A week ago, I decided to wait on review the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” because all I had to go on was the pilot episode, which was a slightly expanded version of the one made when the series was being developed at Showtime, and it felt exactly like that. There were fun musical numbers – star and co-creator Rachel Bloom is, after all, the woman who gave the world “F–k Me, Ray Bradbury” – but it was still clearly a half-hour episode padded out with 10 minutes of filler, and with an off-putting premise the show didn’t seem entirely sure if it was taking seriously or spoofing.
After all, in the pilot, Bloom’s ambitious young lawyer Rebecca throws away a partnership offer at a prestigious New York firm after randomly bumping into Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), whom she dated briefly as a 16-year-old at summer camp, and moves to his hometown of West Covina, CA to start over.
“To be clear,” she sings in one of the pilot’s two catchy songs, “I didn’t move here for Josh, I just needed a change, for to move here for Josh would be strange.”
It’s the plot of “Felicity,” only more extreme, and even though Rebecca keeps insisting that she didn’t blow up her life to chase after this guy – and even though Bloom and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna keep insisting the title is ironic(*), and let Rebecca complain about it (“The situation’s a lot more nuanced than that!”) in the theme song – the amount of time devoted to her feelings about Josh, not just in the pilot, but in the next two episodes the CW sent to critics, makes it hard for the audience, or Rebecca’s new friends in West Covina, to see it any other way.
(*) Ask the folks from “Trophy Wife” about the American TV-viewing public’s love of ironic titles sometime. I’m sure their opinion is different now from before the show debuted.
As Rebecca’s paralegal Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) puts it after hearing Rebecca insist for the umpteenth time that she didn’t move here for Josh, “I have never met anyone in my life who lies to themselves as much as you do!”
And that’s why, despite a larger sample size, I was still reluctant to review the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” It feels like there’s a very good show trapped inside here, with funny performers and a distinctive comic voice, but first it, like “Cougar Town,” has to move beyond its dumb initial premise and poorly-chosen title to figure out how best to harness all the talent involved. And these next two episodes (the first of which airs tonight at 8) do a very mixed job of that.
The good news: the songs remain both sharp and diverse in style, including riffs on Bollywood and boy bands to go with the more showtune-y numbers. And the show’s starting to sketch in the supporting characters, especially Paula, who in the first episode whiplashed between being Rebecca’s nemesis and then her new best friend.
But there’s just So. Much. Josh. – and so much of Rebecca gearing every decision in her life around getting close to Josh, despite barely knowing him, not having seen him in a decade, and Josh having a girlfriend (introduced in an episode tonight titled “Josh’s Girlfriend Is Really Cool!”) – that it’s hard to notice, or care about, anything else.
There’s a little more nuance in the third episode, where Rebecca throws a housewarming party as another excuse to hang out with Josh, but also to get over a childhood fear that has nothing to do with him. For that matter, the pilot shows that Rebecca was fairly miserable in New York, and she’s not being entirely disingenuous when she insists she needed something different. Still, the Josh fixation is so much that the show can barely breathe. Even if their encounter in New York was the inciting incident for the whole show, sometimes it’s better to just move on as quickly as possible from an idea that leaves no one involved looking good. Just treat Josh, or at least Rebecca’s obsession with him, like Poochie, andlet him/it die on the way back to his home planet.
Hopefully, that happens soon, and I’ll check back in if/when it does.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org