Social media has thoroughly integrated itself into society, so it’s interesting to see how many shows and films continue to either misunderstand or completely elide its place in our lives. There are a lot of reasonable factors at play: the costly annoyance of rendering tiny screens on larger ones, the fact that a less tech-savvy, older crowd still holds most of the creative reins in Hollywood, the desire for one’s work not to seem dated in the long run. But the result tends to feel like a hole has been cut out of the fabric of modern life — unless a creator goes too far in the other direction, making characters buzzword-obsessed hashtag maniacs too busy Snapchatting to live life.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the rare show that consistently depicts an honest version of how we relate to each other online. Its characters are poignantly searching for human connection, whether they’re amplifying what’s real or hunting for what’s aspirational. Rebecca and her friends wonder if their jokes are good enough for Twitter, watch pimple-popping videos on YouTube, and futilely attempt to take decent selfies. (This episode’s little bit of business with Josh photographing himself in the hipster coffee shop before his girlfriend shows up is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking.)
The show also isn’t afraid to reveal social media’s dark side, as “Research Me Obsessively” proves. The self-flagellating habit of internet stalking an ex’s new squeeze is simultaneously excruciating and hypnotic, which the song’s seductive, yet robotic tone expresses perfectly, down to the red herring of someone with the same name. As a song, it’s not the show’s greatest musical achievement, but it’s an achievement in emotional honesty, and that’s just as important.
By comparison, Rebecca and Valencia’s real-life stalking of Josh’s perfect new girlfriend Anna (Brittany Snow), who has a “permanent flower crown filter face” and rolls with Taylor Swift’s girl squad, feels like a retread. Trying to hide running over Anna’s cat and suspecting her of secretly dealing drugs (she doesn’t, of course) are the kinds of recycled, goofy rom-com plotlines that CXG usually dismantles. Even though Rachel Bloom & cCo. sell the hell out of it, the episode’s middle really drags.
I felt similarly about Scott and Paula’s conflict over her being late to his a cappella show. Nothing is wrong with the execution, but the concept itself doesn’t feel fresh. We’ve all seen the “guilty parent misses school play” plotline a million times before, as well as the “busy spouse neglects less busy partner” one. Although this conflict is multifaceted — Paula may be neglecting her family for law school, but Scott can’t even run a washing machine — it’s still well-trod territory. This show has become so good at surprising and delighting me that I now hold it to a much higher standard than I would a sitcom that was similarly well-acted and funny, but more generic in approach.
Thankfully, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend continues to excel in its honesty about how people really act when they’re fighting. You can see this in small ways, like Paula’s genuine contrition about missing Scott’s show, Scott still being mad at her hours later and needing to leave the house to cool off, or Sunil’s crestfallen face when Paula cuts him off in the midst of talking about his late wife.
You can see it in larger ones, too. A lesser show would have spent a whole episode with Rebecca and Paula trying to out-ignore each other; here, that business is dispensed with quickly. It acknowledges the simultaneous truths that the two women don’t want to fight, but the substance of their fight is still important to them both. (“We’ve gotta find some way to make this better,” Rebecca tells Paula, who gives an equally honest response: “I know. I just don’t know how.”) This sentiment is expressed perfectly in the Heart-style closing song: Rebecca is self-absorbed, Paula is passive-aggressive, both are very sorry, but both have too much pride to be the one who admits they’re wrong first. This is how real fights actually work.
Will Paula and Rebecca get back together? Of course. Rebecca is Paula’s Avon Barksdale, and Paula is Rebecca’s Stringer Bell. But it takes real respect for the texture of female friendships to treat this as seriously as a romantic relationship, rather than consider it an inherently unbreakable bond. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, in turn, deserves respect for doing so.
- Is it weird that I look forward to Sunil’s one joke per episode about his late wife? “I finally ran out of the frozen dinners my wife made for us before she … [throat-slitting motion]”
- Prior to Anna’s cat Gravy, Josh has “never loved a cat before, because I’ve always thought they were haunted.”
- Yet another installment of Get Out of My Life, Rebecca Bunch: I also still use my JanSport backpack from high school on a regular basis.
- Heather, on how to tell apart the Kardashians: “Is it the tall one, the naked one, or the mom one? Because if you’re talking about the model one or the lip one, those are Jenners.”
- That “Period Sex” song had better be amazing if the show is going to keep teasing it so aggressively.
- Interesting to see Tonya from shipping (Janie Haddad Tompkins) pop up again, since Scott almost had an affair with her when Paula almost slept with Calvin. I wonder if we’re headed back in that direction.
- Can’t convince your otherwise prestige-TV-obsessed friends to watch a musical comedy about a woman? Try telling them that no less a TV legend than David Simon is a huge Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fan.
- Finally, a statement from Rebecca that’s useful for any occasion: “We shouldn’t have gone down the rabbit hole. The only thing down there was regret made of rabbit poop.”