Maybe I should just rename this column Penultimate Television Roulette. I dealt with this all winter, and now it’s time for the spring version. I’ll do my best to make sure I don’t use penultimate for for the rest of this piece, but no promises, because that word has a life of its own. Anyhow, this week I will be looking at The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a show that has garnered a fair amount of support despite its bad title. Is this support warranted, or is this just another example of The CW blinding throwing something against a wall and hoping a non-super hero or supernatural show will stick? Find out right after the rundown.
TV Roulette Week 15
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; ‘Why Is Josh in a Bad Mood?,’ Season 1, Episode 17
April 11th 2016
Have I Seen This Show Before?
Not really, I have seen clips or watched a little while channel surfing.
Victim of there being too much else to watch. Terrible titles are not helpful in these cases.
Seriously, let’s just get this out of the way. The terribleness of this title is hard to look past. Though admittedly it does lead to an awesome opening title sequence.
Like Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) said, this title has a lot of nuance to it. It’s supposed to be a bit of satire, as one of this show’s goals is to deconstruct that trope. So points for cleverness, especially in a television world where every other show basically just picks a name based on whatever noun or verb the show is more or less about. Still, titles are supposed to help a viewer at least somewhat have an inkling about what show they are watching, and a satirical title that is too clever for its own good doesn’t help anyone. Now, this isn’t as bad a title as, say, Cougar Town, whose terrible title quickly got even worse after the show jettisoned its original (also terrible) cougar-related premise once it figured out the strength of its show was simply putting its cast on-screen together to bounce off each other and drink wine and beer. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend at least is in the ballpark of the show’s subject matter. The problem is that in the world of too much television, it is hard enough to get people to watch your show without forcing a show’s defenders to explain and contextualize the title before actually explaining what the show is about. It’s an unnecessary burden, and one that can dog a show from day one. (If that’s a pun directed at Terriers, too far, man. – Ed)
Also not helping: the press the show’s pilot received, as no one seemed to know how to properly advertise or talk about this show. Admittedly, it can be hard to explain a show like this beca– what’s that? This is simply a show with musical tendencies that deals with the messiness of relationships and issues from the perspective of both sexes, but especially women? Oh. Well, that’s not hard to explain at all… in fact, I wish that had been the explanation I had been given, instead of being told this is a comedy show about a woman who moves her entire life so she can pursue a former love interest and shown preview packages of the main character being as grating and “crazy” as possible. This made it hard to take the show seriously, as the promos especially made it feel like a show that didn’t seem worth watching and which couldn’t possibly last. Basically everything about this show was mishandled initially, as The CW clearly didn’t have a great handle on what kind of show they actually had. Considering this show was originally developed for Showtime, this makes some sense, as The CW still needed to figure out how to make this show fit with the rest of their brand. It was potentially a good pair with the other network outlier, Jane the Virgin; there are worse ways to go, and just like Jane the Virgin, last season the network was able to help secure Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a Golden Globe win for Best Actress in a Comedy Series, so not a total whiff. With that said, these initial hurdles have made it hard for the show to build up anywhere close to impressive ratings. This show really had to rely on word of mouth from people who were able to stick with the show after the bad title, poor marketing, and a pilot that drew mixed reviews. This worked well enough to get the show renewed, so The CW kind of stumbled its way to success, but the show owes a lot of its renewal to The CW simply deciding to bring back all of its shows for at least one more season (even Reign).
Still, there are actual reasons this show has built a passionate following: it is one of the most unique shows on television. It’s honest about relationships and human nature in a way that many shows aren’t. Plus, its a musical, and not in the Glee, “Let’s sell songs on iTunes” kind of way (though this show certainly isn’t going to say no to selling its songs on iTunes), but in the “Let’s comment about life” kind of way. This is a show where not only do Rebecca and Greg (Santino Fontana) have a discussion about what UTIs are, but Greg then sings a ridiculous song about it. Seriously.
This is an honest show, and this episode did a really good job of exploring what it means to be in a new relationship, especially between two people that have a complicated history. There is an authenticity to the way both of them struggle to admit how serious they want the relationship to be–Greg because he fears being hurt by Rebecca again, and Rebecca because after fixating on Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) for so long she is unsure how to properly move forward with someone else. Both Bloom and Fontana really shine in these scenes, and their chemistry is quite impressive.
What really makes this show stand out, however, is how weird it is. This is showcased in the stories involving Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) and Josh. Paula’s story is intriguing because it really demonstrates the importance of female friendship. She’s more devastated than Rebecca at this point that Rebecca has moved on from Josh, because so much of their friendship has been based around Paula helping Rebecca try to win him. So watching Rebecca go out of her way this episode to prove that Paula and her are friends no matter what is entertaining. Especially when it leads to the two of them dressing up as robbers and sneaking into a rival pie maker’s shop to see if they can figure out a secret ingredient that makes her pie win the pie eating contest every year. The physical comedy in these scenes is top notch, and Rebecca treating the bakery as if it had the same security as a high security vault is one of the funniest bits of the episode. Champlin plays off Bloom very well, and the two of them navigating a new phase in their friendship is quite funny, especially when everything comes crashing down when Paula finds out that Rebecca is sleeping with Greg. Paula does not approve (because she is totally Team Josh), and Bloom’s attempts to pretend she is still asleep in the hospital (after she passes out from not treating her UTI properly–this show knows how to go there) are adorably endearing and hilarious.
Still, the most entertaining moment of the episode comes from the Josh side of things. Josh spends the entire episode acting like a little bitch as he gets angrier and angrier that Rebecca no longer seems interested in him and has likely moved on to his best friend Greg. Josh spends the episode trying to figure out why he is so angry, and it is delightful, especially when he tries to explore these feelings while talking to Father Brah (Rene Gube). Brah rightly calls out Josh for being “a little bitch,” and not living with his decisions. Josh had his chance with Rebecca, but decided to stay with his girlfriend Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz). Now he has to accept the fact that his decisions have consequences. He doesn’t get to keep Valencia and still get to have all the attention Rebecca has clearly showered on him throughout the season. The question is, does Josh now think he made a mistake, and realizes he should be with Rebecca? Or does he simply selfishly want her attention squarely placed on him, even if such attention is incredibly unhealthy for her? At this point, Josh may not even know, and he may not even know by the end of the finale, where there is a strong possibility that he will try to do something to wreck Rebecca and Greg’s relationship because that is what happens in love triangles, even when one of the points isn’t sure if he wants to be in said triangle.
Of course, all of this hides the most interesting part of this episode: Rebecca seems to have her shit together. In fact, she seems happy. It seems that being with a person who actually likes you is more fulfilling than pining for someone who might. Plus, you know it means she isn’t trying to steal someone else’s boyfriend. This being the penultimate (dammit, mission failed) episode and all, this happiness is likely fleeting in some way, but for now her biggest concern is the worry that she may actually really like Greg.
Seriously, I thought Galavant did a great job deconstructing a love song, but this song is a perfect blend of hope and terror as Rebecca realizes that she might be in a real relationship. Bloom shines here, and showcases the range that proved her Golden Globe win was totally justified (we’ll just ignore the fact that the Hollywood Foreign Press likely gave it to her because her show was shiny and new and not because she is awesome).
Overall, the episode does do a remarkable job of table setting for the finale, with questions of how Rebecca will deal with her new relationship with Greg, Paula’s hatred of Greg, and whatever the hell Josh plans to do to fuck up her healthy state of mind. These are the kind of questions finales are made of, and lesser showers would have phoned this episode in, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend knows what it is doing, and provides quite the entertaining hour. That’s really all you can ask for. Well, that and getting a show with a diverse cast and strong feminist message, which is also deconstructing the hell out of romantic tropes. That’s something I can get on board with.
Notes and Observations
- I love the title of this episode, because at some level Josh has to be angry when the episode is barely about him in anyway. That’s got to hurt for a character that has clearly been the center of attention for most of the show’s run. Now the meta world of the show has turned against him for an episode, so that’s got to grind his gears.
- Hector (Erick Lopez) thinking he would get to have a threesome with cousins is a funny moment, especially when the two girls can’t believe he doesn’t realize they are joking, because seriously, they’re cousins.
- These characters all seem to be remarkably flawed, which is also a nice change of pace for a show like this. For a show with such an out there style, grounding its characters in reality has clearly allowed it to be as creative as it wants without making everything seem completely out of control.
- Josh gets a song in this episode that takes advantage of Rodriguez’s dance and martial art skills. It’s completely over-the-top and makes him look like a weird mix between both Cobra Kai and Daniel from The Karate Kid. Doesn’t work as well for me as the first two, because it seems too oriented toward moving the plot along, but it works well enough.
- Yeah, still not thrilled with the show’s title. We are just not ready for clever titles.
Episode Grade: B+
Will I watch more?
Likely, just not sure when or how much. This could be a show where I just watch next week’s finale and start back fresh for season 2, or I could go back and binge watch all of it. Could go either way. I am thrilled this show is on television, and do need to watch it in some fashion.
That’s it for this week’s TV Roulette. Tune in next week for more. Until then, remember, the best way to see if a bakery has laser tripwires is lots and lots of flour.