Heading into its home stretch (sports analogy!) seems to have tightened Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s focus, leading to its best back-to-back pair of episodes in a long while. While last week’s outing showcased some particularly inspired comedy, this week’s is all about tugging on the heartstrings. The conflicts in “I Can Work With You” feel raw and genuine, eschewing some of last season’s excessively theatrical ups and downs for anxieties and emotions that feel small, personal, and authentic.
I was particularly impressed by the truth behind Rebecca’s avoidance of baby Hebby, which the show has heretofore either ignored or quietly mocked. But this isn’t just Rebecca’s usual tendency toward self-absorption and ignoring other people at play. Instead, as she confesses to Darryl, Hebby is an ever-present reminder of “a time in [Rebecca’s] life where [she] made some rash decisions and contributed to the existence of another person, and maybe didn’t fully think it through.”
It’s a very genuine emotion, and extremely relatable. Who hasn’t worried that they don’t have what it takes to be a positive force in a new baby’s life? And what new parent, especially one with a mental illness, hasn’t had their doubts about passing on their unruly DNA to an innocent newborn? Rebecca’s fears also lend some retrospective heft to her (and Heather’s) impulsive decision to help make Darryl a baby in the first place, which felt forced and rushed at the time. I’m only sad they haven’t come up until now. Fully integrating Rebecca’s regrets about Hebby into the first half of this season — which has focused so heavily on themes of forgiveness and moving on — would have made the emotional payoff of this episode even bigger.
The payoff is still pretty good, though. Rachel Bloom usually plays big, but she’s always done nice, subtle work in Rebecca’s various emotional breakdowns. Her portrayal of Rebecca’s “shame spiral” over repeating her mistakes with Hebby feels especially genuine, and nicely sets up Greg’s confession of love, which might otherwise have seemed a bit forced. Bloom’s dual reprises of “Hello, Nice to Meet You” — postcoital with Greg and over Hebby’s crib — are also superb, funny without sacrificing an essential delicacy. While Bloom rarely falters, it’s a standout performance.
Equally strong this episode is Scott Michael Foster, who has an outright ball with Nathaniel’s game-night struggle to reconcile his bone-deep WASP competitiveness with his new nice-guy persona. (Nathaniel chastising his skeptics by yelling “I’m nice now!” is my favorite running gag of the season so far.) Pairing Nathaniel with Josh, whose only conception of Oliver Wendell Holmes comes through analogies to second-tier ‘80s Disney films, is a perfect way to highlight Nathaniel’s contradictions and struggle to be “good,” and Foster makes the most of the many funny lines he gets.
Foster also walks away with Nathaniel-Josh duet “Sports Analogies,” exuding both extreme Rat Pack charm and creeping vulnerability. Though catchy and well-phrased on a technical level, the song felt pander-y to the show’s female viewership, full of bland generalizations about men that don’t square with the double-edged brilliance of “Let’s Generalize About Men” (or even “Man Nap”). I’m a confirmed hater of both sports and the conversational strictures of toxic masculinity, but the whole “blame our withholding dads” element felt tired and smug to me. Somehow, though, Foster manages to keep the laughs coming, accentuating little details like double-fisting his double old-fashioneds or casually throwing a soccer ball into a neighbor’s window.
Finally, I was impressed with how the writers made lemonade with an important scene the show clearly couldn’t afford to shoot: Paula’s graduation from law school. Given what we know about Paula’s crappy upbringing, her being the hates-to-be-the-center-of-a-party type makes perfect sense for her character. And we still got the big, tearjerking payoff of all of her friends celebrating and being happy for her milestone, in a way that felt fresher than a diploma walk in an auditorium full of extras. It’s certainly the first time I’ve welled up watching a group of friends help stage a perfect selfie.
As if that wasn’t enough emotion, the episode closes on another great turn from Foster, whose reaction shots of Nathaniel eavesdropping on Rebecca’s hookup dish to Paula are genuinely wrenching. I’ve been frustrated by some of this season’s weirder plot digressions, but I remain impressed by how effortlessly it’s clicked another genuinely original love triangle into place. I genuinely have no clue which suitor to root for — or if rooting for Rebecca to find romance at all is entirely beside the point. It’s great to be on a genuinely unpredictable ride.
• Rebecca bids farewell to her pretzel customers with “Have a truly happy day!” I guess it’s a good thing she can defend herself if the butter sues her for copyright infringement?
• For the non-Spanish-speakers out there, Valencia’s bilingual communication to Hector is “If you ruin this, I will kill you and throw your body in the river.” Frankly, I’m on her side after the whole Father Brah varsity jacket incident.
• Are Sunil’s widowers’ camping retreats actually orgies? Discuss.
• The funniest moment of the episode was unquestionably Nathaniel and Josh’s back-and-forth over Marvin Gaye’s murder.— “His father killed him …as an adult?” — “Yes, all the music that he made that you love, he made as a baby.” — “Whoa.”