Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for October 17 through 23, 2016, is "Where Is Josh’s Friend?" the first episode of the second season of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
I like a show that makes me feel a little unhinged as I’m describing it. This fall season, that distinction belongs to NBC’s new comedy The Good Place, which takes place in a utopia that prizes manners and froyo. Last season, though, it was The CW’s musical comedy slash occasional mental health drama Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, whose second season premiered on October 21.
In its stellar first season, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend managed to pull off several things at once that should’ve been impossible.
It’s a TV show that peppers its loopy comedy with elaborate musical breaks, all of which feature original choreography and songs. Its protagonist is an obsessive woman (co-creator Rachel Bloom) who fought off a particularly bad panic attack in New York by moving across the country for Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), a kind bro she met in summer camp as a teen.
In her quest to win over Josh’s heart, Rebecca keeps doing such outrageous, self-centered, or otherwise desperate things that it tests how much you can root for her.
But the key with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — besides its catchy songs; watch the videos and tell me I’m wrong — is that it almost always acknowledges when Rebecca goes too far. For as much as Rebecca’s insisted that she’s a good person, she’s also cringed that she can be “the villain in [her] own story.”
When she and her best friend Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) get too wrapped up in their manipulations and dive into some seriously sketchy moral areas, there’s a moment that undercuts everything and reminds Rebecca that her obsession with Josh is about her general unhappiness more than anything else.
Also, the aforementioned songs really are catchy as hell.
This mostly holds true in the second season premiere, “Where Is Josh’s Friend?” which picks up immediately where the first season finale left off, with Rebecca finally getting Josh to proclaim ... well, not that he loves her, per se, but he sure is attracted to her!
The new songs in the episode are sharp and funny, and as an impatient fan of the show, I was just glad to see these characters again. But Crazy Ex-Girlfriend will need to be pretty careful in particular about how Rebecca toes her own moral line if this season’s going to keep itself together.
First things first: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is still crushing the original song game
The fact that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend keeps churning out fantastically clever songs on a weekly basis is, to be blunt, astonishing.
This isn’t me judging the creative team — which is brilliant — but rather the fact that writing, staging, and choreographing for 50(?!) songs in a single TV season is a huge feat to take on, and this show rarely stumbled along the way.
That stays true in “Where Is Josh’s Friend?” The two original songs in this premiere are about as indicative of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s strengths as they come.
The more straightforward “We Should Definitely Not Have Sex Right Now” throws Rebecca and Josh at each other in a heated denial of how much they’re attracted to each other. It’s purely silly, but Bloom and Rodriguez are — as ever — completely committed to the premise, and especially good at throwing out cheesy, downright filthy double entendres.
And then there’s “Love Kernels,” Rebecca’s pop ballad dedicated to wringing every ounce of affection she can from Josh. It’s also a super-smart surrealist homage to music videos that try a little too hard to convey capital-S Significance.
(Some have labeled it a “parody” of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and I gotta say, I’ve seen Lemonade six times and never once did I think of it during “Love Kernels.”)
Aside from being slick and thoughtful, “Love Kernels” also gives us the following profound meditation on living for validation: “I’m like a sexy fashion cactus living from compliment to compliment, hint to hint, storing them in my body through long periods of drought.”
I mean ... been there. Haven’t we all?
In between the songs, though, there’s an aspect of “Where Is Josh’s Friend?” that I — and the episode — couldn’t quite get past.
Rebecca’s always done … intense things in the name of love, but losing her enablers makes it harder to take
Season two picks up right where the first left off: Rebecca and Josh have finally hooked up, and she blurts out that she totally moved here for him, isn’t that crazy?
His panicked eyes tell us everything we need to know.
But Rebecca’s not some amateur. We saw her manipulate even the most seemingly impossible circumstances into romance, like when she got herself invited to his family’s house for Thanksgiving, became his sister’s bridesmaid, broke into his house, and okay, you probably get it by now.
So when Josh panics, she stays the course. She convinces him that he’s the one who’s been obsessing over her, which is totally weird but they can just forget it and move on.
And if you think this gaslighting is the worst of it, you’ve clearly never seen Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Now that Josh has reciprocated her feelings — or at the very least, likes having sex with her a whole lot — Rebecca’s relentless. It would take hundreds more words to detail every road she takes even just in this premiere, so let’s sum it up with her not only reserving Josh a drawer in her apartment but decking it out with a dozen USB ports for whatever device he might have while Joplin’s “The Entertainer” blares.
The difference as far as season two is so far concerned, though, is that she’s lost the people who’ve enabled her to go this hard all the time, leaving her to spin these elaborate webs alone.
If there’s any doubt, I am thrilled for both Paula and Rebecca’s on-and-off second love interest Greg (Santino Fontana) — who would hate hearing himself described that way, and fair enough. Both of them got so caught up in the fantastical world of possibilities Rebecca clings to last season that it made them sick. Now they’ve realized they can’t keep enabling her worst impulses, because doing so feeds into their own.
The problem is now we have to watch Rebecca be the lone agent of chaos while everyone around her cringes and waits for the crash.
It’s a bold choice, but it’ll be tricky to navigate. It’s not that the show has to keep Rebecca sympathetic; she’s as much an antihero as the star of her own rom-com. If the show’s not careful, though, every moment could be like the the incredibly hard-to-watch scene in the premiere where Rebecca wonders if she should crash the AA meeting she followed Greg to, while Paula and the audience’s jaws drop in horror.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend airs Fridays at 9 pm on The CW. The first season is currently available to stream on Netflix.