There is no question that The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was among the year’s most ambitious shows, but it took me a while to warm to it.
The reason for this is actually fairly straightforward: I struggled with the fact that the “premise” of the show seemed so at odds with what made it compelling. Rebecca’s efforts to win the love and attention of Josh Chan were the central narrative engine of the show in the earlygoing, shaping her relationship with West Covina, and risking defining her character by a relationship I never bought. The show wanted to push against this, and uses its opening theme to give Rebecca a chance to articulate the intended irony of the show’s title, but the text and the title sequence didn’t always line up for me. The show was more about Josh than I wanted it to be, especially given that I thought Josh was kind of a dolt—I didn’t connect to the characters’ relationship, and so I didn’t connect to the primary way the show was pushing the story forward.
The show started to correct itself as it went along, and eventually it emerged with a fairly profound understanding of its premise: Rebecca may have come to West Covina because Josh lived there, but her actual “move” was focused less on what she was running to and more what she was running from: her unhappiness with her life in New York. And more recently, the show has approached a similarly profound realization that instead of moving toward Josh realizing that he was in love with Rebecca, his brief romantic moment with her would instead help him realize that he was unsatisfied in his relationship with Valencia. It was the show correcting my issue perfectly: Rebecca realizes that Josh was a means to an end of getting her into a healthier place, and Josh realizes that Rebecca was there to help him reach his potential (which extends into Rebecca helping him to get a job and believe in himself in other storylines).
And so I went into tonight’s finale believing that the show was heading in this direction, and was accordingly disappointed, although that’s as much on me as it is on the show. Basically, if everything had worked out the way I had wanted it to, there would be no show. Rebecca would be able to happily settle into a life of West Covina lawyering, free to pursue a relationship with Greg or anyone else. Josh could move on from Valencia, and pursue some of his various life goals in whatever way he saw fit. In the back half of the season, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend basically choreographed its ideal ending, a realistic and honest consideration of the way we gain perspective in our lives, and so I went into this finale believing that this was imminent…which meant I also forgot that this was a television show.
And so “Paula Needs To Get Over Josh!” gets very plot-heavy, warping the characters to set up a cliffhanger that returns to the kind of messed up dynamics that came before. Rebecca get swept up in a romanticized ideal of love at the same time that Greg decides what she really wants is for him to be detached and kind of an asshole about everything; Valencia breaks up with Josh just as he’s harboring (natural) feelings of jealousy regarding Rebecca and Greg’s relationship, and immediately after Greg has drunken himself into a stupor and left Rebecca alone at a wedding. It’s a finale where everyone gets the situation wrong: Greg says “You’re cool” instead of “I love you,” Rebecca gives into an image of romantic love to the point where she actually believes she came to West Covina for Josh, and Josh realizes that he’s fed that narrative in a moment of personal desperation and come away with—from some people’s perspectives—a “Crazy Girlfriend” for his trouble.
I’m mad at all of this. The finale starts off in a really interesting place, with Paula’s showstopping number exposing the basic truth that Rebecca’s search for Josh was perpetuated as much by her friend as it was by her. It speaks to the fact that Rebecca’s focus on Josh was on some level about her lack of focus on herself, and she experienced the song in a hospital bed after having failed to take care of her own body. And so to see her regress as the episode goes on was frustrating, especially since the love triangle was never the show’s most compelling element for me.
But as noted, if they had transcended instead of regressing, the show’s central conflict would have been completely gone, necessitating the type of reboot that no show would wish upon itself (especially at the end of a surely exhausting cycle of musical television production). And so, we have a totally natural outcome that I reject both because I became too aware of where I wanted the story to go, and because—and this could have been helped—it felt like the regression happened too quickly. The shortened back order for the show—with only five additional episodes after the initial 13—made sense from The CW’s perspective, but it created a sudden right turn for the characters, and “blew up” their progress in a way that went a few steps too far. The back half of this season demonstrated the show understands these characters extremely well, but the finale mostly hedged on doing much with them, choosing instead to hit various self-destruct buttons and delay their progress as opposed to finding new ways to build conflict while moving them forward.
That doesn’t preclude the show from continuing its inventiveness next year, but it makes me a little less excited entering into the hiatus than I was a few weeks ago.
- The sheer scale of Adam Schlesinger’s music production on this season was impressive, but it was the movements between genres that really adds to the degree of difficulty. Curious to see whether any of the show’s songs gain much traction at the Emmys, where actual “musical TV” has never necessarily dominated in the Original Music and Lyrics category.
- Disappointed to see that the plot focus of the finale pushed the supporting characters off to the side: Paula gets a central role, but disappears mid-episode, and White Josh and Darryl got robbed of any kind of story after being shuttled off to play procedural roles with Greg and Paula at key moments.
- I am going to need some time to sort through the (almost absurd) number of songs to pick a favorite, but I really loved the melody change in the chorus to “I Think I Like You” last week, and “Dream Ghost” has stuck with me, and every time they used reprises of “West Covina” and “I Have Friends” as dramatic underscore I got excited, so…you’re gonna have to come back to me.