If the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend forced everyone to realize they were in denial — Josh about his relationship, Paula about her marriage, Greg about his alcoholism, Rebecca about, well, everything — this season so far seems to be about how coming out of that denial can have consequences of its own. By that score, Paula and Greg seem to be doing great, Josh is falling behind fast, and Rebecca will have to make some really difficult choices about where she wants to end up.
The episode’s headline plot is exactly the kind of caper that Rebecca and Paula would have gotten up to last season. In an attempt to bro-down with Josh so he’ll pay as much attention to her as he does to his buddies, Rebecca lies about having been a ping-pong champion — specifically, the Junior Miss Table Tennis champion for the Eastern Northern Seaboard County District, which even the credulous Josh thinks is a bit far-fetched. She then has two days to learn to be a actual, top-flight ping-pong player.
But Rebecca is on her own, Paula having signed away her friendship-scheming rights in last week’s episode. And if hiring an 11-year-old to show you how to hold a ping-pong paddle in a sexy way isn’t desperate, I don’t know what is. Even the 11-year-old thinks so: “If it’s really meant to be, you don’t need to manufacture fake enthusiasm for Josh’s hobby,” he tells Rebecca. “Isn’t a relationship about meeting in the middle?”
Unfortunately, it’s very clear that Josh has zero desire to meet Rebecca in the middle. He’s happy to use her for housing and sex, but he otherwise wants to stay in his own lane — a lane into which Rebecca is still desperately trying to merge the Hyundai Sonata of her affection. She doesn’t just want to be good at ping-pong so she and Josh can enjoy it together. She wants to be the hopelessly aloof “Ping-Pong Girl,” the classic cool girl who’s hot but doesn’t know it. (“She probably just found that outfit laying around! Like in the trash!”) A ping-pong girl is good at everything, and can make a man desperate to commit to a 30-year mortgage and a shared Costco card.
The deeper joke of the song, though, is that Rebecca’s understanding of men (“Dudes sing these kinds of songs! Bro! Sega! Jock itch!”) is just as facile. You can hear her humming last season’s “I Give Good Parent” as she cheerfully makes Josh the noodle kugel that he instantly turns down, because that’s the kind of behavior Rebecca thinks will make her worthy of love: being endlessly, impenetrably perfect. Instead, her messiness is what makes her endearing, to Josh and Greg and to us. But as the show is always working hard to remind us, the noise of cultural messaging around relationships is so deafeningly loud that Rebecca can’t hear what’s actually happening.
Thankfully, that’s not the case for Greg, who’s getting one of the more interesting and nuanced alcoholism plotlines I’ve seen on any show, much less a comedy. Still in the “pink cloud” of recent sobriety, he gets booted back to Earth when Josh (who’s really racking up the asshole points so far this season) blurts out the confession that he and Rebecca are both sleeping and living together. But instead of following up his reprise of “I Could If I Wanted To” by going on a bender, Greg picks out his drink, glass, and ice — and then punches a wall instead. It’s still not the best choice, but as he tells Rebecca, at least he’s feeling his feelings and handling them with uncharacteristic maturity.
And then comes the gut-punch revelation: Greg only got his DUI in the first place because he was drunk-driving to tell Rebecca he loved her. It’s jaw-dropping, even more so because he accepts the fact that he blew it, and that Rebecca has every right to be with Josh. Greg’s major personality shift may be too sudden for some (Heather, for one, is skeptical), but CXG is clearly written with an eye for how sobriety can truly change people. That’s both remarkable and rare for TV, which usually just focuses on the tough hurdles of trying to stay sober, instead of the factors that can also make getting clean life-affirming and appealing.
Speaking of life-affirming, let’s talk about Paula. She’s gone cold turkey on Rebecca’s hijinks, her marriage is better than ever, and she even has an eye on law school: She’s basically the poster child of life-affirming decisions. She’s not unrealistic about her dreams, as she sings in her Sleeping Beauty number, but she still deserves to have them. The problem, however, is Rebecca, whom Paula essentially loves more than her own children — but who is letting her down in key ways, namely by screwing up her law-school-recommendation letter.
Can Rebecca be the kind of friend who supports Paula instead of using her? Can she complement Greg’s sobriety instead of undermining it? The answer to both questions seems to hinge on Rebecca letting go of Josh. Whether or not she’ll fail and drag everyone else down with her is still very much up for debate.
- Speaking of denial, Darryl still considers himself Paula’s best friend (to the point of thinking that Rebecca being her “bestie” means something else), and he’ll spoil Game of Thrones if it means maintaining that lie. “Ned Stark dies, by the way.” “But he’s the show!” “Don’t get too attached to Robb, either.”
- This week on East Cameron: a gastropub, a beer garden, and a fancy gourmet-donut place, where buying just one dinosaur donut for an entire AA meeting is truly unconscionable.
- I didn’t mention Greg’s Irish-style drinking song about sobriety, but it was pretty funny, particularly the fact that White Josh and Hector saw Greg’s alcoholism coming from a mile away because he wrecked both their cars.
- Rebecca’s gold-lamé ping-pong ensemble is a reference to something I’ve seen before, but after lots of Googling, I can’t figure out what. Anyone know?
- Father Brah, the most put-upon priest in L.A. County, raises an important philosophical question: Do you need to say grace over boba? He votes yes: “Boba is a drink that you eat.”
- Rebecca doesn’t hate football, she just thinks “it kind of propagates the ideology of physical dominance, and the economic subjugation of the working poor, plus the concussions, it should be illegal, LOL.”