How Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Creators Gave Rebecca Bunch Her Happy Ending

“Finding your mate is not an end, or some essential part of your identity.”

Photo: JUCO for Vulture
Photo: JUCO for Vulture

Rebecca Bunch is in love. After four ambitious, often moving, and covertly filthy seasons at the CW, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has reached its end, and its protagonist (Rachel Bloom) has evolved from a woman who definitely did not move to West Covina for Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) and the imagined cure-all happiness that he could give her, to a person finding a way to take her personal truth and “manifest the outside on the inside,” as co-creator and showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna puts it. And while she doesn’t “end up” with any of the points of her love quadrangle (Scott Michael Foster’s Nathaniel, Skylar Astin’s Greg, and Rodriguez’s Josh), the Rebecca we see at the end of the finale is in a place where real love, romantic and otherwise, is definitely on the table. Not bad for a woman whose hopes and dreams were buried under delusion, denial, and a pair of heavy boobs.

Brosh McKenna and Bloom, her co-creator on the series and a fellow executive producer, began this journey on what Brosh McKenna describes as a “blind date at the CBS offices … which moved from the office to the parking lot,” and has, Bloom says, “been going on for six years.” The ratings for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend were never anything resembling great, but the show found a devoted audience, some of whom flocked to Los Angeles for the taping of Yes, It’s Really Us Singing!, a concert special that also airs this evening. For the people who made Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, that’s a hell of a happy ending: four seasons ending on their own terms, a chance to celebrate with people who love the show, and one more showcase for that giant floating pretzel.

That’s their happily ever after. But how did Rebecca get hers? In several conversations with Vulture, Bloom, Brosh McKenna, and a few friends discussed the means by which they got Rebecca her best possible end, how they managed to make each of her paramours a viable relationship option, and what comes out of her mouth when she sings that unheard song.

This interview has been compiled from separate conversations, and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

At the beginning of the season, none of the men Rebecca’s with in “I Have a Date Tonight” would seem like healthy options for her, but when she’s deciding between them in “I’m in Love,” it seems possible she could be happy with any. How did you bring that about?

Aline Brosh McKenna: We got all the men to go through their journeys so that they’re really people you like and root for, and people that would be really good romantic partners for her. We wanted to make the point that there are many good romantic partners in the world, and you don’t need to find the one. It’s not about auditioning for the missing puzzle piece. We wanted to show that it’s about getting everyone to a place where they can healthily prioritize someone else.

In the table read, there was a line that seemed to indicate Greg was the ultimate choice, but it doesn’t appear in the finale.

Brosh McKenna: Yes, that was cut. We had a line in the table read when she says, “If it was going to be anyone, it was going to be you, Greg,” and we cut that. And Skyler was mad about it! Which is pretty funny. The guys all got kind of competitive about it. When we were doing the scene [Ed note: Brosh McKenna also directed the finale], I said, “I want to add in a line.” And he said, “Is it that line about how if it was going to be anyone, it would be me?” [Laughs]

What prompted that change?

Brosh McKenna: While we were writing the rehab of all the guys, Nathaniel really came up a lot in terms of feeling really viable and wonderful as a partner for her. With that line, we wanted to make the point that it could well be that Greg is single, and she’s single, and after this they go off to talk about the classes that she’s doing. Or it could be that she dated Greg for two years, and then Nathaniel comes back from Guatemala when she’s 36, and she bumps into him, you know what I mean? And it could be that too. So that’s sort of one of the points that the episode is making. There isn’t a destination.

Were there other changes with regard to the love quadrangle?

Brosh McKenna: That was the only line we took out with respect to that. The whole point of the ending was [that] it’s not going to be “ending up” with someone. We got to this idea that it could be a few people, and so tipping it to Greg undermined our point. There is one thing in the episode that tips it a little bit to Greg, in that Greg is the one to whom she explains what happened with Paula. But I think she probably explained something similar to Nathaniel.

No Josh, huh?

Brosh McKenna: It’s funny, because even on the staff for our show, we have Greg shippers and Nathaniel shippers. Josh always seems to bring up the rear a little bit? But he’s also come up a lot, in that people used to really not like Josh, and he’s actually made the biggest effort of the three guys. He’s going to therapy, and trying to understand himself.

This season was sort of about getting them into a position where they all seem really viable to us, and to her. That’s what makes her realize that the choice is not about them. The more typical romantic-comedy trope is,Is it this guy or that guy?” Instead, it was about getting to the point where as a viewer, you really feel like, You know what? I could see it going any direction. Except that Josh really does seem like he’s ready to be in a committed relationship way sooner than the others are.

How did you go about figuring out what those breakups, for lack of a better term, would be like?

Brosh McKenna: We did a bit of refining of those scenes. It’s interesting, because it could have been very Wizard of Oz-y, where it’s like, “I give you this,” “I give you this,” but it’s really more about her saying, “I’m not ready to be with a person now.” And then each of the guys realizes, You know what? Through her I’ve realized something. Like Josh realizes he’s ready to settle down. Nathaniel’s realizing, I do want to go off on an adventure. And Greg is really realizing, I am happy with who I am. So instead of putting those words in her mouth, we really refined those so that they’re saying the things we want to say.

What do you see in Rebecca’s future, romantically and otherwise?

Rachel Bloom: I’m sure a lot of people are going to ask, okay, so who does she end up with later in life? And the answer is, I don’t know. It’s different now. She knows who she is. Everyone else is in a different place. She could move to Paris for two years to study music and meet a guy there. And it’s nice, letting her be free.

Brosh McKenna: The point Rachel and I were always making is that finding your mate is not an end or a destination or fate or some essential part of your identity. It’s an aspect of your life, and it can be a wonderful aspect of your life.

Bloom: It kind of feels like we jumped in as writers to fuck up this girl’s life for the past four years, and now we can send her off, and truly see what her life is like. I have generally positive thoughts for her. It’s like, All right, you’ve got this. We’re going to stop coming here and fucking up your life and making you spiral and making you do these things. You’re in a good place now. There’s still gonna be ups and downs, but now you have free will. [Laughs] It’s godlike.

Ending with “This is a song I wrote” has been in the plan all along, is that correct?

Bloom: That line was in the back of our heads the whole time, but it became really present in the final season. It’s like, okay, now we actually have to go toward that ending we’ve always been wanting to do. So it’s the journey of a writer, but I think that to me, it’s what it symbolizes to be a writer, which is not specific to writing. It’s telling your own story, and taking charge of your own destiny. So we added a line in the finale that’s something like, “It’s not just about the writing, it’s about when I’m telling my story,” because that was the whole point of that line.

Brosh McKenna: “This is a song I wrote” is something we pitched to people in 2014. Literally, that was the end of the pitch. Every writer I know, it took them a while to find their exact niche. For Rebecca, it’s that she loves songs. She knows that’s in her soul. But finding the way in which she can express herself, especially as someone who’s conditioned to be achievement oriented, it’s hard to make that a mission.

Bloom: We landed on that line really early on. You just make these decisions when you’re thinking up a show, and some of them stick and some of them don’t. And then they become almost this like legendary thing in your head. Even the choice to set it in West Covina, I remember that moment. We’d been talking about this guy that I was in love with in high school who lived in the town next to West Covina, and I said West Covina for comedic emphasis. And Aline was like, “Oh my God, the show takes place in West Covina. That’s where it is.” So you make all these little decisions, and slowly you keep the ones that make sense when you look at the materials a day later, and then you just destroy the things that don’t make sense.

Rachel, is experiencing something musically different for you than engaging with it intellectually?

Bloom: Yes, absolutely. With melodies, there’s something about the music that — sometimes I can’t codify why it feels right. That’s also true of lyric writing. There’s definitely a lot of this show that was written by feel. It’s scary, because there are certain things you do or you write, and you can’t quantify why it works, or why it works better than another thing that someone else suggested that’s technically more “correct.”

I came from a very … rigid is the wrong word, but a very set technique of sketch-comedy writing. When you study at UCB, if you do improv or sketch, you find the game of the scene, you heighten the game. It’s almost mathematical. And I think that for so long, some of the sketches I wrote, I wasn’t necessarily bringing my full self to them, because I was trying to fit into this like mathematical technique. I was surrounded by guys. So everything I wrote was probably subconsciously trying to, like, be acceptable to the male gaze. So when I started writing songs, because it was combining what I learned from sketch comedy with musical theater, my first love since I was 2 years old, it felt like I was bringing myself fully into my writing. I wasn’t trying to be anyone else, because I could bring in emotions, I could bring in those tropes that I’d been absorbing for my entire life, and then use my techniques to shape that.

That sort of mirrors Rebecca’s journey.

Bloom: It’s not a dissimilar journey at the macro level of, Who are you, what do you want to say? And I think that’s the journey for any writer. So speaking to Aline’s point, the overall arc of “a person doesn’t know who she is and she learns to tell her own story,” that’s every writer. But for me, I always was on the path of the arts. So it was a matter of homing in on what and how, and what I wanted to know and who I wanted to be within that.

So, when Rebecca says that last line and opens her mouth, what comes out?

Bloom: I was making jokes on the day that it’s like, ragtime electronica. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not like she goes on to write the songs from the show. Rebecca knows she’s imagined songs in her head, but she doesn’t think they’re funny. She just thinks they’re songs about her, in the way that she would interpret those genres as herself. Rebecca doesn’t become Rachel Bloom.

Brosh McKenna: I think it’s probably a more earnest version of “West Covina,” or that type of song. If there are jokes in her song, she doesn’t quite realize it. Rebecca doesn’t do comedy. That’s the difference between Rebecca Bunch and Rachel Bloom. The songs are often funny because she doesn’t know enough about the genre, or her personal insecurities sneak in. Like, “Please don’t be a murderer.” She’s trying to sing that sexy kind of R&B song, but her neurotic fears about not wanting to be murdered overwhelm her ability to perform in that genre. Or with “West Covina,” she’s so infatuated that she’s overlooking crappy things.

Erin Ehrlich (executive producer): I think it’s a “West Covina” kind of song, but it’s not great. There are a couple of beautiful, poetic lines it it. Then some clunky stuff. There’s a lot of potential, but it’s not fantastic.

Brosh McKenna: We had been tempted, and we did this in the room, just for us, and it made us laugh really hard: Every time she says, “This is a song I wrote,” we cut to black, and then we come back, and it’s [she mimes plunking out individual keys on a piano, and sings, “Bleep blop blorp, bleep boop”]. It’s so bad. And it really made us laugh very hard. But we decided not to do it. [Laughs] It might undermine the point.

Kathryn M. Burns (series choreographer): [Singing]I like boys, but I’m trying to focus on myself.” Something like that.

Adam Schlesinger (songwriter, executive music producer): “Smoke on the Water.”

Jack Dolgen (songwriter, writer, executive producer): That was what it was. It was always “Smoke on the Water.”

Schlesinger: This whole show was leading up to Deep Purple.

Dolgen: It couldn’t be anything else. But in all seriousness, we, and by we I mean the audience, don’t see it. So we don’t know. I think Rebecca would write similarly to Rachel. Rachel writes from an emotional point of view. She approaches songwriting kind of like she approaches playing a character. “Where’s my emotional starting point?” Rachel’s great at combining that with an intellectual overlay. So there’s an intellectual concept, but she writes from an emotional place toward that intellectual concept. I would say Rebecca might do something similar. I think Rebecca might not be as good a songwriter as Rachel.

Schlesinger: She’s just starting out. We don’t want to be too hard on her. Give her a second.

Gabrielle Ruiz (Valencia): I think “West Covina” comes out. A simpler version. I would love for that to be her first song.

Donna Lynne Champlin (Paula): I would think that Rebecca Bunch’s point of view on love would be unique. It wouldn’t be like, [singing] “I’m as corny as Kansas in August,” because she’s not that person anymore. I think it would be something different. She would have finally found her own voice.

Danny Jolles (George): “West Covina!” It has to be, right?

Scott Michael Foster (Nathaniel): I think it would be like a summary of the show for her. It’d take her best experiences and roll ’em into a nice little song. One hundred fifty-seven songs, cut down to about three minutes.

David Hull (White Josh): Well there’s that running joke that Rebecca can’t actually sing. So our thought was that it was just absolutely atrocious.

Vella Lovell (Heather): When someone’s a songwriter that’s finding their voice, they probably suck in their first year of doing anything. I appreciate that you don’t hear it, because your imagination can take care of it.

Hull: Or she just starts playing really well, and goes, [singing “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”]A bottle of red …”

Lovell: Yeah, and it turns out she’s Billy Joel.

Hull: She’s been becoming Billy Joel this whole time, and no one knew.

How Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Gave Rebecca Bunch Her Happy Ending