Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Recap: Holy Ghosted

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

To Josh, With Love
Season 3 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Scott Everett White/The CW

Considering season one’s theme song was absurdly catchy and season two’s turned out to be a surprise major plot point, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had a high bar for this year’s opening theme — and Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna absolutely cleared it. A pricey visual whirlwind with the density of a thinkpiece, it deftly showcases the full extent of Bloom’s range (she effortlessly nails four personas ranging from Beyoncé-style vixen to Eminem-style rapper), as well as the ambition of the show’s vision. People will be talking about it, and for good reason: It manages to encapsulate every mixed message pop songcraft has ever provided about women being “crazy” in under 30 seconds, which is no mean feat.

What’s especially interesting is that as the theme has departed old-school musical-theater territory in favor of skewering genres, the rest of the show’s songs are moving in the opposite direction. Last season’s tunes were equal parts parody and plot, not always to their advantage; this year, the show really does appear to have “stripped it all away” to go back to its theatrical roots, and the songs are better and more numerous than ever. Josh songs are generally the show’s weakest, but “Head in the Clouds” is the best one Vincent Rodriguez III has ever gotten, a razor-sharp take on religion that deftly manages not to offend, and the Gene Kelly–style choreography beautifully showcases his dancing ability. “Strip It All Away” is also nicely choreographed and shot, with a level of wordplay that compares favorably with all-time highlight, “The Math of Love Triangles.”

Yet the episode’s best song is also its simplest. “The Buzzing From the Bathroom” doesn’t have much visual panache, and it comes from an unlikely character: Michael McMillian’s Tim, who’s mostly been a background player since season one, but gets a meatier plot here after Maya and Paula correctly suss out that he’s never given his wife an orgasm, and she gets herself off with a vibrator in the bathroom after sex. McMillian absolutely nails Tim’s tragicomic realization in aria wrenching enough to pass muster as a dark night of the soul in an actual Broadway musical, were it not for the fact that a Broadway musical could never come up with a line as riotously funny as “tinnitus of the loins.”

The unfortunate flipside of squeezing a record four full-length songs into an episode is that this outing feels even more overstuffed than the premiere, which was already crowded. At this point, the writers have built a deep bench of excellent supporting characters — Maya, Mrs. Hernandez, George, Hector — and it’s no surprise that they feel obligated to use them. (We haven’t even seen Karen or Father Brah yet this season, and I really miss them.) But this show is ultimately about Rebecca’s journey, and she goes through a lot of plot beats in this episode that get short shrift, from finally hooking up with Nathaniel (far sooner than expected!) to learning about — and then reneging on — his plan to destroy Josh by ruining the lives of his sister, father, and grandfather.

As much as I enjoy the fact that this is the only show on TV that will press pause on the plot to instruct viewers on the importance of clitoral orgasms and offer commentary on charter schools and Roe v. Wade, it’s not great that the theme song feels like the deepest the show has gotten with what’s going on with Rebecca right now. She does get to wrap up the episode by finally hauling off on Josh (in a nicely timed reprise of Paula’s “Rose’s Turn”–esque “fuck you” song from season one), but the song itself is mostly a recap of all the shitty things she did in past seasons, as opposed to really lighting into Rebecca’s current vulnerability.

What I will say is that the writing team hasn’t given itself any easy outs. Josh’s lack of aptitude for religious study could have allowed for a one-and-done plotline before he returns to normal life, but it looks like we’ll get to explore that more deeply. The show has done a particularly nice job of highlighting how religion can often serve as an escape valve from culpability, without resulting to outright potshots or losing the essential daffiness of Josh’s character. He’s only further freed from that guilt by Rebecca’s tirade of admission, which pretty solidly closes the door on the option of them getting back together — though, of course, it’s never say never with any of the men in her life.

Even the C-plot about Tim’s marital difficulties doesn’t settle for the easy answer: As Paula points out, his relationship has real communication problems that can’t be papered over with a couple of orgasms. But Rebecca herself feels adrift as a character, and it’s not entirely clear what she wants as a protagonist. I’d rather not see the show try to paper that over with more songs and fun supporting-character bits, even if they’re really great ones.

Other notes:

— While I never had a shoplifting phase, I can think of more than a few women who’ll enjoy Rebecca and Paula’s riff on what they stole to fill emotional holes (unitards and fuzzy pillows from Urban Outfitters and lipstick and Sambuca, respectively). This is the kind of female-character detail you can only get on a show that women make.

— The show also gets points for its deft skewering of the “buy a woman a dress and lingerie to wear on your hot date” trope. As Rebecca puts it to Nathaniel: “The bra was like two delicate tissues held together with floss, and the panties sliced my muffin top into a hamburger bun.”

— Rachel Bloom and Scott Michael Foster have great chemistry, but the pop-music cue during their kiss and sex scene was really distracting. It’s easily the most “CW” thing the show’s ever done, and not at all a fit with its usual scoring.

— Telling the difference between “preschool” and “priest school”: the eternal verbal struggle of a seminary. (I’m a sucker for dumb puns, and also liked the “Door Father”/ “Dear Father” bit.)

— This week’s East Cameron small-business spotlight: a family-owned Korean BBQ place, whose saintly owner Nathaniel is struggling to character-assassinate.

— Line of the episode: “To ruin a man, you have to go after what he loves most.” “Video games?”

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Recap: Holy Ghosted