reason I have the hardest time getting people to understand. Increasingly you can just point to moments in the show itself as explainers.
I’m so happy this show is back and I’m excited to see where they go with it now that we’ve passed the bounds of traditional romantic narrative. Will Rebecca ever realize that Josh isn’t the fix for her problems? Will she ever actually go to therapy? Will she stop mooning after her dream-version of Josh and pay attention to Greg? (I refuse to ship anything in this show on principle. But I like Greg, shh.) Hurray for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and everyone please watch it. It’s worth it. It’s delightful. The first season is on Netflix so you have no excuse.
Season 2, Episode 1 (S02E01)
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend airs Fridays at 9PM on The CW
Dana is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.
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Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor