Musicals were made for embarrassing emotions. If the musical is good enough, it can blindside you with them. One minute you’re thinking, A musical? About Alexander Hamilton? Next thing you know, you’re wracked with violent sobs as Aaron Burr sings about his wife. Aaron Burr! The guy from that old milk commercial! Such is the power of musical theater. The earnest, borderline cheesy sincerity of the genre allows you to more easily access your most heartfelt feelings.
And ain’t nothing cheesier than true love! We meet Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s main character, Rebecca (Rachel Bloom), at the end of high-school musical summer camp, as she says good-bye to her hunky, sort of blah boyfriend, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III). Between her braces, her intensity, and her casual reference to a feigned suicide attempt, however, it’s not super surprising when Josh decides to dip, leaving Rebecca crushed and alone with her unseen mother, whose voice mails and offscreen criticism indicate that she is a Gorgon-level monster. “You’re really dramatic and, like … weird,” Josh informs Rebecca before sprinting away forever.
A decade later, that weird little musical-theater nerd is a polished lawyer on the cusp of professional success, as well as a deep depression. Rebecca knows she should be happy when she finds out she has made partner. She tells herself so while she has a panic attack in a parking garage while dropping her anxiety medication all over the pavement. Rebecca knows she should be happy with her nice apartment and half-a-million-dollar salary. So what if she is constantly Baader-Meinhof-ing the same butter advertisement everywhere she goes, the one that asks, “When was the last time you felt truly happy?” (“What a weird ad campaign,” Rebecca muses out loud.) Surely Rebecca is happy, because, as she herself puts it, her success is “on-paper fantastic.” That’s the same thing as being happy, right?
Then Rebecca runs into Josh Chan on the street, and the whole thing busts wide open. Of course! That’s why Rebecca hasn’t been happy! She was missing out on the love of her life! Sadly, Josh is moving home to West Covina, California, but tells Rebecca to hit him up the next time she is on the West Coast. “If I had only known you’d be so successful and hot …” Josh laughs, as if he is TRYING to make his ex-girlfriend turn down a partnership and suddenly move to his hometown 19 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
Which Rebecca of course then does, in the first of the episode’s two songs, “West Covina,” a charming, Disney-style song in the vein of Belle’s opening number from Beauty and the Beast. Rebecca sings the praises of her new town, a town in which Josh just happens to live, these things are VERY unrelated, clearly, everyone can see that, she is not acting crazy. See, apparently Rebecca doesn’t actually understand that she moved to California to follow her ex, even if the audience does. The residents of West Covina dance behind her in her fantasy as Rebecca celebrates their Applebee’s, their miles of concrete, their giant pretzels, and their high-school marching band, which is defunded before our very eyes. Apologies to the actual residents of West Covina.
Man, what a cold open! We regrettably lose our butter shaman (shamargarine?) and the more divine parts of Rebecca’s fantasy in West Covina, though we certainly don’t lose any oddness. Now detached from her mother and any friends she might have had (she didn’t have any friends, did she? Yeah, I’m guessing no), Rebecca leans hard into her new romantic delusion. She whistles while dumping her meds down the sink. She texts Josh that she HAPPENS to be in town, then waits. And waits. And waits.
Since Rebecca has some time on her hands, she starts a job as an attorney at Whitefeather & Associates, a law firm collectively agog at her staggering academic credentials. Her boss is named Darryl “Chief” Whitefeather (Pete Gardner), and Lord, is he sad. Darryl celebrates his one-eighth Chippewa heritage with an office full of wolf paintings and attempts to bond with Rebecca over his favorite New York pizza place. “It starts with a D. Duuuuh. Have you heard of that one?” he asks. Darryl repeatedly refers to Rebecca as a Jew to her face (“I honestly had no idea. That is a TINY nose. A button!”), then bursts into tears over his ongoing divorce and impending custody battle. I’m excited to see how Rebecca interacts with Darryl and the other more obviously crazy characters in her world. So far, she treats every Not Josh with a mixture of half-concern and impatience. Speaking of her beloved, as soon as Rebecca sees Josh has checked in on Foursquare, she’s out the door. Once she’s gone, Darryl sobs alone. “The Jew thing? Why did I say that?” he weeps. Jesus, Darryl. Yeah, why did you? You’re 19 miles from L.A.! Clearly you have met Jewish people! Pull it together, man!
While at work, Rebecca also makes her first enemy in head paralegal Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), who is immediately put off when Rebecca mistakes her for her assistant. “Who is this person?” Paula glowers. Within seconds, Paula has dedicated herself to finding out the REAL story behind Rebecca’s move to West Covina, even going so far as to confront Rebecca in the break room in pursuit of the “truth.” Sadly, we never get to hear exactly what Paula imagines Rebecca might be up to in West Covina other than just going to Applebee’s and hitting up that wine bar/liquor store (Hiding from the mafia? Assuming a new identity?), but that ambiguity mixed with her tenacity and venom lets you know pretty quickly that Paula lives about two blocks from Crazy Town herself.
Rebecca is successful in tracking Josh to a sports bar, only to a meet hunky, wry Love Interest by the name of Greg (Santino Fontana.) Fortunately for Rebecca, it turns out Greg is friends with Josh! Fortunately for us, Greg is extremely into pretty, disinterested women and extremely scornful of his Podunk one-Applebee’s town. Greg asks Rebecca to be his date to a party, and wouldn’t you know it? Josh Chan is going to be there! Rebecca knows this is her chance.
Which brings us to “The Sexy Getting Ready Song,” a slinky little pop number about the pain and suffering inherent in virtually every goddamn beauty ritual. While the dum-dum things women put themselves through to feel slippery and colorful enough to attract a man are by now well-worn territory, “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” is catchy, and the contrast between sexiness and ingrown-hair-inducing pre-sex rituals biting. The video reminded me of Christina Milian’s “Pick It Up Slow,” or The Pussycat Dolls’ entire oeuvre, but with more jets of ass blood.
Musical numbers and ass blood? This pilot has everything!
With such hilarious, tight musical numbers, it’s easy to forgive the slower, more meandering moments in the script. Once Rebecca and Greg arrive at the party, Greg is determined to connect with her despite all the screaming red flags. “To broken people,” Rebecca toasts. Oh, Greg, you fool! After a few too many mentions of Josh, Greg eventually (and wisely) decides to bail. In response, Rebecca starts to seduce him. Hard. She seduces Greg over here, where she can see if Josh is on the patio. She seduces Greg over there, in case Josh is in the living room. At first all the make-out scenes felt a little bit like filler (We get it! She likes Josh! Not this handsome fool!) until Greg drops the bomb that Josh isn’t coming to the party. Because he has a girlfriend. Whom he moved home to be with. Still mid-make-out, Rebecca loses it. “What is the little boy going?” she whimpers in a wittle baby voice as Greg starts to leave, her hand snaking up through the neck hole of his sweater. Barf. Oh, and then she starts crying. It’s awkward and horrible. Whatever control Rebecca thought she had over the situation goes out the window. And then Paula shows up.
As it turns out, while Rebecca scrubbed, loofah-ed and plucked, Paula sneaked onto her work computer and discovered Rebecca’s obsessive Facebookery. One might wonder why Paula is so convinced that checking a man’s Facebook 63 times in one day is (1) a secret and (2) the reason someone would move somewhere, but I presume the answer is, “Because she is two sandwiches short of a teddy bear’s picnic.” “Josh Chan!” Paula screams across the lawn to Rebecca’s horror. Paula is triumphant, ready to bring this virtual stranger to her knees.
Her failure to find Josh, her sexual humiliation with Greg, and the memory of waxing her own butt hair for absolutely no reason is too much for Rebecca to bear. She starts to spiral, and by spiral, I mean regain her grasp on reality. We basically see her go “crazy,” but in reverse. “Oh my God, I’m crazy,” Rebecca realizes, her façade crumbling. “I’m not in love. That would be stupid. I would be stupid.”
Then, in a breathtaking narrative hairpin, Paula gets onboard with Rebecca’s crazy romantic fantasy. “You’re not crazy. You’re not stupid. You’re brave,” Paula tells her, activated by Rebecca’s romantic quest. Boy, that woman is going to have some real interesting backstory! Paula’s instantaneous switch from enemy to friend at the first mention of love speaks to a fun volatility to their new friendship. It also suggests that Paula’s “crazy” will be even more powerful than Rebecca’s. Like how Niles was basically Frasier, but more so. As they solidify their friendship, Josh finally, finally texts Rebecca back. “Are you a witch?” Rebecca asks Paula. The new duo then launches into a reprise of “West Covina,” united in their goal to win over Josh Chan. “You wanna go drive past his house?” Paula whispers in excitement.
I’m guessing the series itself will feel very different from the pilot now that Paula is Rebecca’s confidante rather than her foil. But what is love but a shared fantasy? Often between a man and a woman, but just as frequently (okay, maybe 10,0000 times more frequently) between a woman and her best bud. While Rebecca and Paula would both benefit from a copy of He’s Just Not That Into You, there is something undeniably exciting about the hours of planning and scheming and theorizing that goes on when a friend has a new relationship, all of which takes place in a fantasy world related to but separate from the actual relationship itself. How deep that fantasy world goes, and how dark or absurd or far from reality it gets, is what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend seems interested in exploring. Since we’re starting on ass blood … man, I’m hoping it’s pretty far.
A Few Thoughts:
- We can’t have TWO mostly normal babes as Rebecca’s love interests, right? One or both of her potential gentleman callers must be unhinged. My money’s on Josh.
- “Dear God, I don’t pray to you because I believe in science.” —Rebecca, asking for divine intervention.
- “Have you heard of branzino? Do you know what that is? Really? Because I thought it was a sandwich.” —Darryl. Oh, poor, poor Darryl.
- I mean really, I laughed out loud at the model playing the violin in the bathtub.