There are shows that are unafraid to dispose of cast members at will, and there are shows that desperately try to keep every last minor character in the fold. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend definitely falls into the latter category, devising entire plotlines to create a niche for a charming bit player who last appeared two seasons ago. That makes the surprise revelation that Gabrielle Ruiz’s Valencia and Vella Lovell’s Heather will be leaving the show (to move to NYC and El Segundo, respectively) big news.
I assume the idea is to help clear the playing field for all the stuff that needs to get resolved in this final season, but Heather, especially, will be missed. The show does a nice job of amplifying the gut punch, though, unexpectedly dropping the bomb on viewers at the same time it gets dropped on Rebecca, who’s just starting to feel like she’s regained her footing.
Close friends moving away, especially for big and exciting reasons like weddings and promotions, is fertile and largely untilled dramatic ground for the person left behind. Rebecca has enough self-awareness to quietly confess to Dr. Akopian that “I see life as a contest and I am now losing … I want to cryogenically freeze all my friends to buy me some time to find a better career and life partner, and when I’m ready, I’ll wake them up and throw a party for all of our mutual milestones.”
But since that’s neither particularly nice nor particularly possible, Rebecca opts for the classic move of replacing her departing pals with new, younger friends: Maya and A.J., who are nowhere near the condo-buying, business-starting phase of their lives. Given that Esther Povitsky and Clark Moore are roughly the same age as Rachel Bloom, the effect doesn’t quite work, and it takes the story to a more blandly predictable place, with Rebecca dressing in too-young clothes and misusing hip slang. (For what it’s worth, Urban Dictionary also hasn’t come down on a clear definition of “fizzy.”) It feels like a less incisive retread of the “Makey Makeover” story line from season two.
And like all of Rebecca’s identity crises, it culminates in her acting out once again, inviting a few dozen of Maya and A.J’s misbehaving young friends to crash Heather and Valencia’s going-away party. She only comes to her senses and kicks them out after someone dents that new fridge she bought, an amusing “Time to Seize the Day” callback that definitely is a clear 30-something mile marker. (Well, that, and learning for the first time that Nick at Nite airs Full House reruns. I’m old.)
It might have been more realistic if the members of the #girlgroup4evah took these departures as a sign that it’s time for Heather and Valencia to move on and grow apart from Rebecca and Paula — something that’s just as, if not more, likely to happen when friends move far away to chase new dreams. But instead, the pair’s story line ends on a saccharine come-to-Jesus meeting celebrating Rebecca and her one unalloyed good trait: inspiring her friends to take big chances. She’s contrite, but given her serious backsliding in the episode, the group hug feels unearned.
Equally cloying is Paula’s second son-related subplot in a row, which features Brendan hanging up his weed-dealing scale to join a bizarro Peace Corps knockoff that will station him in Africa for five to ten years. Paula tries to keep him home by dangling the prospect of reunion with an old flame, but Scott and the entire family turn the tables and catch her in the act, leaving her no choice but to accept Brendan’s decision. From there, the plot devolves into a lot of overattached-mom “I held you in my arms when you were a baby who was this small” clichés, which feel unearned given that Paula has infamously tuned out her kids and their endless misbehavior for most of the show’s run.
Donna Lynne Champlin, though, gives it 100 percent as usual, expertly intertwining her comedic and dramatic abilities. (She’s especially good in the kitchen-table scene where Paula tries to pretend that she’s okay with Brendan’s decision.) And her pipes may have never sounded better than they do on “I’ve Always Never Believed in You,” an ode to the We Need to Talk About Kevin moms of the world. It’s a shame her powerhouse performance is marred by mediocre lip-syncing.
The episode’s other song is a parody of Oklahoma!, with the full cast insisting that the “OTP” of “WhiteJoshFeather” get back together. (For fellow musical-theater nerds, I think it’s meant to be an anti–“People Will Say We’re in Love” mixed with the look of “Farmer and the Cowman.”) The idea is fun, but I’m not sure the pairing of subject and parody have much to say to each other. There’s a sort of mid-song acknowledgment that this is just theater-nerd wish-fulfillment and the joke isn’t really working, so why not just throw in more random cast members and choreography and call it a day? The cast gets by on charm (Bloom and Povitsky in particular), but the song itself is a big mess.
But aside from the song, the Darryl–WhiJo story line was my favorite of the episode, and actually did manage to find some nuance in one of TV’s favorite ongoing debates: whether exes can be platonic friends. It felt fresh to see neither of the two interested in getting back together, yet also unwilling to leave the comfort zone of not having to deal with dating other people. Thankfully, Darryl throws a glass of water and a list of streaming passwords at WhiJo before it’s too late. Let’s hope WhiJo is very happy with cute Vic from the gym, and that he teaches him to play darts before he puts someone’s eye out.
• While they’re technically being written off, this likely isn’t the final appearance for Heather or Valencia — Valencia tells Rebecca she’s returning to West Covina for Christmas, and Heather is still working for Home Base (“the El Segundo Home Base will be my home-base Home Base, and West Covina is more of my second base … segundo base.”)
• Once again, CXG is on it with the novelty business trends: Rebecca tells Valencia and Heather that she’s “gotta go to a pop-up candy museum, and then a hookah bar, and then a party inside a photo booth!” (Heather’s response: “We’re not old! Now where’s my back brace, because I have to lift this dish box.”)
• The show’s self-awareness about how people discuss TV in the streaming era is a nice bit of meta-comedy. I wish I could say I didn’t relate to Darryl desperately trying to get Vic to wink if he’d already hit a certain plot point in a show.
• It’s weird to me that Rebecca still hasn’t interacted at all with Hebby, who’s biologically her kid. Sure, she missed the birth because she was in jail, but she’s been right next to her twice now, and hasn’t acknowledged her existence either time.
• If Heather wasn’t already on the way out the door, I’d understand her leaving just over Rebecca using her vibrator again. Seriously, do people’s roommates do this? It’s so gross.