Even Crazy Ex-Girlfriend diehards could be forgiven for forgetting that Rebecca has a 13-year-old half-brother named Tucker. He’s only been mentioned a couple of times on the show: in the pilot, when Naomi recalls Rebecca going off on her stepmom at his seventh birthday party, and again in the season-two wedding finale, when Rebecca’s deadbeat dad callously hits her up for a check for Tucker’s braces.
But with Rebecca starting to really get her life on track, it makes sense that she might want to reconnect with her one remaining immediate family member who hasn’t proven to be an irredeemable jerk. So she mails him a pair of birthday sneakers, and in return, receives a surprise visit from a sweet-seeming 13-year-old who seems to have absolutely everything in common with Rebecca, from his weird way of saying “whirlwind” to his affinity for D-grade ’90s animated film Slumbered.
Yet it turns out their real commonality is a talent for manipulation — not to mention dreams of musical-theater glory. Using her pilfered childhood diary for inspiration, Tucker easily sniffs out Rebecca’s desire to be understood, manipulating her so he can get into an audition for a Peter Pan musical. (“The audition just happened to be here!” he lies, an echo of Rebecca’s “Josh just happens to live here!” from season one.)
Just like last year’s Trent episode, Tucker provides the opportunity to see Rebecca’s well-intentioned conniving and scheming through a different, more unflattering lens. But this time, it also shows the place of vulnerability from which it springs. As Nathaniel explains to Sunil, Rebecca is still a dramatic teen trapped in the body of an adult woman, and as such, the writers gleefully sneak all kinds of parallels to season-one Rebecca into Tucker’s mouth; he wants fame to solve his life every bit as much as she wanted Josh to solve hers.
But Tucker’s obsession is unique in some ways, too. That plays into the episode’s only new song, “Child Star,” which is vying for song of the season so far with last week’s winner “Don’t Be a Lawyer.” A perfect summation of the depressing career arcs of the Lohans and Biebers of the world, it’s catchy and well-crafted, with a few rich insights into the craving for fame that would otherwise fall too far outside of the show’s bounds to interrogate. You could see a parallel version of this show where Rebecca tries to fix what’s broken with becoming famous, a concept that probably hits close to home for Rachel Bloom as a creator; this song might be as close as we get, but it touches a genuine place.
So, too, does the final third of the episode, in which Rebecca catches both Tucker and Nathaniel — the latter for trying to get Tucker the Pan part in exchange for all the intel in Rebecca’s diary. Like so many Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episodes, this one winds up being about knowing what’s good for you, with Rebecca kicking Nathaniel to the curb in a much more meaningful and understandable way than she did in the premiere. “All we do when we’re together is scheme and cheat and lie,” she tells him. “I am bad for you and you are bad for me.”
As for young Tucker, it appears he may have a touch of the ol’ BPD, or at least deals with mental illness on some level. Getting caught sends him into some pretty negative “You Stupid Bitch”–esque self-talk. So the episode ends with Rebecca sending him to theater camp — and paying off their shitty dad yet again — in exchange for him going to therapy. (If there’s one takeaway Crazy Ex-Girlfriend wants for its viewers, it’s that every last one of us should be in therapy.)
Having Rebecca rewrite her life story by fixing Tucker’s before it’s too late is a pretty pat ending for a show that doesn’t normally like pat endings. I’d normally have thought that we’d see Rebecca making and then interrogating that choice instead. But we do still have lots more season to go, so maybe this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Tucker.
I’m also hoping that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of two of my favorite CXG bit players: Paula’s son Tommy, whose portrayal by Steele Stebbins gets funnier every season, and the hilarious Parvesh Cheena as Sunil, who’s trying to score overtime from Nathaniel by stalking Rebecca for clues as to how to win her back.
The C-plot with Paula realizing how little she knows about her sons when they get put in an escape room together is sort of a late-teenage bookend to Darryl’s baby-related identity crisis two episodes back, but it works. One of the messages of the season so far seems to be that parenting is hard at any age — and all the more so when your charge is your own inner teenager.
• I continue to be impressed by CXG’s commitment to showcasing upstart small-business trends, the latest of which is the escape room. The CW doesn’t include credits in its screeners, but I’m pretty sure that’s Veep’s eternally put-upon senatorial aide Nelson Franklin as the bored room attendant. (“Please tag us, please Yelp us, please kill me.”)
• The episode also features a fun cameo button from Queer Eye’s fashion guru Tan France as fake ’90s icon/streetwear guru Fett Ragoso. The related jokes about there being no female directors in TV are likely sour grapes about the DGA’s sexist decision not to grant co-director credit to the women who directed episode two.
• Finally in cameos, we get one more appearance from Josh Chan’s sex-tape alter ego Colin. Though Vincent Rodriguez’s stumbling British accent isn’t exactly a testament to Colin’s “accents are ACT-ing” philosophy.
• Rebetzel’s branding is a not-so-subtle ripoff of Wetzel’s. Good thing Rebecca can be her own lawyer, because I smell a cease and desist. (Or is that just cinnamon?)
• Krav Maga–loving Mrs. Hernandez referring to herself in Hebrew as a “killer bitch” is going on my vision board.
• Rebecca tells Paula that Tucker is her last piece of unfinished business, at which point Paula reminds her of “your mother, your father, Audra Levine, the professor whose house you almost burned down, Greg…” We’ve got a very juicy final season ahead of us, gang.