After watching tonight's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I now believe that the week after Thanksgiving is the perfect time for a show to air its Hanukkah or Christmas episode. With a holiday fresh in your mind, it's easy to recall how your family is both a wonderful gift and the cause of debilitating stress diarrhea.
It's been a long time coming, but we finally get to meet Rebecca's heretofore unseen mother Mrs. Bunch (Tovah Feldshuh), known to us only by her disembodied insults and put-downs. ("She said I drive like the grandmother she's starting to think she'll never be.") In addition to the nonstop bon mots, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been delivering consistently good guest stars. (Last week's episode changed how I see Dr. Phil forever, which is not a sentence I ever expected to type.) This week is no different. Tearing into the role of Rebecca's mom like she's tearing into a latke that is both frozen and oblong, Feldshuh brings the Jewish mom heat, bursting into Rebecca's apartment with a hilarious ballad of complaints entitled "Where's the Bathroom?"
Mrs. Bunch's frozen, hateful smile as she surveys the "losers" of Whitefeather is enough to strike fear into anyone's heart, let alone the Level-Five Mom Pleaser she raised in Rebecca. "I support all your wacky decisions," Mrs. Bunch smirks. Sent into a panic by her mom's disapproval, Rebecca blurts out that Whitefeather is actually just a law firm where she volunteers to help "underprivileged lawyers." And so the mom-pleasing lies begin …
Rebecca's pseudo-mother Paula does her best to dissuade her from falling into her actual mom's bottomless pit of disapproval, but Mrs. Bunch's affection is a brass ring Rebecca craves. Of course, this visit holds a particular importance to Rebecca's self-esteem. A flashback to 1901 explains how the mothers and daughters of her family have always received a family heirloom, the Garfinkel ring, upon their 18th birthday. Still waiting to receive it, Rebecca gets hyped when she sees a ring box in her mother's purse. In typical Rebecca fashion, she confuses parental love with a symbolic piece of jewelry, getting the ring all mixed up with her mother's unconditional love. "There is no lie you can tell that will get this woman's approval," Paula says. Doesn't matter. To get the "stupid ring that your family holds onto like a bunch of Hobbits," Rebecca is determined to wow!
First, she makes Paula seem like a super fancy lady, better than all the "losers" Rebecca was allegedly friends with as a child. Wonderfully, Paula goes full Jewish Mr. Doubtfire, impressing Mama Becca with her British accent, casual Yiddish and hatred of Southern California. It works! Of course it works. Rebecca has been pulling this ruse since she was a kid, creating the exact world Mrs. Bunch wants in order to win her love. Paula warns Rebecca from continuing down this road, but girl, it's about 25 years too late to stop this runaway train.
Across town, Josh and Greg drink nog at the baseball bar and sigh. Josh, depressed by the responsibilities of adult Christmas, runs into the captain of his high school's hip-hop dance crew, a reminder of what he used to be. He can't go to their awesome performance at the mall's Winter Wonderland, though, because he has a stupid job or whatever. Greg groans about visiting his fancy rich mother Shawna, the woman who left him and his dad for greener pastures. Shopping at a Christmas bazaar for his half-siblings who are either six or 15 years old, Greg runs into Heather. She immediately invites herself to enjoy the succulent meat platters of a rich family's holiday spread. "I'll finally have a witness to the insanity," Greg says. Oh, sweet delusional Greg.
Encouraged by her success with British Paula, Rebecca chatters on and on about the extremely fancy, very observantly Jewish law firm she actually works for, and waxes nostalgic about the Saudi Prince who wanted to buy West Covina, but whom Rebecca rejected because he wouldn't covert. (They still text.) Rebecca's mom is impressed, having assumed her daughter was happy in a crappy town at a mediocre job surrounded by losers while she gets fatter by the day. Ha ha, moms! After they're interrupted by a phone call from Calvin Young, Mrs. Bunch believes that he must be Rebecca's secret lover — or barring that, a man she can take as her own secret lover. Yikes. Paging Dr. Freud! Against anyone and everyone's better judgement, Rebecca agrees to take her mom along for a business drink with Calvin. "Is he a boob man or a butt man?" Mrs. Bunch inquires. Code blue, Dr. Freud! Code blue!
Over at Greg's mommy issue's … I mean, Greg's mommy's house, Heather's blasé approach to his fraught maternal relationship inadvertently works. Seen through Heather's glazed eyes, Shawna is cool, her kids Lilly and Mason seem nice, and her overtures to Greg are heartfelt and well-meaning. "The whole reason that I came here was because I thought you were cute and they were going to be terrible. But you're terrible and they're cute," she says. In the end, though, Greg's mom calls him out for the insults he constantly mutters under his breath. "Greg, my boobs are real," she declares. "Real expensive!" Shawna apologizes for not fighting for shared custody, pointing out that Greg insisted on living with his father. Greg apologizes too, because he is an adult capable of growth. One visit won't completely resolve Greg's outstanding issues, but it's enough to make him fall for Heather. They end their evening with a kiss. Sure, Heather can't close her mouth all the way, she's a stoner, and she will analyze you like a rat in a cage, but she's the most emotionally stable character on this show. At this rate, Greg is going to be so emotionally whole, he's not even going to want Rebecca to stomp on his heart!
At the Chateau de Simmering Familial Resentment, Rebecca's mom only needs a couple glasses of red before she makes a pass at Rebecca's client/secret lover/her future husband Calvin. "You have no idea what it's like being a single woman of my age living in West Chester," she moans. "Everyone is so boring or married or cancer." Mrs. Bunch tells Rebecca to beat it so she could get some alone time with Calvin and … Rebecca goes to the mat for her. "I need you to sleep with my mom. Just a little bit," Rebecca says. WOOF. At least Calvin doesn't immediately fire her. Rebecca lets her mother down easy by informing her that Calvin was done to clown, but Rebecca didn't want to risk losing him as a client, WHICH WOULD BE A VERY REASONABLE THING TO DO. Predictably, Mrs. Bunch is pissed, and decides to cut her trip short to leave in a steamy rage.
All of these excellent scenes with Rebecca and her mom (visiting Whitefeather, lunching with Fake Paula, seducing Calvin) feel like the first beat of a hilarious subplot that never materializes. As soon as I heard Paula's English accent, I was excited to see her exposed as a fraud. As soon as Rebecca propositions Calvin on her mother's behalf, I wanted to see him drop Whitefeather as a client or actually go through with it, permanently entangling himself with Rebecca's family. I would have loved to watch any of these stories play out. Instead, they were like individual pieces of glitter, twinkling around inside the dread-filled snow globe of Rebecca's toxic relationship with her mom. And that is fine. It just could have been more.
Honestly, the most exciting development of this week's episode was Heather and Greg's kiss. Finally, some romantic fulfillment! Man, you know Rebecca is going to flip out when she realizes Greg is a viable boyfriend option for someone else. Wow, am I the Rebecca's mom of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend this week?
If that's true, it'll turn out I secretly love Rebecca with a love so intense, it paralyzes the part of my brain that controls kindness. At the exact same time Rebecca schleps her mom to the mall to return the crystal-ring holder/rectal thermometer she bought her, Josh takes the stage with his old hip-hop team. Rebecca's mom realizes Josh Chan is the reason behind her daughter's New Life Plan, and lays into her. Rebecca finally hits her breaking point and dumps out the truth behind all her lies. In a predictable but no less satisfying twist, Rebecca's mom reveals that she loves her immensely, far beyond wanting her to just be happy. "What's happy? That's for stupid people," Mrs. Bunch says. "I want you to survive." One might argue that filling your child with profound, chronic anxiety will make her less functional in the world and thereby less able to survive, but hey, Rebecca will take it! They embrace. For all of her domineering mom-ineering, Mrs. Bunch has always meant well. And while the show doesn't draw the exact parallel, Greg's issues with his absentee mom highlight an interesting, underrated point about Rebecca's mom. If nothing else, she's the parent who stayed. That definitely counts for something.
I don't know about you, but my eczema almost came back when I thought the show would only have one musical number this week. Luckily, the entire cast caps things off by celebrating the sunny, trashy suburban sprawl of a "California Christmastime." Every line of this song was amazing: "Even Santa has a suntan/He's also an unemployed stuntman."
Oh, and Josh realizes he is an adult and needs to grow up, despite the fact that he absolutely nails the crew's intense dance moves. "Emotional jinx! You owe me a Coke," he tells Rebecca. But what that does that mean for him? Will he reexamine other things he's been holding onto since high school, like his current life partner? Again, his story gets short-shrifted. I want to give this episode five stars for Tovah, and three stars for the B story lines that could have been. Or maybe I'm just being a real Mrs. Bunch. I would have taken that crystal rectal thermometer home with me, I'll admit that much.
How About A Few Festive Thoughts, Then?
- Rebecca: "I'm a grown-up!"
Paula: "Yes, and nothing sells that better than yelling, 'I'm a grown-up.'"
- Josh's STANDING BACKFLIP, anyone?
- "Romanticizing the working class perpetuates economic disparity." Passive Aggressive Greg, when his mom mentions how cool it is that he works in a bar.
- Mrs. Bunch: "What kind of material is this?"
Calvin: "Oh, it's just a coat."
- (In "California Christmastime")
Chorus: "What would Christmas be without/historically low mountain snow causing staggering drought?
Josh: "But hey, this eggnog fro-yo's super tight!"
Rachel: "Because this is California/And we do Christmas right!"