In its first season, the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend opted for an expository, self-deprecating theme song that not only laid out the premise, but apologized repeatedly for that title. Season two dispenses with all that, figuring any viewers at this point both understand the plot — workaholic lawyer Rebecca Bunch (star/co-creator Rachel Bloom) blows up her life and moves to West Covina, CA to be closer to summer camp boyfriend Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) — and that, as Rebecca explained in the old song, “The situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.”
Instead, the new theme is a glitzy ’30s movie musical number where Rebecca insists, “I have no underlying issues to address / I’m certifiably cute and adorably obsessed,” and ends with an extreme close-up of Rebecca’s smiling, slightly out-of-breath face that deliberately sticks around for a few beats too long. There is something about Rebecca that, even when she’s seemingly at her best, sends warning signals that something’s profoundly wrong with her.
It took Bloom and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna a little while to nail down their take on Rebecca, and how that would affect the overall tone of their weird but often winning musical comedy. Early episodes seemed to dwell so much on Rebecca’s Josh obsession that it at times felt like the show shared it. Eventually, the first season moved beyond Josh to become something much more generous, complicated, and delightful, but a season-ending twist that saw Rebecca, newly dumped by Josh’s best friend Greg (Santino Fontana), finally get her shot with Josh himself felt like it could be a creative step backwards.
It isn’t. The new season (it debuts tomorrow at 9pm ET; I’ve seen three episodes) immediately dives into Rebecca’s underlying emotional problems, and is primarily concerned with showing the effect her erratic behavior has on the world around her. As Greg’s father warns her at one point, “You mess with people’s lives and pass it off as quirky.”
Though Josh and Greg are both in the picture, and Rebecca’s focus is almost entirely on choosing between one or the other, Crazy Ex very wisely takes a bigger view of her, and them, and the rest of the supporting cast. There’s a love triangle — which becomes the subject of the early episodes’ best song, a riff on Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in which even Rebecca’s fantasy vision of herself is oblivious to the concerns and desires of others — but it’s not what the show is really about.
“Because of your mental health issues, you shouldn’t be in a serious relationship at all,” her therapist insists. “You feel torn between two men, but it has nothing to do with those men. It has to do with your personal issues.”
A romantic comedy with a main character so damaged, and so difficult for others — even best friend Paula (Lynne Champlin) — to be around for long stretches, could be insufferable, but Bloom, McKenna and company are open about Rebecca’s pathologies and what a pain she can be, which gives them comic and dramatic license to have her get even worse. Over the course of these episodes, we see Paula struggle to not get pulled back into all the Josh drama (and, in the process, realize that being Rebecca’s sidekick distracted her recognizing that she aspires to more from her own life), see Greg reckon with the mess he’s made of things, and even see usually cheerful bro Josh start to question his many choices, Rebecca-related and otherwise.
It’s sharp material that manages to give each character humanity even as the show is primarily aiming for laughs (it helps that Pete Gardner’s clumsily chipper Darryl is often lurking in the background of scenes, hoping someone will notice him and/or his mustache), and it provides great fodder to the increasingly impressive catalog of original songs. Bloom gets to channel not only Marilyn, but Beyoncé, in a lavish Lemonade pastiche called “Love Kernels,” and along the way we get Josh belting out a pop punk number about why he likes women who play ping-pong (“Ping-pong shows she has control over her body / but it doesn’t threaten my masculinity like basketball or hockey”), Greg doing an Irish drinking song, and Paula turning into Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music for a few wonderful minutes. And, just as the original theme is no longer necessary, there are moments where we only get a brief snippet of a potential new song: just enough to convey the joke and let us picture how a full version would sound and look, but not enough to derail what the scene is about.
A series with a main character this erratic, and that has to function as a comedy, a drama, and a musical (occasionally all at once), should feel like it’s perpetually water skiing towards the shark, like Glee always did even in its better early seasons. But Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has only gotten better, more confident, and more consistent as it’s moved along. It knows exactly who its heroine is, what she’s good at and what makes her terrifying, just as well as it has very quickly and appealingly figured out how to turn any potential weaknesses into additional strengths.
At the climax of the new theme song, the chorus girls explain, “They say love makes you crazy / Therefore you can’t call her crazy / ‘Cause when you call her crazy / You’re just calling her in love.” This is, like most of the show’s musical numbers, taking place entirely inside Rebecca’s head, so of course she believes this. But Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is smart enough to understand that the situation’s a lot… well, you know by now.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org