Welcome to senior year of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend! I hope Rachel Bloom & Co. are hard at work on a parody of “Time of Your Life,” because I’m already getting sniffly at the realization that this is the last season-premiere the show will ever have.
Having wrapped up season three with Rebecca’s courtroom confession and guilty plea, it seemed like we were primed for another time jump. But the premiere picks up right where the finale left off, with Rebecca in chambers insisting that she deserves jail time as penance, even as a now-forgiving Paula tries to convince her she’s lost her mind. Rebecca’s unique blend of stubbornness and entitlement ultimately wins out, annoying the judge into awarding her a test run in the L.A. County lockup.
Even as she endures degrading showers and cavity inspections and mean bunkmates, Rebecca’s mantra is “I deserve this.” As the audience, we’re supposed to find that silly, even though we live in a society that argues a lot of women who don’t look like Rebecca do deserve this. I get the desire to close out last season with a climactic speech, but I still don’t love that Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna chose to emphasize the horrific American prison system as some kind of convenient atonement for Rebecca. But to their credit, they take pains in this episode to show that the situation is, well, a lot more nuanced than that.
That effort is centered on “What’s Your Story?,” a funny yet depressing riff on Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango” that makes no bones about the structural inequalities — abusive relationships, insufficient social-safety nets, racial bias in sentencing — that underlie doing time in the U.S. As Rebecca’s enthusiasm for all the lurid details on her fellow prisoners gently descends into a morose realization of her enormous privilege, the song becomes another addition to the show’s ever-growing list of meta-narratives, musing on the appropriateness of swiping someone else’s tragedies for your own art.
Yet despite having 18 episodes instead of 13 to play with this year, I still think CXG is trying to cram in too much plot per episode. (Rebecca allegedly spends six weeks behind bars — easily enough for a full episode — but she’s out by the last third of this one.) Sure, the dynamic of Rebecca’s prison theater group is basically just a recasting of her BPD support group with orange jumpsuits. But rushing through jail means failing to explore some interesting moments, especially Rebecca literally trying to rewrite her childhood by recasting herself as the star of the South Pacific number from the pilot.
That’s especially frustrating because the rest of the episode takes us back to a lot of places we’ve already been. Nathaniel is still sublimating his feelings into hardcore workouts — this time, getting beaten up and thrown into the woods by “Death Wish Adventures,” the world’s meanest Outward Bound course. George is still Nathaniel’s diehard toady, rescuing him with bratwurst and romantic counsel. And Josh is still circling the drain of figuring out what to do with his life, diagnosing himself as five kinds of mentally ill via BuzzFeed, er, “QuimblePop” quiz. He’s wrong, of course (he’s actually just not all that bright), but it does end up landing him in this show’s equivalent of Valhalla: facing that really nice-looking leather therapy chair used by the Drs. Akopian.
Most frustratingly, the episode once again yanks us back into the on-off Rebecca-Nathaniel dynamic that pervaded season three. I’d have bought Nathaniel being put off by Rebecca’s willingness to sacrifice their relationship to go to jail, but he confesses that he still loves her, and vice versa.
Instead, the sticking point is that Rebecca doesn’t want to get away from it all with him in Hawaii, but rather stay in West Covina and deal with her privilege and problems. It’s the exact same beat we already saw last year with Rebecca putting off Nathaniel until her BPD got under control. I know we have to set up the love triangle again with the impending arrival of New Greg, but this is too much.
The episode’s other tune, the chorus-nerd ballad “No One Else Is Singing My Song,” does acknowledge that the dynamic is feeling a little staid at this point — by the end, every major cast member (even Grocery Clerk with Half an Eyelid!) is confessing to feeling uniquely stuck in the exact same way. This season presents the interesting challenge of depicting what real growth looks like for the West Covina crew, without falling on the tired narratives the previous three have torn to shreds. It’ll be interesting to see where that takes us, even if we might be headed there a little too quickly at times.
• Speaking of old habits, it looks like Mama Paula is back to her manipulative ways, basically torturing a confession out of Trent to free Rebecca. Though as a fellow graduate of, um, “college in Boston,” I can say that we’ve never been roasted more thoroughly and deservingly.
• With that said, I remain enough of an unrepentant snob to agree with Rebecca that Cats is bad. It has no plot!
• Pete Gardner is always so great, but that little bit in which he tries to give the fake ceviche to Rebecca was next-level funny.
• Also, is Darryl’s baby still named Habecca? I really hope not.
• I need to know why Hector is such a Charlotte, because Heather is definitely not a Carrie. (She’s a total Samantha, right?) Either way, I never tire of the meta-jokes: “This is such a messed-up episode … of Sex and the City.”