Very little about “I’m Almost Over You” looks or sounds like a typical Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episode. The camera moves differently. The score functions differently. The jokes have a different rhythm, the performances a very different quality. The protagonist isn’t the protagonist. Other Rebecca is nowhere to be found. It is, in short, nothing like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, if you ignore the fact that it’s pretty much Crazy Ex-Girlfriend boiled down to its purest form. It is, to use one of those trusty Sports Analogies, a big, big swing. And my oh my, does that swing pay off.
Attempt to describe Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s modus operandi over the last four seasons, and odds are you’ll end up with something like this: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend uses the tropes of romantic comedy, musical theatre, and other genres both narrative and musical to explore the ways Rebecca Bunch and those in her orbit relate to the world, to those they love, and to themselves.” In short, real life isn’t a movie, but movies can sometimes help. They can hurt sometimes, too.
So we arrive at “I’m Almost Over You,” an hour-long deconstruction and parody of rom-coms that allows one of the show’s most dramatically transformed characters to reach a new, heartbreaking place of personal growth. To get there, he’s got to try on a genre in an immersive way. He’s got to go through some shit. And what he wants to learn and what he actually learns are two very different things.
The episode referenced in the above tweet from Aline Brosh McKenna is this one: “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy,” sometimes referred to simply as “SwimChan.” It’s Rebecca’s sexy-scary-lady movie. Like this one, it adopts the language of another genre entirely, not for a song, but from start to finish; like this one, it arrives at the perfect ending for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s honest take on that genre. Rebecca’s horror story isn’t threatening Lourdes and standing near a pit, it’s waking up with Greg’s dad and walking to her shitty hostel through the streets alone. Nathaniel’s rom-com isn’t an underwhelming karaoke number, it’s looking into the fact of the woman he loves and realizing his two choices are step away and let her try to be happy, or keep pushing and take away the one thing you should always want for people you love. Honest horror. Honest romance. Deconstructions that are also excellent examples. Reminders that life isn’t fictional, told fictionally.
There’s another big thing these episodes have in common: They function as showcases for the remarkable talents on which they center. The first time around, it was Rachel Bloom and Vincent Rodriguez, finding a way to be funny while playing the nightmare with great sincerity (every single performance in that episode is excellent, but they’re at center stage). This time, it’s Scott Michael Foster and Esther Povitsky, the latter tasked with handling most of the parodying (with help from the Mountaintop crew, and Donna Lynne Champlin in particular). Povitsky is great, maybe the episode’s MVP in terms of percentage of punchlines landed, but this is Scott Michael Foster’s hour, and he absolutely nails it.
Think of what he’s asked to do here. The episode’s many, many rom-com references begin with a proper Big-ing, also known as getting 13 Going On 30-ed; there’s no bop on the head required, he’s doing this all on his own. That means his first task is to show us that Nathaniel is both living through and watching from outside the story. He knows there’s a script, he just doesn’t know what’s coming. He’s got a whole band of ill-defined characters, most at least somewhat aware of their deficiency (again, Donna Lynne Champlin’s terrified emptiness is something majestic to behold), a frumpy new look, a meaningless high-stakes task set by a maniacal boss (one of several nods to The Devil Wears Prada, which was of course adapted by McKenna), and a goal: Get Rebecca (here the undeserving ex, a rom-com standard) back, at all costs.
He’s got one other thing: A treasure trove of knowledge gleamed from watching only the first half of a bunch of rom-coms. That’s why Nathaniel doesn’t know he’s making a huge mistake in heading down the “let’s make our exes jealous with our fake relationship” path. This is some damn fine writing (credited to Michael Hitchcock, pulling double duty here by also standing in for Miranda Priestly). Anyone with a passing knowledge of rom-coms will know without being told (though he does eventually tell us) that Nathaniel didn’t finish the movies, because if he had, he’d know that the person with whom you have a fake relationship is almost always the actual endgame. And that’s (almost) exactly what happens. They plot. They makeover. They have a karaoke party. They work late hours and cover each other with blankets. Then Nathaniel sets out to make his big dramatic gesture, and realizes what anyone who’s ever finished a rom-com knew would happen: He’s chasing the wrong girl.
But this isn’t How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days. It’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. So we don’t get the ending we expect, because real life isn’t a movie. Life is a gradual series of revelations that occur over a period of time. It’s not some carefully crafted story, it’s a mess and we’re all gonna die.
This hour belongs to Scott Michael Foster—he brings the sharp edge the script requires, all while basically creating an hour-long audition for the rom-coms in which he’ll inevitably be cast—but the twist is all Povitsky’s. She’s so funny throughout, but the frank, tender goodbye speech she gives—as Rebecca—is considerably weightier. And then director Erin Ehrlich cuts back to Maya, and Maya’s gone. It’s just Rebecca, not the underserving ex version, the real one. And in that moment, she tells him—which means that really, Nathaniel tells himself—that it’s time to let the person he loves be happy. It’s time to be a good person, an honestly good, loving person, and walk away.
The odds of “I’m Almost Over You” being the last we see of Nathaniel Plimpton III are basically zero, but if this were his end, it would be a perfect one. The guy who fired George for kicks now confides in him, and casts him as his best friend in his own fantasies. The “Let’s Have Intercourse” guy sobs on a pizza delivery person’s shoulder, having used his own emotional intelligence to figure his shit out (“Tell me I’m okay, Pizza Guy...”). It’s a hell of an arc, and a hell of a performance.
This episode won’t thrill everyone. No one is themselves, and so basically everyone but Nathaniel gets put on hold. But in handing this hour over to Hitchcock, Ehrlish, Povitsky, and Foster, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend creates something singular. What’s more, it does something that I really wish it wasn’t: It moves gently, but confidently, into the beginning of its end.
- Nice touch: Greg is in recovery even in Nathaniel’s rom-com fantasy.
- Fun fact I learned while writing this review: If you search for Miranda Priestly, Google pulls Anna Wintour’s Wikipedia page.
- GGG Award: Way to go, pizza guy! Nailed it.