In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Nobody Was Ever Just a Sidekick

Photo: Tyler Golden/The CW

In the early days of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, before its first season had finished airing, Rachel Bloom explained why the show had to be a musical: “There’s an old adage about how to write musicals in general,” she said, paraphrasing Bob Fosse. “When emotion’s too strong to speak, you sing, and when the emotion’s too strong to sing, you dance.”

Musical numbers turned out to be the perfect device for what CXG co-showrunners Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna hoped to explore, as their high-concept comedy dug into feelings of infatuation and “limerence,” interior states that would be hard to depict through dialogue alone. But when the show premiered in October 2015, you’d be forgiven for thinking it would be all about Rebecca Bunch, Bloom’s unreliable narrator with a love-rattled worldview informed by musicals, rom-coms, and Disney movies. In those opening episodes, whenever other characters sang or danced, it was clear that we were watching them through Rebecca’s skewed lens.

This quickly changed. In the sixth episode, Greg (Santino Fontana), who up until this point had been positioned as a cynical sad sack potential love interest, sings a “Piano Man”-style ballad called “What’ll It Be?” It blew up the accepted rules of the show; while Rebecca’s viewpoint was still privileged, it wasn’t exclusive anymore. By letting Greg sing a classic “I Want” song outside of the lead character’s lens, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend opened up endless opportunities for story arcs and actual stakes from every character populating its rich vision of West Covina.

In the seasons that followed Greg’s breakout song, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s radically empathetic approach to its ensemble — where even the goofiest characters can break out into song at any moment and reveal a deep inner life — made for surprising, probing, and funny television. So before Rebecca Bunch sings her last big number on Friday’s series finale, let’s take a brief intermission to appreciate the moments when Crazy Ex-Girlfriend chose to shine its spotlight on the chorus line.

“Gettin’ Bi” feat. Pete Gardner

In which Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner) comes out as bi in the most Darryl Whitefeather way imaginable: a staff meeting in the conference room, a sax solo, and plenty of double-finger-wag dance moves. This is a character that could have simply been the dorky, nosey boss, but “Gettin’ Bi” set him off on a track to White Josh (David Hull), forming probably the greatest couple of an already romance-obsessed series.

“Maybe This Dream” feat. Donna Lynna Champlin

Because Rebecca can’t hog all the period jokes. Season One’s “After Everything I’ve Done for You” was a turning point for Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), as she dug into the dark side of what it means to be an over-supportive, scheming sidekick. Emancipated from that unhealthy co-dependence in season two, Paula sings about pursuing law school — which would become one of her main ongoing arcs of the series — in a fabulous “I Want” song that contrasts Disney’s visions of femininity with messy reality. Points for the jerk-off motion while over-pronouncing “vibrator” in a Snow White vibrato that, oh my God, I just now realized “vibrator” is “vibrato” with an “r” tacked on.

“Thought Bubbles” feat. Vincent Rodriguez III

How do you write a song that represents the untapped inner life of a character whose defining trait is more or less a lack of much inner life? Leave it to Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) to get relatable with the twin frustrations of spiraling thoughts and untangling headphones, through a Margaritaville-worthy tune about anxiety.

“I Go to the Zoo” feat. Scott Michael Foster

This one totally works on its own as a pop parody, deconstructing a Drake-ish sadboi to suggest that underneath the posturing is maybe just, you know, an actually sad boy who just wants to go to the zoo and look at all the monkeys. But it’s also a great example of how CXG takes time to show how Rebecca’s decisions (in this case, standing up Nathaniel on a date) play out for the people in her wake. Even better, it endears the audience to the entitled, priggish Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster), whose whole persona is based around trying not to reveal his vulnerability and sweetness around other characters.

“The Moment Is Me” feat. Vella Lovell

From the same third season episode as “I Go to the Zoo,” here’s an inspirational ditty sung by the character least likely to sing an inspirational ditty. Blase, perpetual-student Heather (Vella Lovell) has finally graduated from community college against her will, and so she finds herself dragged into a peppy musical number about her life path … also against her will. It’s the kind of contrast that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does best.

“This Is My Movement” feat. Gabrielle Ruiz

Another inspirational solo number from a supporting character who’s come a long way. By season three, Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz) is still the same old narcissist, but now she’s a narcissist who has healthy relationships with other women — contrast this song with “Women Gotta Stick Together” from the first season — and has goals and ambitions beyond marrying Josh or antagonizing Rebecca. Also, “duty” sounds like “doody.” Astute.

“This Session Is Going to Be Different” feat. Michael Hyatt

The outfit is Lady Sings the Blues, the song is Sally Bowles, the vocals are on point. CXG made a running trope of how Rebecca ignores or directly goes against her therapist’s advice, and this song gives us Dr. Akopian’s side of the story, sung brilliantly by Michael Hyatt.

“George’s Turn” feat. Danny Jolles

Yes, this show uses music to enrich even its most minor characters with complex inner lives and emotional agency, but every workplace comedy also needs its Jerry Gergich. On Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, that role is filled by George (Danny Jolles). Here, almost parodying the fact that just about anyone can land a musical soliloquy of their own in West Covina, the office’s token Lefou gets his chance to go full Mama Rose — until the commercial break cuts him off.

“What’ll It Be (Reprise)” feat. Skylar Astin

Like your everyday, typical, non-50-hour-musical, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend often uses reprises and recurring character motifs. Here, it’s to show just how much Greg has changed since the first season. For one, he’s been recast with Skylar Astin, so reprising “What’ll It Be” to voice his 180-degree turn on West Covina offers both a through line between Gregs and some closure for the character.

“Our Twisted Fate” feat. The Pretzels

This show is so committed to giving all of its characters a voice and a perspective, even the pretzels get to sing. Apparently, being a visual metaphor for four seasons of TV is soul-wrenching work.

In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Nobody Was Ever Just a Sidekick