Written by Dylan Brandsema
You know a season premiere is off to a good start when it immediately makes you want to binge the rest of the season that hasn’t even aired yet. As someone who discovered this series just a few months ago and binge-watched the entire 1st season in just under 2 weeks, I was ready, within the first few minutes of this 2nd season premiere, to strap myself in for what I badly wished was a marathon. The world of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is just kind of like that — even when it makes you feel bad, and you know it’s going to end, you never quite want to leave.
The 2nd season premiere, “Where Is Josh’s Friend?”, picks up exactly 15 minutes after the season 1 finale, in which Rebecca (star and series creator Rachel Bloom) finally tells Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) that he was the reason she moved to West Covina. The long-awaited conversation that follows is exactly what one would expect, but in the best way. Instead of coming clean and admitting to herself that she is crazy, she skirts around it once again and tries to change the subject, then turns it around on Josh, making him feel like it’s somehow his fault.
One thing that this episode certainly brings to light is how infuriatingly inconsistent — perhaps deliberately — the character of Rebecca often is, because later, in a conversation with Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), she knowingly admits that she manipulated Josh after that confrontation and somehow she feels no remorse or regret whatsoever about doing so. She’s almost like the rom-com Walter White, having to constantly keep up with her own strain of lies and diversions all the time. But even when she becomes enraging to the viewer, she’s never unlikable. It seems that the more frustrating and more morally bankrupt Rebecca becomes, the better and more layered Bloom’s performance gets. She makes the character virtually impossible to hate.
Staying on the subject of character personalities, one of the biggest turnarounds for one of this show’s characters in this episode — and maybe the rest of this season — is Greg (Santino Fontana), appearing not as the happy-go-lucky, yet also eternally angry guy that he usually is, but rather a depressed half-shell of the Greg we’ve come to know. Seeing him an in AA meeting as Rebecca and Paula spy on him through a window is effectively quite sad, and although it’s unfortunate to see his character take this turn, it’s a nice opportunity to see Fontana get to show more of his serious acting chops. He was definitely this episode’s scene stealer with his self-deprecating monologues.
The episode is essentially a series of aftermaths. Rather than beginning all new plots and arcs for the new season, it instead examines the results of the ones that concluded in the last one. It’s not something I can say I have ever seen before in a television show, and it’s a pretty ballsy way to start a season. In summary, here’s what we’ve learned:
- Rebecca and Josh are both falling into a funk after they realize that being in a relationship still isn’t quite right for them, and they’re upset by the dually negative effect it’s had on Greg as well.
- Greg is sinking into a deep depression and is sheltering himself from his friends and family whilst also attempting to deal with his alcoholism.
- Paula is realizing that her obsession with Rebecca’s love life is toxic to own wellbeing and that needs to distance herself.
- The romance between Darryl (Pete Gardner) and White Josh (David Hull) has not only lasted, but is prospering healthily.
That’s a lot of mostly downer plot points for an episode of a comedy series, but this is something that has always worked in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s favor. I’m hesitant to flatly label it a “black comedy,” because it doesn’t rely solely on its characters’ misery for its laughs, but it in this episode, it continues its reign as one of the most layered, and “serious” comedies of the current TV age.
But alas, the recurring key element that always makes or breaks this show’s individual episodes is not just the story, but the musical numbers. This episode’s two songs are hit and miss, with one of them being a hit and the other a miss. The first, “Love Kernels,” is a funny and creative jump back into the shows meta-musical formula. It’s catchy, filmed stylishly like a music video, written in a way that subtly served Rebecca’s delusional narcissism, and the 4th-wall breaks about the segment’s production budget are funny enough without being too much of a wink-wink-nudge-nudge at the audience. The second, “We Should Definitely Not Have Sex Right Now”, has a catchy enough hook, but it’s too repetitive, not particularly funny, is much too short and ends extremely abruptly. It comes off like an obvious shoe-in.
The music of the episode still succeeds mostly on the whole, though. This episode introduces us to the 2nd season’s new theme song, which ditches the animated cartoon opening of the 1st season and opts instead for an old Hollywood style dance number intro with lyrics detailing Rebecca’s inability to address her own personal issues: “They say love makes you crazy, so you can’t call her crazy. If you call her crazy, then you’re calling her in love.” It’s a pretty brilliant supplement to the character, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it just a little bit more as a song than the 1st season opener.
After all is said and done, the premiere ends — almost as if it were a finale — with a montage of sorts showing every character in a different location looking rather contemplative, as if the show itself is reflecting on where they’ve each wound up and how they got there. It would’ve been a perfect ending to the episode, but it gets awkwardly muddled by a short bit tacked on the very end that shows Rebecca conversing with her backup dancers from the opening theme, explaining to them that they’re a figment of her imagination. It’s a decently funny bit, but it isn’t necessary. It should have been saved for an episode with a less theatrical and dramatic ending.
Withstanding its minor blemishes, “Where Is Josh’s Friend?” is a good start to the 2nd season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Time and time again during its stellar 1st season, the show proved itself as one of the best, most original and innovative comedies on TV. If it keeps up at the rate it’s going with this promising premiere, it will surely keep that title. Consider me properly pumped.