Tonight’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend transforms the story of a pair of non-breathable pants and the havoc they wreak on our heroine’s vagina into a top-notch parody of a mega-hit musical from the ’80s that improves on the original by both having a plot and treating it like the dance cycle it should always have been.
To quote another musical juggernaut: How lucky we are to be alive right now.
What’s more, that absolutely bonkers premise isn’t an anomaly within the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend universe. There’s a premise for exactly this kind of madness. Both “That Text Was Not Meant For Josh!” and “Josh Is The Man Of My Dreams, Right?” operate in exactly this mode, adopting a musical motif that heightens the surreality of the episode. The evolving song cycle (seriously, a way better choice than the one Cats makes) lends a feeling of dread and inevitability to the climax—each time the “whisper cat verse” pipes up, it feels as though, like WhiJo watching Nathaniel and Greg at the gym, two trains are very slowly moving toward each other. Throw in two solid sub-plots—one of which acts as one of the slow-moving trains—and you have a top-tier episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, one that asserts itself as one of the greats within moments, remains rooted in the emotional reality of its characters no matter how bonkers it gets, and makes room for rhyming “Monistat” with “mono-scat” and turns “Macavity” into “my cavity.”
“I Need Some Balance”—even the title is perfect—is credited to Elisabeth Kiernan Averick, who also, as it happens, wrote “That Text Was Not Meant For Josh!” and “Josh Is The Man Of My Dreams, Right?” As directed by GLOW’s Kimmy Gatewood, “Balance” trades the Textmergency band (also referenced here) and the Santa Ana Winds (did you hear the wind blowing before the first song?) for a pack of musical feral cats, here mostly to comment on the needs and state of Rebecca Bunch’s vagina. Rebecca needs to get laid. She gets a yeast infection. She turns that yeast infection into bacterial vaginosis. She’s about to get laid anyway. She is thwarted. She’s all alone with the memory of the last time she got laid.
The stakes are simultaneously super low—Rebecca’s illness isn’t life-threatening, she just wants to get laid, no broken elevators, no rock that says “ever”—and, quietly, extremely high. Nothing earth-shattering happens, but the status quo shifts dramatically. In earlier seasons, that final scene would not have been of Rebecca and Valencia commiserating in a bar. It would have been Rebecca absolutely spiraling, attempting to chase after one dude or another or filled with self-loathing, with an untreated vagina and even more drama than she encounters here*. It would have been a mess.
But as the fall finale underlined, Rebecca’s growth and increased self-awareness are considerable. The last time we saw poor old “Your balls smell weird” Jason (Grant Rosenmeyer), aside from this year’s opening credits anyway, was in “I’m Going On A Date With Josh’s Friend!” Compare that unhealthy choice—not Jason, but the way she handled the situation—with the choices she makes here. Sure, she probably shouldn’t have tried to nuke the yeast infection out of her body (no fictional course of action has gotten a bigger verbal “ohhhhhhh noooooooo” out of me in recent memory), but with the help of a friend—a friend to whom she actually listens—she makes the best of it and comes very close to getting what she wants in a healthy, adult manner.
But the cats, or fates, or Santa Ana Winds have other ideas.
When I spoke with Aline Brosh McKenna last month about the return of Greg, she had this to say about this episode:
AVC: Is there anything that you can tell us about where this relationship, or the season, is headed?
Well, they’re going to spend more time together and get to know each other. And also he’s going to get to know a lot of the other characters on the show, too. That’s been tremendously fun. And in fact, the next episode could be the kookiest, craziest episode we’ve ever done. I mean, it’s bonkers. That was so fun to make. And I will just say—slight spoiler for that episode—Greg spends most of his time with Nathaniel. So that was another fun thing about bringing him back: We can mix and match him with the other folks, and that’s been great. Especially he and Scott Michael Foster, [who] bonded instantly.
This is that bonkers episode. This is that pairing. And it works brilliantly. Kiernan Averick and the rest of the show’s writers maneuver those two characters into position with incredible ease. They do the same with Rebecca and, to a lesser extent, Josh. No one’s being an asshole. No one’s acting in a wholly selfish or destructive manner. Nathaniel’s being nice, and listening to and connecting with people. Greg’s taking care of himself and finding a healthy outlet for his feelings and energy, and also is connecting with and listening to people. Rebecca’s minding her own business and ignoring the unhealthy impulses in favor of healthier ones. Josh is just being a good roommate, even if it would probably be better if he did so with pants. What happens isn’t anyone’s fault. It isn’t even really White Josh’s fault (well, maybe a little). It’s the cats, or the wind, or bad luck, or destiny, or simply the inevitable reality of the past, which doesn’t simply vanish. It’s a bad situation. Plain and simple.
Perhaps it’s because there’s so much ease. Perhaps it’s because those involved took such obvious enjoyment in the batshit happenings. Whatever the reason, “I Need Some Balance” is also one of the most finely acted episodes in a very well-acted series. Everyone—everyone—is in top form. No one, save those cats, gets a scene to end all scenes, because it’s not that kind of episode. Yet this is Gabrielle one of Ruiz’s best episodes of the series. It’s one of the best for David Hull, too. Pete Gardner’s had more to do elsewhere, but he does everything perfectly. Scott Michael Foster and Skylar Astin, both great (and if Greg and Nathaniel don’t work things out, it’ll break my heart a little). And Rachel Bloom, perhaps because she co-created a television show in which she got to compare the smell of an imbalanced vagina to the plot device that is the Heaviside Layer on network television, seems to be having so much fun that it’s impossible not to enjoy her every scene.
It’s enjoyable from start to finish, directed with playful energy by Gatewood and engineered like a goddammn skyscraper by Kiernan Averick. It’s hard to imagine another Cats parody ever topping this one, and even harder to conceive of a Cats parody that somehow underlines and enhances the themes of the episode so efficiently. It’s maniacal, political, devious, affectionate, exuberant, and the best kind of stupid. Every song is great. Every scene is great. Every joke is great. All that, and honest, too?
In short, the balance of “I Need Some Balance” is perfection, and that is no small feat. One wrong move would throw it all off. But no, there’s not a misstep in sight. This is a beautiful, powerful flower of an episode. A self-cleaning oven of an episode. It’s a vagina of an episode, is what I’m saying. The only thing more delicately balanced than “I Need Some Balance” is the human vagina.
* Oh, to be in the room when Heather hears about what happened. She loves drama.
- “My cavity” and “Mono-scat” both go in the “choke on your cocksuredness” hall of fame.
- So simple, but the reveal of George’s fuchsia gloves is one of my favorite sight gags in a show that’s had more than its fair share.
- Hector/GGG Award: Each and every one of the cats was wonderful, but there can only be one, and the one is Megan Amram, specifically for pancake line. I can only hope that it somehow earns her an Emmy.
- “Who was that weird lady backstage with the tiny top hat?”
- “I’m a priest.” “I’m a Capricorn.”
- I won’t catalogue (heh) all the ways in which the Cats stuff is perfect, but trust me, it is. And the Jellice song is the goddamn worst. Just watch.
- Seriously, Cats is fucking terrible.
- Doggy Dog, revealed.