Throughout the first half of its debut season, The CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend always found a way to explain its premise by barreling straight from incredulity into its manic theme song. A wide-eyed Rebecca (newly minted Golden Globe and Critics' Choice winner Rachel Bloom) would sing about being "blue" at her high-powered lawyer job in New York and how it inspired the impulsive decision that led her to West Covina, California — which is also the home of her childhood sweetheart Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III).
But don't even worry about it, she constantly assured us. Josh is totally not why she's here!
And so, as animated versions of the show's supporting characters dance around her, grinning and brandishing jazz hands as they belt out that she's "the crazy ex-girlfriend ... she's so broken inside!" Rebecca protests their "sexist term." However, she never admits that Josh is, indeed, what spurred her to move to West Covina.
Rebecca's denial was present through the entire first half of the season, getting more and more unbelievable with every passing episode — until it all came spilling out during the pivotal midseason premiere.
"I'm Going to the Beach With Josh and His Friends!" forces everyone — especially Rebecca — to directly face their actions
In "I'm Going to the Beach With Josh and His Friends!" Rebecca's desperation to make friends and prove that she isn't at all in love with Josh comes to a head as almost the entire regular cast gets stuck in traffic while riding on a party bus. As it turns out, Rebecca's social anxiety doesn't take too well to shifting dynamics in a claustrophobic setting — and so all her neuroses come tumbling out at the most inopportune moment, as neuroses are wont to do.
The ensuing scenes are deeply uncomfortable, and purposely so. After eight episodes of Rebecca scheming her way around everyone — and her own feelings — she now finds herself literally trapped with the results. Josh's impossibly hot girlfriend Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz) slinks around Josh and the bus like she's stalking her prey. Josh's best friend (and Rebecca's former hookup) Greg (Frozen's Santino Fontana) tries to make something work with Heather (Vella Lovell), Rebecca's deadpan neighbor. Meanwhile, Rebecca's best friend Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) has cut her off until she can admit that her feelings for Josh have been affecting every other aspect of her life.
Rebecca finds herself on the outside, looking in — and she panics.
As the series' ninth episode, "I'm Going to the Beach With Josh and His Friends!" has more than enough backstory to work with to successfully pull off this sly bottle episode (i.e., an episode in which the cast is trapped together in a single physical space). After some desperate attempts at pretending everything's okay and one seriously ill-advised pole-dancing routine, Rebecca finally comes clean. It's a startling admission, one that didn't come a moment too soon.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was toeing a dangerous line. Addressing that head on should only make the show better.
Prior to this episode, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was getting dangerously close to letting Rebecca's anxieties consume it entirely. "I'm Going to the Beach With Josh and His Friends!" was a great way for the show to confront that problem.
It's not that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend shouldn't acknowledge Rebecca's issues; her reflective moments on that subject, though brief, are consistently among the best the series has to offer.
The problem was that it was becoming increasingly unbelievable that everyone around Rebecca would keep indulging her erratic behavior without addressing it more directly. (Paula has been particularly scattered, going from making "Team Josh" shirts one week to calling out Rebecca's unhealthy obsession the next.)
Luckily, "I'm Going to the Beach With Josh and His Friends!" delivers. Finally balancing Rebecca's erratic, troubling behavior with appropriately concerned responses from her friends and co-workers signals that the show might be moving in a promising, more self-aware direction.
Despite Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's credits, the characters surrounding Rebecca aren't nearly cartoonish enough to keep ignoring her whirling dervish of self-destruction. One of the most consistent problems the show faced in the first half of its season was that the supporting characters were nowhere near as developed or consistently compelling as Rebecca. Confining a bunch of them alongside her in that party bus as she spiraled into self-pity was an eye-opening experience for everyone, and it let all the supporting players in Rebecca's life react in a way that naturally built on eight episodes' worth of sporadic character development.
Most importantly: Rebecca has finally fallen for Josh for a real reason
As far as Rebecca herself goes: The moment when she finally says something approaching the truth, out loud, to people who aren't dancing around in her imagination, is a crucial one. Though it's a relief when she finally admits to Paula that she loves Josh, the scene works so well because it was preceded by moments that finally give real reasons for why she loves him, reasons that go far beyond their long-past summer camp relationship.
Rebecca's reveal to the party bus is, tellingly, not about how much she loves Josh at all. It's about how much she loves West Covina. And, sure, there's some coded language in there about being madly in love with ... West Covina, but her enthusiasm feels real, for once. So while everyone in that party bus has some idea that loving West Covina doubles as a metaphor for loving Josh, Rebecca speaks earnestly about how miserable she was in "gray" New York, and how running into Josh there made her realize something important: She "had to be where the happiness was."
And Josh thinks that is awesome.
While the entire show hinges on the moment Rebecca completely changed her life for Josh, until now I was never fully sold on Rebecca's pursuit of Josh being anything but misguided. After all, she didn't really know Josh anymore; she just knew that the summer they spent together was a brief moment of happiness in her otherwise gray life.
But getting to know Josh over eight episodes, and letting him react to this moment of truth in an empathetic way, allowed me to see what the show sees in him. More importantly, it made Rebecca realize what she sees in him.
Once Josh assures her that moving to find happiness "isn't crazy," they sing a sweeter, more personal version of those frantic opening credits. All the while, Rebecca looks at him like she finally realizes that Josh isn't a metaphor; he's a person, who just might complement her better than she even thought. Josh is kind, understanding, and encouraging. Sure, Rebecca and Greg have better banter, but Josh makes Rebecca feel great — which is important when she spends so much of her time depressed and feeling like human garbage.
Finally being honest with herself about what would make her happy results in a real moment of clarity on that party bus — and, at long last, a real reason to root for Rebecca and Josh to get together.