Everyone’s favorite mess returns tonight for the back half of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s second season, which has so far subverted traditional rom-com expectations at every turn, sending Greg (Santino Fontana) off to Emory College, and bringing Rebecca, Valencia, and Heather together. Co-creator and star Rachel Bloom — who’s up for another Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Comedy this Sunday — recently joined the Vulture TV Podcast to talk about the new guy moving to West Covina in future episodes, having fans like Zadie Smith, and how they negotiated getting some curse words on the show. Listen to the conversation, and read an edited transcript below.
Gazelle Emami: It’s been great watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend this season because it’s still the same show, but there have also been a lot of changes. Rebecca’s becoming part of this new girl group with Heather and Valencia, and you all have this great comedic timing together and just feel very believable as a group of friends. Did you always know that you wanted to move it in this direction with these three characters?
The idea of Rebecca, Valencia, and Heather all hanging out certainly didn’t occur to us early on in the first season, but now has developed into something that we’re really excited about and excited to explore. But, the season takes other, as you will see, other things, other turns.
GE: I heard there’s going to be a new actor, Scott Michael Foster, who will be joining the show when we return … as a potential love interest? And fellow lawyer?
I don’t want to — anything I say would be a spoiler, but he brings a new dynamic to the show. He’s brilliant, he’s wonderful, also, just from a personal note, seamlessly fits in with our cast. Like, instantly is just part of the family. And brings a necessary new dynamic.
GE: That’s something I really like about the show, is it really naturally integrates new characters. I love Sunil already and Josh’s new girlfriend feels like a perfect part of this universe. Everyone just seems like they had always been there.
Oh, that’s so great! Scott Michael Foster’s character is no exception, where it’s like, okay, what are we craving at this point in the season or what are we craving for a future story line, what’s something we need to have in place in order for X,Y, Z to happen. So this character serves a purpose — okay, who are they? We try to find that combination of characters that not only serve purposes, but also are in some ways a trope in their own right that we’re then going to work hard to upend and find the depth and gray areas with it.
Jen Chaney: We’re talking about the show going in some different directions, but one of the things I also like is that you’ve already started doing reprises of songs from the first season, like bringing back “The Sexy Getting-Ready Song,” for example, in a different context. Is that something you see yourself doing with other things you did in the first season as this season continues?
That is a giant yes. I love reprises because the show to me is a giant musical, and so bringing back musical motifs is a way to thematically tie it all together.
GE: I also loved how in the mid-season finale, when you and Valencia go to Josh’s new girlfriend’s eyebrow studio, that the yoga song is playing.
Oh, so glad you noticed that.
GE: I loved that because it’s the parallel again between when Rachel was feeling jealous of Valencia and now the two of them feeling jealous of this new woman.
Yes, that episode is almost a sequel to the second episode of the first season. It’s kind of a mix of that episode and the seventeenth episode of the first season, when she and Paula sneak into a pie shop and they think the woman is baking something into a pie. It’s [that] Valencia in that episode has kind of replaced Paula and that’s on purpose.
GE: One of my favorite songs from this season is in the premiere, “Love Kernels,” in which you joke about how you blew the show’s production budget on making that song. Is there any truth to that?
Yes, 100 percent. That was a big swing because that’s the most meta we have been so far, but with the musical numbers you can get a bit meta. But yes, that number was expensive — we went out to the desert for a day in preproduction to film those sweeping desert scenes, we built another set on stage with all that lavish, beautiful furniture. The costumes alone, I mean especially that cactus costume, it’s expensive. And it’s a lot of work.
JC: How often at this stage are you writing songs that don’t end up in the show?
It happens. Greg’s song in episode four, we had eight drafts, because when we sat down to brainstorm that song we were like, well this song should have a curse in it. Its a wistful good-bye song that also needs to say this whole thing was always fucked, right?
We want to take Greg and Rebecca’s relationship, which does elicit a lot of emotion, but also look at it in a realistic way, which is there’s so much about it that is incredibly unhealthy and dysfunctional and the way to make that comedically pop in our heads was, you have to curse. We were like, fuck, no we can’t curse, so we came up with all these ways to try to do the song without cursing. Some of them were more dramatic than others, so we were like maybe we just make it a serious song? And it’s a beautiful good-bye song. Finally, I was like the only way to do this song is if it’s like Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” but he’s saying, like, this thing was a fucking shit show. So we talked to Standards and Practices, and they were like, “alright you can say shit twice and you can bleep it twice, we’ll give two shits.” Literally, they gave two shits.
GE: One of the big changes this season too was the departure of Greg, who leaves to go to Emory College, and I’m just wondering how you felt, as a cast, to say good-bye to Santina Fontana on the show?
I mean it’s hard. Greg is based on a lot of people, but speaking personally, he’s based on an element of myself — the way he feels in Southern California is the way I felt growing up. But we knew we couldn’t keep doing this to him, right? We couldn’t keep having his heart get broken, and we knew he wanted to end the love triangle, and then actually in an article on Vulture, you know, Santino had other scheduling things. So we came together with him to figure out how to, essentially, complete his arc in a way that we had always wanted to. It was sad saying good-bye to a character that we love, and he’s awesome and so talented and he’s back in New York so we don’t really see him, but it felt right and felt good for his character.
Even as maybe she takes one step forward, two steps back, Rebecca changes the lives of people around her, and we always knew that we wanted Rebecca to ultimately light the fire under Greg’s ass — even if it was inadvertently — and if she wasn’t around, he would still be living in West Covina. He was still in love with her, and she could very easily get him back into her orbit, but that idea of both emotional and physical distance is something that I haven’t seen done before with a love triangle.
GE: I love how in that scene where she runs to the airport to try to get him to stay, that’s traditionally like such a romantic scene in movies and TV shows, it just felt so toxic and bad.
Yeah, it’s wrong! I mean a stroke of editing brilliance, and this was spearheaded by Aline, was originally the scene where they meet on the bridge and they kiss and she says, “can we try this again, please,” and then the therapist office were separate scenes. Aline combined them in a way that I think is so brilliant because what it feels like is a thriller where it’s scary and it’s like, you know, she’s in the therapist’s office, there’s this ominous music and as she’s begging Greg, you know it’s the wrong decision. If the scene had just kind of existed on its own you might have gotten enthralled in the swell of that romanticism, right? We wanted to always have this ominous undertone to it.
Matt Zoller Seitz: What lessons have you learned, what rules have you broken from working on this show? How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer, as a performer?
First of all, it’s been such a crash course in drama acting. I was a theater major but I’ve spent the past couple years doing comedy, and doing this show has really been a way for me to get back to, like, no, I love acting. I’m actually a very emotional actor. I’m not method but my emotions get caught up in the scenes and that’s been really fun to reconnect with that side of myself. Then, from a story standpoint, I’ve learned so much from Aline. She’s so good at story, she can do things that feel unconventional and scary and risky. A perfect example of this is in episode four of the first season, “I’m Going on a Date With Josh’s Friend,” we were outlining the story and the first-thought, clean way to do that story is she and Greg are on a date together and the date is going amazingly and then she fucks another guy — right? Because she’s afraid of something so great, because she’s afraid of being happy. And Aline kept saying, “No, no, no she’s not afraid of being happy, she’s afraid of being brought down to Earth, she’s afraid of having a real grounded relationship, so you have to have them have a little bit of an argument and then work through it.” But I was like that’s not clean, I was thinking of it very mathematically because that’s how I also learned TV writing when I took this great class at NYU that taught this almost mathematical structure of crafting an episode of television, that I still use. Even when I break that formula, I break it consciously. Aline was like, “No, no, this is the right way to do it,” and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to trust you on this.” And she was totally right. I think I have learned to really get out of the mathematical side of myself that looks at story and story structure and go with, “Okay, well, what would people do in real life?”
JC: We haven’t talked at all about Paula and the fracture in her relationship with Rebecca, which led to one of my favorite songs you’ve done this season, “You Go First,” about the attempt to apologize, but you’re waiting for the other person to go first, which I thought was a really great reflection of how people actually act in real life. Can you talk a little bit about that song, and also about the Paula relationship and why you decided to break them up, essentially, for a little while?
“You Go First” is all Adam Schlesinger. We had another song, originally, that I’d done lyrics for called like, “What’s the Right Emjoi to Say I Love You,” which is funny but felt a little bit like territory we had tread on before. So we’re all meeting at my house to go to the Emmys, and Adam’s like, “Guys, I have a new song pitch, let me just play it for you.” So he sat down at my piano and played it and I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s the song.” It’s one of my favorite songs of the season.
JC: The wigs are amazing.
Oh my God, the wigs! They were so fun. Similar to Rebecca and Greg, the way Paula and Rebecca got together was inherently a little dysfunctional, so it’s always this tension of, can they push past that? And also, it is a real friendship and it has its problems, but all friendships and real relationships do. We’re always trying to navigate what’s healthy and what’s not healthy, and what unhealthiness can they push through and what unhealthiness can they not get past. And when we come back from the break, we directly talk about that.
GE: Now that you’re halfway through season two, are you feeling like you’re getting more mainstream attention? Has there been any change in the types of people who are noticing the show? Recently I saw David Simon and Zadie Smith raving about how much they like it.
RB: Ugh, that was so cool. I think Netflix helps a lot. Someone just told me Netflix has 90 million subscribers, and so there was a marked difference between before Netflix and after Netflix, and there definitely have been more articles about the show. I really feel like people are talking about it. I think we’re still a cult show, but it was always kind of meant to be that. It’s such a specific show and does such specific things, and so it’s great for more people to see the show and get the show and be affected by the show.