In ““When Will Josh and His Friend Leave Me Alone?,” Crazy Ex-Girlfriend concerns itself with the dueling crises of Paula and Rebecca—something it’s done in every episode of this season so far. Rebecca’s swirling cloud of chaos has stood in contrast with Paula’s quiet discovery of her own desires, her insecurities about those desires and what her best friend thinks of them, and her struggle with what to do when life interferes. Only one of them is, as the song says, a shitshow.
That’s not to discount the struggles of Rebecca Nora Bunch, who’s in the backyard with poo on her shoes. As with “I’m Going on a Date With Josh’s Friend!,” “That Text Was Not Meant for Josh!,” and “Josh Has No Idea Where I Am!”—the three best episodes of the series to date, for my money—both Rachel Bloom and the residents of Rebecca Bunch’s vibrant fantasy life tend to be at their most entertaining when she’s hanging on by a very thin thread. That’s certainly the case here.
Think about the music from the episodes listed above. That trio gave us “Settle for Me,” “Textmergency,” “Where is the Rock,” “Dream Ghost,” and the most impactful song the show has yet produced, “You Stupid Bitch.” You can go ahead and add “We Tapped That Ass” and “Shitshow” to the list. (The makeover song, while also great, doesn’t hit quote so hard, although those last lyrics are pretty damn funny.) It’s as though the more chaotic and unsettled Rebecca’s life becomes, the more powerful (or, in a few cases, catchy) the songs become. Whether it’s intentional or simply that the writers bring their best game to the episodes with the highest emotional pitch, it grants the sense that Rebecca’s mind has whirred so far into overdrive that it’s turning out showstopper after showstopper, frantic to make sense of its current reality in song.
Naturally, showstoppers beget show-stopping performances, and when it comes to the big numbers, Santino Fontana’s the tops (at least, in Rebecca’s half of this week’s episode). The opener gives Fontana a chance to work that wry charm that’s made Greg such a winning character, even at his worst moments, while also showcasing those Frozen pipes. It’s really the pairing of Fontana and Rodriguez III that hits home most, however: “We Tapped That Ass” is gleeful, demented, performed by two people clearly having a terrific time but at the same time a perfect encapsulation of one of the most painful elements of a traumatizing breakup. It’s quite a neat trick Fontana, Rodriguez, and episode director Paul Briganti pull here: the more joyful and breezy the performance, the more awful it seems for poor Rebecca.
Awful, it is, and Bloom continues to do excellent work, leaning into some of Rebecca’s least appealing traits while still making her more than worthy of empathy. The too-perky smile she shoots Josh when she tells him she’s fine, coupled with that look of concern and pity he shoots back, makes for one of the most uncomfortable moments in an episode full of them. Not even the knowledge that tens of thousands of people listen to her melt down on a 911 call can match the humiliation of that moment, and the fact that it’s the rare moment in which Rebecca sees herself, however briefly, as others see her makes it that much worse.
It’s all so heavy, another meltdown in a show full of them—and fitting that the symptom of one such meltdown, vegan guacamole guy, pops up again briefly. The fact that she seems to gather her feet beneath her again at the end of the episode is satisfying, particularly in a week in which many feel similarly knocked down (albeit for very different reason). Still, this is the first time that Rebecca’s descent into crisis feels routine, and her tendency to latch on to the first immediate quick-fix that crosses her path even more so. It’s not the audience to whom it’s more of the same. It’s the people in Rebecca’s life, Heather and Greg in particular, who have seen this all before. They know the story, and they know what comes next.
That’s part of what makes Paula’s storyline such a remarkable achievement. Briganto and episode writer Erin Ehrlich do something truly important here, and it’s so deliberately straightforward, so matter-of-fact, that it’s easy to forget how much it means.
In this week, I’m sure there are people out there who have no interest in reading about what a remarkable thing it is to see an abortion handled with simplicity, grace, and total lack of manufactured drama. If you’re in a place where you just can’t bear to think about women’s health, the right to choose, or the fact that Paula’s storyline is such a rare one, here’s all you need to know: Ehrlich, Briganto, Donna Lynne ”Give Her an Emmy Right Now” Champlin, and Steve Monroe do a tremendous job. It’s beautifully written, well-acted, and precisely focused on the things on which it should be focused: Paula’s life, Paula’s choices, Paula’s happiness, and Paula’s relationships. It is apolitical, which is really saying something, given how political an issue it is. Now you can stop reading, and skim down to the next bolded section.
For the rest of you—right fucking on, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Right on, The CW. Right on, Aline Brosh McKenna and Bloom and all the other writers and producers on the show. And especially, right on, Champlin and Ehrlich. What you did matters, and perhaps even more now than it did a few days ago.
Paula’s storyline isn’t political, and that makes it an inherently political thing. We so rarely see abortion storylines where the woman has the love and support of her partner, where the choice isn’t the result of some depraved trauma or colored as an act of betrayal in some way. This isn’t stigmatized, and it’s not puffed up or over-dramatized in any way. This is just a woman making a choice based on what’s best for her, her family, and her future. “There are options,” Scott tells Paula. She shoots him down at first, but there are, and so a character on an hour-long network comedy has an abortion and the single most dramatic thing about it is that she keeps it from her best friend. It’s not driven by shame, or remorse. She just seems to know she’s not going to get what she needs, and so she says nothing.
It’s impossible to watch everything in a total vacuum, and this is a case where some won’t be able to manage it. Not every show you see this week will make you think of the election, and not everyone who sees this episode will be as moved by Ehrlich’s writing as I was. But the absolutely novelty of a woman exercising her right to choose in such a decidedly personal way, without grandstanding or making a Very Special Episode of it, feels revolutionary. It feels like how things should be. It’s not casual, or arrived at lightly, but it’s also not anyone else’s business.
Best of all, it’s the B story. Were it not so unusual, the bulk of this review would be spent talking about how on earth we’ll get Greg back (if indeed we do—that last scene feels pretty final, no?) and the nuances of dream ghosts and polter-guys, about the rise of Heather the person who does things and the last-minute reveal of Valencia and the donut. That’s how it should be, and maybe that’s how it will be, someday. But whatever else this episode is or isn’t, it is, without a doubt, one of the best episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to date.
- Yael Grobglas! Trina, the CEO of Miss Douche, clearly has some things to work out herself.
- Interestingly, both of the big numbers hint at a pair of classic songs—the former, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” from South Pacific and “Moses Supposes” from Singin’ in the Rain; the latter, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were”
- Hector Award: That’s gotta go to Christine Estabrook (American Horror Story, Desperate Housewives) as Mrs. Heather. Both parents were excellent, but that makeover dance was so charming my little heart couldn’t take it.
- “A play about pieces of feces is what we are together!”
- “But where should we finish?” “Please not on my chest.”
- “Probably should not mention blood when I’m pitching it.”
- “They all look like gorgeous mermaids who grew feet and went to Coachella.”
- “Hair! Nailies! Sparkle magic horse!”
- Did you catch the big display of participation ribbons in Heather’s house?