Extensive spoilers for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend follow. And also Friends, but that show ended over a decade ago!
The history of the romantic comedy is littered with couples who got together at the end for no compelling reason other than the demands of the genre. If the audience demands happy endings, then the TV and movie studios better deliver, right? We can give up on a lot of things, but once two characters lock eyes across a room, that’s it. It doesn’t matter what sort of horrible things Ross and Rachel did to each other over the course of Friends’ 10-year run. It can all be undone as long as Rachel gets off the plane and they manage to declare their undying love for each other before the final credits roll.
Enter Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This critically-loved CW comedy is interested in the uglier side of the One True Pairing, or OTP. In the first episode, we meet Rebecca Bunch, who gives up a promotion at her high-powered New York law firm after a chance meeting with Josh Chan, a guy she dated briefly as a teenager. She’s utterly convinced that they’re soulmates, so much so that she moves across the country to his hometown of West Covina, California and inserts herself back into his life. Spoiler alert: She wins Josh back eventually, but she doesn’t keep him. He leaves her at the altar at the end of the second season, and in Season 3, she responds in a way that very nearly wrecks both of their lives.
Among other things, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend explores what it means to be a 'good person.' Good people can do bad things, sure, but how many bad things are too many? In Season 1, Rebecca even sings a song called “I’m a Good Person.” The series also examines what love can and can’t do to “fix” you and make you into the person you’ve always wanted to be.
I have never moved across the country for a guy I liked but barely knew. Most people haven't. Yet the genius of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend lies in how relatable Rebecca is even when she’s making wildly inappropriate and often destructive decisions. I have gone chasing after a guy because that guy felt like the only part of my life that interested me. I didn’t want to do anything to fix my actual circumstances; that seemed too hard. I just wanted a guy to distract me. I wanted a man to see things in me that I had trouble seeing in myself.
Since this is a musical comedy, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend brilliantly uses singing and dancing to both mock and deconstruct the harmful crap Rebecca (and to some extent, all of us) believe about love. One of my favorites is the Season 1 number “A Boy Band Made Up of Four Joshes,” which takes the subtext behind boy band songs and turns it into text that’s both hilarious and sad. "Hilarious and sad” is really CEG’s sweet spot, come to think of it.
As Rebecca, Rachel Bloom has a ton of great reactions in this number, but it really belongs to the four Joshes, all of whom are played flawlessly by Vincent Rodriguez III. They’re dressed up like Backstreet Boys gone to medical school, and they all sing and dance in perfect harmony, probably because Rodriguez is harmonizing with himself. The Joshes promise her “We’ll help you understand the reasons why your mom made you sad/ and why every man you date is just a stand-in for your dad.” There’s a lot to digest in this two-minute song.
At the end, the Joshes reveal the best part: They’re also “a team of mental health professionals trained in cognitive behavioral therapy with specialties in personality and sleep disorders …. and love."
Unfortunately, this is only happening in Rebecca’s poor, deluded head. No one person can fulfill every single emotional need we ever have or ever will have, and other characters try to tell Rebecca this. Bartender Greg (played by Santino Fontana) asks her to ditch the idea of Josh and go out with him instead. Which would be an awkward ask even if Josh and Greg weren’t best friends. Rebecca’s head turns this speech into a Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire-style number called “Settle for Me.”
If I had to name the precise moment when this show stole my heart forever, it would probably be when a tuxedo-clad Greg croons, “I have no problem being picked out from the bottom/If he’s your broken condom, I’m Plan B/So lower those expectations and settle for me.” What can I say? I love a good emergency contraception joke that also manages to break your heart. A lesser show would have Greg genuinely convinced he can make Rebecca forget Josh, but not this one. He knows he’s never going to be what she really wants, and he can almost, but not quite, convince himself that he’s OK with that.
Rebecca eventually gets together with Greg, who has his own issues. In the Season 1 finale, Josh and his longtime girlfriend break up, and Rebecca abandons Greg at a wedding to go make out with Josh. Early in Season 2, Greg leaves West Covina to attend business school in Atlanta. That seemingly clears the way for Rebecca and Josh to get their happily-ever-after. They even sing a song called “We’ll Never Have Problems Again.” (Best line: “They say obsession biologically lasts four years at most/But science doesn’t apply to us.”)
But the show doesn’t end there. The whole Rebecca-Josh journey is a long and exhausting one, and by early Season 3, it’s clear that they are not the show’s end-game, and rightfully so. If your fiancé abandons you at the altar on your wedding day, there’s no coming back from that, especially if you respond to that abandonment by stalking him and his family members. Soulmates don’t do those kinds of things to each other. And any faint hope that Greg might return from Atlanta and save Rebecca were dashed when she slept with Greg’s dad.
The CW has given CEG a fourth and final season, and the show has a lot of work to do in the 13 episodes that remain, especially after a jarring Season 3 courtroom cliffhanger. If anyone is going to save Rebecca, it’s going to have to be Rebecca, who keeps sabotaging herself in part because she has trouble believing she’s worth saving.
I don’t know if Rebecca will be single by the end of the show’s run, especially since Nathaniel, her current love interest, has his own set of delusions to work through. If she is paired up, I want it to be with someone who encourages her to be her best self, but without either of them believing that he’s her Knight in Shining Armor. If she’s single, that’s OK as well. What matters is that Rebecca finally believes what her therapist tells her: “You’re a loving person who deserves love.”
Featured still from "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" via The CW