A certain kind of person—or maybe all people, or most people, or many kinds of people but only a few of each, who knows, moving on—a certain kind of person gets swallowed alive by an emotional trauma, and feels that the only way to feel grounded again, to feel like they’ve got direction, or get out of bed at all is to put on a costume. To dress up like a person who’s doing great. To show the world how smart, or sexy, or powerful, or happy they are. They’ll be transformed, rejuvenated, reborn. They’ll color their hair, or pierce their nose, or make some other dramatic and hopefully cathartic outward change. They’ll seem OK. If you seem OK, then you’ll be OK.
Remember this one?
To try to reduce Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to one pattern, aim, or identity is a fool’s errand. It can’t be done. People will be making the attempt for years to come, writing and talking about all the things this series is: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend the comedy; Crazy Ex-Girlfriend the musical; the boundary-pusher; the insightful look at mental health; the deconstruction of stereotypes and of the things people (and particularly women) are told they should do, be, and feel. It contains multitudes. Hell, I’ve been writing about it since it premiered and there are still things I haven’t said about “Textmergency,” “Remember How We Suffered,” and the “I left my wife for a prostitute” guy. It can’t be pinned down in a few little words. Not completely.
The same is true of Rebecca Bunch, a woman who is destructive, and awful, and empathetic, and hypocritical, and cruel, and lonely, and brilliant, and incredibly foolish. For that, we can thank great writing and a performance that gets better by the year. From all that complexity, however, emerges one truth, underlined again and again throughout this episode and many that came before it: when confronted with something that makes her feel not OK, she puts on the costume of someone who is, in some way, OK. This time, she emerges a scorned butterfly. The scorned butterfly doesn’t need anyone to tell her she’s OK. Still, Patrick, if you could, that would be great. Even just ‘K’ would suffice.
So Rebecca Bunch gets herself a new costume, and a new script to follow. That it doesn’t work is not surprising. Those costumes never do. What is unexpected is how feeble the first attempt is, how insufficient, how lacking in anything resembling logic. Rebecca Bunch has reached a point where the act won’t even get her through an episode, so what the hell happens now?
As always, the plot is bonkers. After vowing to destroy the man who left her at the altar to become a priest, Rebecca went to the bathroom and never came back. For weeks, she’s been holed up in a hotel room, in a depression that is neither French nor sexy. As her friends and coworkers all wonder where the hell she is (and why she didn’t invite them to the wedding), wonders who the hell she is, now. When she finally gets a toehold in anger, she storms out the door, ‘Bride’ stocking cap firmly planted on her head, and runs to a drugstore to get everything a girl needs to become a person who is OK. A dye job, some black nail polish, and a film rental or two later, she’s ready to go full Fatal Attraction, if Fatal Attraction were really about poop cupcakes.
The A-story here is the nefarious plan that Paula, Valencia, and Heather all decide to humor so that Rebecca can get some bad stuff out of her system. Since poopcakes were nixed by the group, Rebecca moves down her list of potential revannnnge plots to one in which she creates a fake sex tape in which Josh appears to scream “I hate Jesus.” It’s terrible, and everyone but Rebecca and her group of fake Josh candidates (she’ll take any Asian that Casting Call Magazine has got) knows it. The deeply uncomfortable situation gets more uncomfortable when a dead ringer for Josh walks in (played, obviously, by Vincent Rodriguez II). This Josh shaves his beard and shortens his long hair for the shoot, then strolls out in a towel with body makeup on his asscrack. Yet Paula tells the others they still have to go along with things, to let Rebecca see what a bad idea this, right up until the point that Rebecca comes out totally naked and starts asking questions about whether or not they should really have sex, for authenticity, and if so, what California law says about the use of condoms in the porn industry.
That’s the moment that breaks Paula, and also gives Donna Lynne Champlin and Rachel Bloom the chance to really nail the emotional stakes in this silly, strange, deeply messed-up plot. It’s not just a bad idea because it’s ludicrous. It’s a bad idea because it may or may not hurt Josh, but it will definitely hurt Rebecca. And Rebecca does not care one bit.
The thing about dying your hair or piercing your nose or getting a tattoo when you’ve had your guts ripped out is that the act rarely delivers on the cathartic moment it seems to promise; even when that thrill does come, it’s fleeting. Still, it’s a ritual that many crave, and the same is true of “Let’s Generalize About Men.” Rebecca doesn’t get that moment of catharsis from her transformation, and the sex tape wouldn’t have given her that, either. But her night of chugging rosé with her friends offers something worthwhile, and it ends with Paula piggybacking off an idea of Valencia’s and stumbling into what might be a perfect revaaaange plot. Thus the Chan Plan becomes Bunch v. Chan.
But that’s not visceral, either, and it doesn’t come with a costume. To sit and lay out the ways in which someone you loved betrayed and broke you, even if they’re being translated into legal terms—there’s no role to play there. She’s just someone whose world exploded, whose life was focused solely on making one man love her, before that man ran away. How could that be bearable? How could that be satisfying? When the best costume of all was the one where you loved Josh Chan, what are you when even that is ripped away? You’re someone who sends cupcakes from Jesus, that’s who.
There are other costumes in play, both literal (HONK HONK) and otherwise (“Call me Tonya.”) There are other fronts (“Are you Rebecca? I’m Nathaniel’s date”) and scripts to follow (“One more [test] and it’s back in the bed!”) But Rebecca’s been pretending to be someone who’s OK since she first heard the words ‘West Covina;’ hell, she’s probably been pretending for much longer than that. Following the script might not be satisfying, but it’s a hell of a lot less frightening than the alternative.
As always, there’s too much to say about this show—about how White Josh and Darryl have not only the healthiest relationship on the show, but perhaps the healthiest relationship on television; about the barrage of perfect Heather moments; about Paula’s complicated reaction to her husband’s infidelity; about the perfection of that opening number and the thinness of Nathaniel’s running shorts. But before we launch into a season that’s likely to push Rebecca to new and even more self-destructive heights, it’s worth looking at this one ugly pattern. It’s a good thing that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is so goddamned funny. If it weren’t, it might be the most depressing show on television.
- Welcome back! As stated above, there’s always more digging to do, so if you want to get into it (or tell me how wrong I am), please do.
- This is the second time this show has wound up unexpectedly topical (the first was when Paula had an abortion the week of the Presidential election). I watched “Let’s Generalize About Men” before this week, and I’ve watched it many times since. Let’s just say it’s gained an extra layer of potency.
- “Where did you get those clothes?” “Off a scarecrow, so.”
- Great things about that opening number: Nathaniel is the only non-peasant; Darryl milks a goat directly into a to-go cup; the West Covina town sign; the phone font; basically everything else.
- Speaking of the opening number, it’s got bits of Beauty and the Beast’s “Belle” and the opening to Sweeney Todd in there, but the song I most connected it with is this one. “Generalize” is “It’s Raining Men” by way of The Go-Gos, Bananarama, and others. The shoes are pure Trapper Keeper.
- Glen-Gary-George Award: For those new to these reviews, the Glen-Gary-George Award (previously called the Hector Award until George wouldn’t be ignored) goes to the person with a small role who steals a little part of the show. I have to credit my friend Jen here, who suggested the perfect selection. For what’s sure to be the only time in the show’s history, the GGGA goes to one of the leads, here playing a qualifying small role. Cheers, Vincent Rodriguez III. Fake Josh was amazing.
- “Am I alive? How did I die?”