‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ season four defies expectations

Rachel Bloom’s musical dramedy remains a unique addition to mainstream television.

This review contains spoilers for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is a show that, by many traditional network standards, should not have been able to run its course. Although The CW’s musical dramedy (now in its fourth and final season, as co-creators Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna originally intended) has garnered consistent critical acclaim and a small but dedicated viewership, the ratings have continued to be some of the channel’s lowest in recent years. The series’ modest, niche fanbase may also serve as an indicator of how uncommon “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” really is.

The show opened with a premise on par with many telenovelas and romantic comedies. High-functioning, self-sabotaging lawyer Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) moved across the country in an attempt to win back her first love, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III). While the musical format and larger-than-life scenarios (tempered with biting self-awareness on behalf of the writers) served as our introduction into the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” universe, the series’ colorful exterior has also allowed the writers to wade into darker explorations of mental illness and unhealthy romantic tropes. Without a full run and adept writers, the constantly shifting nature of the show easily could’ve fallen flat, failing to strike the balance between hyperbolic comedy and darker vulnerability. Luckily, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is wrapping up as it was originally planned, and the final season already seems to be better for it.

Bloom and Brosh McKenna have emphasized that in each season of the show they’ve worked to craft a sort of thesis statement explaining where Rebecca is at in that point of her life. In previous years, viewers have seen her deal with denial, obsessive love and hitting rock bottom. There seem to be two major themes in the fourth season: atonement and growth. The season three finale ended with Rebecca pleading guilty to pushing her stalker, Trent (Paul Welsh) off of a balcony in order to save her boss and lover Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster). The decision was ultimately part of an attempt to fully take responsibility for the harm that her actions have caused the ensemble of characters around her. In the season four premiere, she serves a brief stint in jail, complete with an attempt at being featured in a Lin-Manuel Miranda tweet, a “Cell Block Tango” musical parody and a newfound understanding of her own privilege. It’s a slightly overstuffed hour that, nonetheless, offers the show a lightness and momentum that it struggled to regain in the second half of its third season.

If anything, the season four premiere puts the ensemble cast of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” to much better use. Because the series is so rooted in this period in Rebecca’s life, it’s only fitting that many of her friends and coworkers’ issues reflect elements of her mental state and often compulsive habits (in the latest episode, for instance, Nathaniel also punished himself through a brutal camping service without reflecting on his past behavior, and Josh looked for a diagnosis to explain away his struggles with selfishness).

In the past, however, Rebecca’s drastic decisions often left many of the other characters out of large stretches of plot, or sidelined their character growth all together. This year’s theme of how difficult it is to come to terms with your actions and destructive behaviors despite your mental health or past experiences is something that each member of the cast can share. Towards the end of the episode, a three-way duet between Rebecca, Josh and Nathaniel about not finding anyone else to “sing their song” eventually builds to an impressive melody including eleven main characters.

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is a show that largely works and has sustained the many genres and trope explorations embedded in its premise. Despite drastically shifting the main character’s goals and motives many times (often with musical theater interludes), the jokes continue to land. While they are often tongue-in-cheek, the discussions of how women’s experiences and health are often warped by what they are taught that their happiness should look like remains unique and poignant. While viewers may not know exactly what Rebecca Bunch’s final arc will look like, they can look forward to a quirky, increasingly cohesive end to the series.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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