As a fan, I was mostly happy that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had its order cut to 13 episodes this year. It's a more manageable number that puts the show in the high end of premium-cable territory, and makes it easier to finesse a season-long arc. After the past couple of episodes, though, I'm starting to think CXG might have been better served with last season's 18 episodes. In the first half of this season, plotlines arrived at a manageable pace, but now that we're closing in on the finale, these constant tonal shifts can feel overwhelming.
In the space of just 20 minutes in viewer time, we've had Josh breaking up with Anna and realizing he's still in love with Rebecca, Rebecca and Paula finally making up, Josh chasing a skittish Rebecca, Rebecca and Josh getting together for good(ish), and the introduction of a major new antagonist. I've never felt more like I was living in Rebecca's head — which might be a good thing in terms of a vibrant emotional experience, but it's also very confusing and cluttered in there.
CXG co-creators Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna are certainly aware of that breakneck pace. The episode's only full-length song, "Who's the New Guy?", is a feast of meta-jokes on par with Arrested Development's "Save Our Bluths," and it's intended to both acknowledge and poke fun at the fact that, much like Whitefeather's employees, viewers don't like to see a lot of sudden changes.
But while I certainly appreciate the necessity of fresh conflict to counter the raging waters of the Rebecca-Josh "love bubble," Whitefeather's alpha-male new owner Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster) seems like too far a swing in the other direction. He's clearly intended to be Rebecca's new romantic foil in the post-Greg era, but his vibe is less "charming dick" than outright asshole. It would be one thing if he were simply a classic ruthless businessman, but the writing really layers his awfulness on thick, from defrauding Darryl and his priggish dietary restrictions to his openly attempts to provoke Rebecca on her date with Josh and his parents. (Also, this is obviously a matter of personal taste, but I don't think he's at the level of handsome where he gets automatic likeability points, despite the other characters' very frequent insistence to the contrary.)
Since his presence on-screen is unpleasant at best, I will say that the most interesting thing about Nathaniel is the doubt he raises about the viability of Rebecca and Josh's burgeoning relationship. Even though Josh is winning and handsome and has always been Rebecca's stated object, I think most viewers instinctively migrated to the "Grebecca" pairing because it better fit what a real-life Rebecca might want: a guy who's a bit more of her intellectual equal, and who has ambitious career goals. (Even though it was never really clear what, exactly, Greg wanted to do with that MBA.)
But unlike Greg, who longed to escape West Covina's "chain stores and outlets and banks," Rebecca has been charmed and delighted by even its most glaring flaws until now, making it easy to forget that she comes from a very different class background than Josh: She's got Scarsdale parents, Ivy League degrees, a laissez-faire attitude towards money, and knows how to pronounce prix fixe and amuse bouche. The only things from Rebecca's old life that once threatened to pop her happy West Covina bubble were her mom and Audra Levine, who were already her lifelong antagonists and easily dismissed as such.
Nathaniel, however, is a brand-new emissary from the elite world that Rebecca left behind — and the first reminder that it might still offer some things worth missing, starting with recognition of her prodigious legal talent from someone who actually knows a thing or two about law. It's an interesting theme to suddenly introduce into a show that's largely treated race and class with a cheerful utopianism, and where Rebecca, Paula, and Josh were equally likely to succeed or lose their shirts. I'll be curious to see how far CXG pushes it.
- Considering that this episode double-aired (traditionally a network technique for burning off unwanted episodes) and featured a joke about the show's low ratings, I was pleased to see the wonderful news that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend just earned its renewal for season three.
- How terrific was George's song, down to the perfect cutoff at the commercial break? "George won't be ignored, George won't be interrupted, becau—"
- Josh on water polo: "I've never understood that sport. It's like, how do they get the horses in the water?"
- So many good screechy blonde oversharer — er, Karen — lines in this episode, but I really liked the throwaway bit about her trying to cook chicken in the microwave again. "Not today, but it can be done."
- Darryl and WhiJo continue to be TV's most perfect relationship. I especially appreciated WhiJo for immediately catching on to the firing threat, but keeping it close to the vest so as not to worry Darryl.
- Predictable but still funny: No matter how rude Rebecca might be, Mrs. Chan will always like her more than Valencia. (Also, groovy matching cardigans, Chans!)
- Finally, I gasped in surprise and delight with the reveal of CXG superfan Patton Oswalt as Paula's creepy cemetery security guard/touch-tank obsessive. I think this is the closest we're ever going to get to a sequel to Big Fan.