A whole bag of iced gingersnaps will not fill the hole that’s inside you. Neither will shoplifting unitards (or lipstick and Sambuca.) It can’t be filled by filing a lawsuit or majoring in Christmas. Sex, wine, avocados, the misery of others—none of these will do the trick. Revenge will not fill the hole. And if we’re being honest, closure is mostly a myth.
That it’s unattainable doesn’t stop the itch, though, does it? That’s what powers “To Josh, With Love,” a funny and deceptively complex hour that lays on its theme much thicker than Crazy Ex-Girlfriend usually might. That much of it is a little on the nose matters not one jot, because when you’re this good, you can get away with pretty much anything—and that includes a tap dance with the Holy Ghost.
It’s going to be tough to write a review of this episode that doesn’t focus exclusively on the music. There have been episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that included four songs before, but each of those hits four by virtue of a brief reprise (like Heather’s “Don’t Settle for Me”) or an odd few bars of “Period Sex.” Here, however, we’ve got three big new songs and one reprise that’s almost full-size. With such a feast at hand, the temptation to dive deep into the many virtues of “The Buzzing from the Bathroom” is strong (and don’t worry, we will.) But while “To Josh, With Love” deserves praise for its excellent music alone, this isn’t an hour that’s lacking in thoughtfulness elsewhere. Attention must be paid.
In “To Josh, With Love,” pretty much everyone’s unsatisfied (save Paula and Maya), and in nearly every case, there’s something that stops them from saying so. Rebecca tries to tell Paula that the lawsuit isn’t viscerally satisfying in the way she needs, because what she needs is something like catharsis, and that’s not usually found on the high ground. Still, she doesn’t want to hurt her friend, Josh thinks becoming a priest will relieve him of the burden of being responsible for his actions, then discovers that religion isn’t a factory reset for your life (and the Door Father doesn’t have time for your shit.) Yet he can’t admit what’s truly brought him to priest-school. Nathaniel’s unaccustomed to caring about anyone other than himself, and makes the unwelcome discovery that even doing exactly what someone asks can’t make them happy or yours. But he’s Nathaniel, he’s not some stupid feelings-haver. And Tim’s never given his wife an orgasm, and doesn’t know, because he’s never bothered to find out. Yet, as Paula says, he’s also never been told.
These stories are inextricably linked thematically (as made apparent by the intro to Tim’s musical lament), and while they’re dramatically different in terms of tone, their similarities are solidified by the choice to have all four of the episode’s musical numbers spring from the same genre. Gene Kelly in a pew? Check. A slinky Chicago-style number all about morality and the ugly side of human nature (which, to be fair, is also something Chicago is about)? Check. A reprise of Paula’s “Rose’s Turn” moment, this time in Rebecca’s hands? Check. And a Les Misérables sendup that nails not only the epic sweep of the music, but the hyper-intimate style of Tom Hooper’s film adaptation. Check and double-check.
The musical theatre choices underline part of what’s making Rebecca (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the ensemble) so unsatisfied. There’s a script we’re meant to follow. We fall in love, or get revenge, or give our lives to God, or go up-up-up, and then something wonderful happens. We feel fulfilled, or shed our guilt, or give someone an orgasm every time. We’re the right kind of crazy, and then we’re supposed to feel better.
That’s a long way of saying that, thanks to the writing, the direction (here by Kabir Akhtar, the show’s Emmy-winning editor), and the central performance, this season’s Rebecca Bunch is more complex and compelling than she’s been in the series to date. That’s saying quite a lot, because “You Stupid Bitch” and last season’s reprise medley are two powerful, complicated moments in a comedy that’s full of them. It’s early, but this season’s focus on the forward propulsion of the plot has left room for fewer such moments, and yet Rebecca’s increasing frustration that no one can help her in the way she needs renders the series every bit as taut, funny, and messed up as it has always been.
And so we arrive at Rachel Bloom, who sells every inch of Rebecca’s public condemnation of Josh, which ends up inadvertently being a get-out-of-jail-free card for his conscience. Her giddy, adrenaline-laced relief is instantly familiar; her leaking realization of the potential consequences as funny as they are anxiety-inducing. As good as Bloom is in “Strip It All Away,” as nimbly as she lands every joke, it’s in that reprise, the march to her car, and the laughter afterward that the real punch of the episode lands. She followed the script she’s been dying to follow, and felt better.
Then 30 seconds later, it’s gone. It’s a great twist, but it’s also great choice for the character, perfectly in keeping with everything we’ve learned about her. Of course that’s where this leads. Of course she’s back to scrambling. Of course it all goes to hell again.
There’s a cost to forcing a feeling into your life, whether it’s love or unearned pride or vengeful satisfaction. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend pulls off tricks in every episode that range from social commentary to pop satire to surprisingly intimate character studies, but that one is perhaps the best. Every action has consequences. None of the scripts stop when you reach the last page. That giant fuck-you of a reprise comes with a cost, and the bill is in the mail.
- Required viewing.
- All four songs are total winners this week, and choreographer Kathryn Burns deserves some sort of choreobonus.
- Glen-Gary-George Award: Technically it’s too big a role to qualify, but I’m sorry, there’s no way that Tim’s going to receive only disappointments this week. Here’s to you, Michael McMillian - I laughed out loud, over and over again, and I’m laughing again now.
- So... Nathan was going to murder Josh’s grandfather? And he’s slowly turning into a Rebecca-esque figure?