The first season of CW’s musical-comedy CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND was by far the most daring and distinctive show on broadcast television, but a nagging question remained: what could it do for an encore? It wasn’t clear how long the story could follow Rebecca Bunch (series co-creator Rachel Bloom) in her stalking of one-time summer camp beau and purported true love Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), and her emotional tormenting of on-again off-again substitute Greg (Santino Fontana) without the comedy curdling or the plot mechanics become monotonous.
But Bloom and fellow creator Aline Brosh McKenna made a string of great decisions throughout Season 2, and the result may have been an even stronger version of the series. While Rebecca remained a lovable obsessive, scarily on the edge between troubled and hilarious, the show minimized her outright stalking by having her finally get together with Josh in what became a real relationship. It weathered Fontana’s desire to depart (he’d only committed to a one-year contract) by slicing away the love triangle plotline, and when it added a new romantic prospect for Rebecca, it was in the person of Nathaniel Plimpton III (Scott Michael Foster), an arrogant attorney who had plenty of his own issues but who was much more of an emotional and intellectual match for Rebecca than Greg had been. Bloom and McKenna also significantly beefed up the roles and relationships among Rebecca and her female friends, adding complicated layers to BFF Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), who was estranged from Rebecca for a significant chunk of the season, and having Rebecca bond with cynical Heather (Vella Lovell) and one-time rival Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz).
All of these steps would have been impressive enough for a straight drama, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did it all while also featuring any number of Broadway-caliber original musical numbers, of which personal favorites included “You Go First,” the song depicting the reasons that Rebecca and Paula couldn’t make up after their fight, “Tell Me I’m OK, Patrick” (reuniting Bloom with her Robot Chicken cohort Seth Green), and what may be the ultimate Jewish wedding song, “Remember That We Suffered.”
Not a pair to rest on their successes, in tonight’s season finale (written and directed by McKenna) Bloom and McKenna veered the show into a sharp left turn. The day of Rebecca and Josh’s wedding was inevitably going to end in disaster, but when it finally arrived, it wasn’t directly the result of Rebecca’s awful father Silas (John Allen Nelson), or the incriminating file Rebecca’s own stalker Trent (Paul Welsh) tried to press on Josh. Rather, it was Josh’s decision to drop out entirely and become a priest. This prompted the reveal that Rebecca had gone very dark 7 years earlier, responding to her Harvard Law professor’s refusal to leave his wife for her with an attempt to burn down his house and an involuntary commitment–and the implication that she was headed that way again with the ominous line “Josh Chan must be destroyed.”
The original Crazy Ex-Girlfriend pilot was shot for Showtime and adjusted for CW, and there were hints in it of a more ambiguous show than the broadcast version, including a bit where Rebecca threw her meds down the sink. It had seemed that part of the price for going to broadcast was going to be a lighter tone, but it certainly appears as though Season 3 is going to heave itself down the rabbit hole and take its chances.
This time, though, one has confidence that Bloom and McKenna know exactly what they’re doing, and that they’ve figured out how to pull this off. Bloom herself is an amazing presence, who walks her character along a knife-edge of likability each week, and the rest of the cast has proven itself fully up to the show’s challenges. The creators have said that they have a 4-season plan for the series, and while Season 3 was far from a sure thing–even by CW standards, the ratings are painfully low–the fact that it’s received one suggests that it should get to fully realize its agenda. (Honestly, how much lower could the ratings go?) In a network landscape largely made up of interchangeable procedurals, fantasy serials and sitcoms, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a tiny power ballad all its own.
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