Sometimes a tv show feels like it was written just for you, and that’s definitely the case with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for me. For one thing I’m passionate about musicals, especially those which are wondrously funny, and comedy is something I kind of tolerate on occasion, but the series is also about the lead character’s mental health issues and without going in to too much detail I’ve had my fair share of those as well. I’m fortunate that it’s been nowhere near as severe as Rebecca’s, but very few tv shows explore such issues and it’s refreshing to see it done so well and so considerately.
The first season is fairly playful when it comes to Rebecca’s various issues and doesn’t particularly suggest that she has any serious problems, but throughout seasons two and three it becomes more and more clear just how much she needs help. All of this may sound a tad bleak, understandably, but the series is often joyously funny too. Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna have created a truly unique show, one which deals with difficult subjects whilst often being hilarious. The songs are also some of the best to be ever found in the genre, and given my love for musicals I don’t say that lightly.
The show also has some beautifully well defined supporting characters, most importantly Rebecca’s closest friend Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), who initially thrives on the craziness Rebecca brings in to her life, especially as her own marriage is a stolid state. Over the seasons this relationship has only grown stronger despite all of the madness, as they’ve addressed their issues and it’s been beautiful to see. Oh, and Paula can belt out a mean tune too, as last season’s The Miracle Of Birth showed so well. Then there’s her cheesy but lovable boss Darryl (Pete Gardner) and his relationship with White Josh (David Hull), one of the best portrayals of a gay couple on tv (if only Modern Family would take note of how to show to men who actually love each other), Rebecca’s previous boyfriends Greg (Santino Fontana during seasons 1 and 2 but who amusingly is set to be played by Skylar Astin this year), and Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), close friends Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz) and Heather (Vella Lovell), and I feel a bit mean for not going in to why those characters are so great too, along with others from the cast, but this review is already overlong considering how I haven’t yet begun to discuss the new episode.
Season three ended with Rebecca in court having pushed her stalker, Trent, off of a roof. Such an action was well deserved given that he was about to try to kill fairly new boyfriend Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster), and had treated Rebecca appallingly since the series began, but there was a lack of evidence as to his all round shittyness. And it was also at this point that Rebecca felt the urge to come clean, to be responsible for her actions, and whilst her timing might not have been the best it was an extremely important moment for the character. Season four begins straight after this, with Rebecca and co in the judge’s chambers, though Nathaniel’s gone, which is probably for the best given that he’s in a romantic relationship with the defendant and so couldn’t represent her anyway, which is something I’m glad the show addressed. The judge won’t accept her plea, largely because “It wasn’t a really a plea, it was more of a speech filled with irreverent details that you delivered with your back to me” but Rebecca’s insistent on pleading guilty, if not for this crime but all her previous ones, believing “Jail is what I deserve”. So she gets what she wants, if only until she decides to give the judge a proper plea.
Glow’s Britney Young (as superb here as she is in that series) is Rebecca’s cell mate, and like the other prisoners we’re introduced to she offers up a harsh if much needed dose of reality. Understandably Rebecca’s not coping well, but then finds some reason to exist by joining the theatre group run by the non profit Bright Lights In The Big House. Soon enough she’s running things and belting out South Pacific’s “I’m in love with a wonderful guy” much to the annoyance of the other prisoners, which leads to the first song of the episode, “What’s Your Story?”. To be honest it’s not one of my favourites being a somewhat disjointed effort, but it’s important to the narrative as it reveals the true reality and bleakness of incarceration as it tells of the reasons why her fellow prisoners are there. But when she shares her own story “To show them how it’s done” the other inmates are appalled when they discover Rebecca chose to be in prison. It effectively highlights the poor decision she’s made, along with the privilege she has, and perhaps most importantly strips away Rebecca’s belief that a song and a dance can help save the day.
During all of this Nathaniel and Josh are coming to terms with events in their own particular ways, with Nathaniel putting himself through his own version of penance by going on a “Death Wish Adventure”, in one of the funniest moments of the episode he’s thrown out of a van in to the woods and chirpily shouts “Great beating guys, thank you”. It’s of course completely the wrong thing to do, but he’s a mess right now and rather than thinking rationally – and being there for Rebecca – he tortures himself. Josh is doing the same as well, reconsidering his whole relationship with Rebecca until taking the easy way out, something he has done all too often, by deciding that he must have mental health issues too. Hector’s on hand to respond “Maybe. Or maybe you’re a little oblivious, self-absorbed and need to be more aware of the world around you” but naturally Josh rejects such criticism, excited by the idea of having an excuse for all his actions, and after taking a few online tests decides he has OCD, ADHD, Synesthesia and hey, maybe he’s even on the autism spectrum too.
Considering Rebecca’s actually innocent and was only trying to save Nathaniel’s life it would of course be an injustice if she had spent much more time in prison, no matter how she’s acted previously, and so it’s a relief when 25 minutes in it turns out that Trent woken up from his coma and confessed all, and Rebecca is going to be free. She’s appalled as she doesn’t feel she’s suffered enough, cue the second song of the episode seeing Rebecca in her cell, Nathaniel in the woods, and Josh in a bar alone and all are struggling with the fact that “No one else is singing my song. No one knows the rhythm enough to sing along.” It’s a classic Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song, with a little meta commentary on events, and one of the best they’ve ever done, with the rest of the cast (and Grocery Clerk With Half An Eyelid played by Ben Siemon) joining in with the song, which made me grin so much it quickly began to hurt and is quite frankly bloody fantastic stuff.
Fortunately there’s resolution for all, with Josh going to see the therapist Dr. Man Akopian (because Crazy Ex is always great when it comes to naming characters), where we see him say “And that’s my life story” and the good doctor replies “It really is, you started at conception”. But he goes on to reassure Josh that whilst he doesn’t have any of the disorders he thought he had, therapy will take a long time. Which echoes Rebecca’s own story, whilst there’s only 17 episodes left it’d be foolish to think that she’ll be in any way miraculously cured. But as long as she’s still continuing her journey and trying to do better, that’s all that really matters. Meanwhile George (delightful as ever, especially when it comes to his love of ska) turns up in the woods to help Nathaniel out, and to tell him to stop torturing himself, and when he receives a text informing him that Rebecca is free he returns to civilisation.
Finally Rebecca gets some answers too, initially she’s still lost and feeling guilty, and when Nathaniel arrives at her “Welcome Home From Jail” party they share a passionate kiss. But Nathaniel’s always one for a quick fix, reverting to selfish behaviour and wishing to whisk Rebecca away to Hawaii, but thankfully she knows that now’s not the time, and she has a lot of work to do before she’s in that place. Of course it’s never that simple, and she’s still in self pity mode claiming “Everything I do is wrong” but having the amazing friends that she does, she’s challenged on this by Valencia who tells her “Do something good for the world that actually helps or shut up, but stop whining” and it’s the wake up call Rebecca needs. Hell, it might be the wake up call that we may all need given the state of the world right now. Or maybe I’m projecting my own issues on to society there. But I’m not convinced that’s the case at all.
The episode ends with Paula asking the question we all want to know – “So what’s next cookie?” and it cuts to Rebecca visiting the prison. To the prisoners relief she’s not their to offer theatrical advice, but is volunteering free legal help, and it’s the first step on a journey which will hopefully do a lot of good. And then there’s a fantastic coda between Paula and Trent because who doesn’t love it when Paula kicks ass for the friend she loves the most, despite their many issues.
Throughout the episode there’s discussion of many important themes and concepts, from privilege to the realities of prison, how to deal with guilt and of course mental health, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also a funny episode. Admittedly the first half is more sombre than the series often is, but given the subject matter and the way it deals with the repercussions of the third season finale it was always likely to be. But there’s a lot of wry humour in the ways the other prisoners treat Rebecca, and some laugh out loud moments thanks to Nathaniel and Josh, along with a fantastic running joke about online Sex and the City quizzes. Add to this one liners from the likes of Heather and Valencia, with the latter serving as the voice of reason in the episode though as always there’s a sliver of narcissism involved, like when she visits Rebecca in prison and asks “What are you eating, you look so tight, I wish I was in jail”, and it’s clear that the show is more than capable of making it’s audience laugh even when events seem bleak.
This is the final season of the show and jesus I will miss it when it’s gone. But in some strange way I’m glad it’s coming to an end as if they maintain this quality (which I have no doubt they will) it will work as a beautifully self contained story with an amazing narrative from beginning to end, and I’m sure it’ll be a series I’ll watch again and again. And whilst viewing figures are low right now I hope word spreads, and many many more people will see just how wonderful a show it is.