Rebecca’s recovery isn’t going very well so far, and while that’s bad news for her, it’s great for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. As exemplified by Nathaniel and Rebecca’s “Horny Angry Tango,” this episode is fueled by rage and sexuality, but it’s also more focused than a lot of the show’s recent outings. Every character is represented in some way, but the spotlight really shines on just two: Rebecca and Heather.
Let’s start with Heather, whose painful transition out of college has been confined to a few short scenes and background quips. In some ways, she’s handling a quarter-life crisis as well as can be expected, holding down her job at Home Base and building a relationship with Hector. But she’s still unfulfilled, chasing that old “I’m a student” high in continuing education classes. Enter Kevin, who, via a skin-clawingly awkward scene in which he tries to suss out Heather’s ethnic background, offers her a chance at redefining herself by entering Home Base’s diversity management training program. (Did anyone else’s conception of Home Base definitely not include it being a chain, or was that just me? There’s no way a company could afford to build a ton of Little League–themed restaurants, right?)
Heather’s foray into corporate initially seems like a bad idea. The company calls for no tattoos, no jewelry, no hair dye, and pantyhose that … well, really seal in some unhealthy juices. As Heather puts it, “I guess I’ll just have to express my colorful personality with my animated vocal inflections.” But as with the Miss Douche job (a total dropped plot thread, incidentally — did she get fired?), she surprises everyone by excelling. Her boss (the great Matt Walsh, sadly underused here) is delighted by her ideas for dessert tapas and ride-share for all the drunken parents driving their kids home. Though her “look” doesn’t work, Heather’s independent thinking proves to be a good thing, and she ends up carving out a role for herself as a regional manager. She even inspires Hector to rethink his too-close relationship with his mom (who reacted to his new relationship by supplanting him with Josh) and move in with her and Rebecca.
Rebecca is also ready to go back to work, though the show continues to throw away a potentially interesting plotline about just how broke her breakdown made her. (On top of everything else, this episode reminded me that she’s paying Heather’s rent as well as her own!) Since Naomi resigned on Rebecca’s behalf while keeping her in a drug-induced haze, Rebecca believes that Nathaniel will keep her job open. But he’s still smarting from their breakup, and quickly lashes out and fires her. To add insult to injury, he’s flaunting his new relationship on Instagram, even taking Mona on Rebecca’s long-sought-after, never-realized trip to Raging Waters. (Paula: “It’s her Paris!”)
As the episode takes a moment to note, Rebecca’s legal pedigree means she could just get another job, and probably even take most of the Whitefeather gang along with her. But the hormones she’s injecting for her egg donation to Darryl are sending her around the bend, and she can’t go to Dr. Shin because she didn’t tell him about the plan in the first place. It’s not long before she’s back on her old revenge grind, attempting to steal back the firm out from under Nathaniel as an employee-owned partnership.
Of course, the difference is that everyone likes Nathaniel now, as Rebecca’s reprise of “Who’s the New Guy?” makes clear. (I imagine the writing staff got a nice kick out of thumbing their noses at everyone, myself included, who was unsure about Nathaniel’s addition to the show last year.) Even as Nathaniel and Rebecca duke it out in court for ownership of Whitefeather, it’s clear that the undercurrent of their conflict is the sex they should definitely not be having right now, even though they definitely want to be.
That’s a powerful undercurrent to play with, and this episode is as fleet and funny as the rest of the season has been. But I’m also worried that the show is crossing the line from an occasional sprinkling of recurring jokes to full-on fan service. “Horny Angry Tango” is the only original song in the episode, but it’s just “Let’s Have Intercourse” with all the impressive choreography included, but a far less original and memorable musical parody. It was great getting to see Dr. Phil again, and the Garfinkel ring, and especially B.J. Novak’s ecstasy factory (one of my favorite jokes), but they came at the cost of the emotional nuance that CXG normally executes so well.
The final scene between Nathaniel and Rebecca, in which they come to terms with what they’re both actually feeling (and then ill-advisedly hook up anyway), feels shoehorned in. But I’m especially aghast that Heather deciding to carry Darryl’s baby as a surrogate — a huge decision! — is reduced to a footnote, especially since Rebecca’s choice to donate her eggs was treated the same way in last week’s episode.
I get that this is ultimately a comedy, and too much agonizing over this stuff doesn’t make for many laughs. But compared to the nuanced treatment that Paula’s abortion and Rebecca’s suicide attempt got, all of this baby stuff feels comparatively glossed over. I haven’t personally experienced IVF, donated eggs, or considered getting pregnant, but a lot of people have, and surely there are some entertaining songs in those experiences. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend likes to champion itself as being one of the best and most honest shows about the full range of women’s life experiences, and it often is. But lately, it’s leaving some discussions on the table while giving plenty of extra airtime to rehashed jokes. Maybe Heather and Rebecca aren’t the only ones trying too hard to chase old highs.
• I genuinely dig CXG’s commitment to radical honesty, but some aspects of this episode, namely Rebecca’s constant stomach injections, were too gross even for me. (Though maybe that’s just my fear of needles talking.) Rebecca “borrowing” Heather’s vibrator — and then not washing it! — was also waaaay too much.
• I really enjoyed the increasing futility of maintaining the fourth wall in the “Who’s the New Guy” reprise: “Just because he became a season regular / And by season regular, I mean that he eats bran in the spring.”
• The awkward relationship conversation between Heather and Hector on Hector and his mom’s dating podcast is a great bit of staging. Also, add another business to East Cameron: Merv’s Diner, where you can get a free ham and cheese if you mention “Dating for All Ages.”
• I have to say, this show is sometimes so predictive of what’s going on in the larger culture that it actually scares me. Two notable ripped-from-the-headlines moments: Bert has a fortune in Bitcoin, and Rebecca essentially unionized her office.
• That SASSY acronym (Separate, Assess, Step Away, Soothe Yourself) appears to be something the show just made up, which is impressive, because it sounds like a pretty decent psychological protocol!