Warning: The following gives details from Friday’s episode of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Be sure to watch before proceeding.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” may have won an Emmy for its choreography last season, but this year one of its original songs ought to be a contender.
On Friday’s episode, a distraught Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) caught up to her erstwhile boyfriend Greg (Santino Fontana), who had recently admitted he was an alcoholic and was heading to a new life of recovery and higher education in Atlanta. The couple had had a tumultuous relationship full of intense chemistry but very little trust or comfort. Ultimately, Greg decided that together they were a toxic combination and crooned the following love song, which also served as his farewell. Here’s the first verse:
I love you, yes, and I’ll confess
the thought of staying is so enticing.
And when you speak, my knees get weak.
I can’t believe what I’m sacrificing.
But let’s get real. We know the deal.
So darling, let’s not tiptoe.
This thing we had was not just bad
It was a shitshow.
It should be noted that the episode screened for critics did not censor the word “shitshow,” but the version for air did.
Fontana, whose voice some people may recognize as Hans from “Frozen,” talked to IndieWire about Greg’s big number and what it means.
“[Greg] could’ve perceived that that song could have been sung in Episode 2 or 3 of the first season,” he said. “But I think it’s his own idealistic and hopeful optimism, which ultimately he was constantly being disappointed by, which is where you got his sarcasm, that wryness. I thought this was a great way to kind of sum it up.”
Lisa Rose/The CW
At a recent screening for the episode, showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna told reporters, “That song was written and rewritten many, many times because we wanted to hit the exact right [note]. We had three songwriters, and usually one of them takes the lead. Rachel took the lead on this one… she kept really saying to me, ‘I just don’t know how to write the song without swear words in it. I just don’t know how to write it without fucks in it.” We had tried to get some bleeps last year and failed, but they had said to us, ‘Maybe someday if there was an exceptional circumstances, we will grant you a bleep.’ So you see the two bleeps, which are the only bleeps you will ever see on our show so far, unless we start begging for them again. But it seemed important to the gravity of the situation to really show that he’s really struggling.”
The beauty of “Shitshow” is that it excels on multiple levels. From a musical standpoint, it’s some of Fontana’s best work, a showstopper with an infectious melody and irreverent lyrics. “Greg’s song, the ‘Shitshow’ song is like a Frank Sinatra ‘My Way,’ almost Robert Goulet kind of croony song,” said McKenna. “And that then needs to be juxtaposed against [lyrics] like, ‘a play about pieces of feces, we are together’ — it’s juxtaposing against the crudeness of the lyrics.”
Fontana said, “Adam Schlesinger wrote it with Rachel, and they initially intended it to be like Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way.’ Initially we recorded it with this big, epic sound behind it, like a very grand thing. And then I had to go back in and in the way they ended up cutting the episode, I know they wanted to bring it down and make it much more intimate and quiet. So I went back and re-recorded it — the instrumentation was changed and the orchestration of it was changed and the edit of it was changed.”
What’s more, the song is pivotal to the show’s narrative, not just some funny throwaway number, and offers a message of hope. Wisecracking Greg had never lived up to his potential, which was wasted in his job as a bartender. His unbalanced relationship with Rebecca only exacerbated his drinking problem, until he ended up with a DUI and was forced to get help. Therefore, it was only when he was at his absolute lowest was he able to finally gain some clarity, which served as a catalyst for real change in his life.
Scott Everett White/The CW
Fontana wasn’t initially aware of the alcoholism arc for Greg, but felt the way it unfolded was organic. “We had set up that he drinks,” he said.”I didn’t know the extent of that, but I thought that the way that they handled it was really great and very similar to the friends that I have and the family members who have dealt with addiction and the mundaneness of it, the everyday-ness of it.”
“One of the funny things about the show is that West Covina is a type of purgatory,” McKenna added. “It’s a place where everybody there is stuck in some way. They may be physically stuck there, as Greg has been, they may be psychologically stuck there in certain ways… [Rebecca] was always very encouraging of him and saying, ‘You should go back to business school,’ but really what hastened it was they had such an unhealthy relationship that it caused him to bottom out and get help.”
“Shitshow” is an acknowledgement of their problems, but also a song of freedom as he ascends on the airport’s escalator. He has an air of lightness to his mood that hasn’t been there before on the series. McKenna said, “Once he got help, he kind of woke up and realized, ‘This might not be the right place for me.’ We really wanted to dramatize somebody who’s going from purgatory and ascending to a better place. And so that’s why he rises in the way that he does.”
Scott Everett White/The CW
Greg isn’t just taking a step for himself, but doing it in a way that influences his friends like Rebecca, Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) and Hector (Erick Lopez), who are stunted also.
“I think this was true in that entire episode: Greg is the emotional adult and he figured out, ‘I have to let them all off in a way that they are going to be okay,’” said the actor. “So whatever he’s feeling, he has to sacrifice that for them because they’re not able to see what he can see at the moment. But this is a character that you’re introduced to in the first season who does not take advantage of a girl who’s drunk and making out with him, who chose to stay with his father when he could’ve gone to college, he stuck with his family. So that’s really who he was and I feel like that last episode and ‘Shitshow’ was kind of a great capper of being able to have the sarcasm, have the realism and ultimately do the adult thing and take care of the people he cares about.”
Scott Everett White/The CW
“Shitshow” also marks the total destruction of the central love triangle that had driven the show from the first episode. Rebecca’s first love Josh had just dumped her, and so she desperately tried to rekindle the flame with Greg, and we see how that turned out. With both love interests rejecting Rebecca in favor of better mental health, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” proves to be not the average romantic comedy.
“Sometimes fans want a happy ending and what they think of as a happy ending is boy and girl end up together,” McKenna acknowledged. “For us, this is a happy ending for Greg because he’s moving on to something that from the second we’ve seen him, he’s wanted to do. What I love about the way he’s talking about it and thinking about it is he doesn’t know that his life is going to be perfect, right? He’s an addict, so he’s in recovery, so he knows that every day is going to be a process, but he is confident that he’s going somewhere that will be better for him and that she is a trigger for him. What was an important part of writing the scene is that he finally does get to say, ‘I love you,’ but he says it as he’s going out the door, so it always had a slight ‘Casablanca’ aspect to it.”
Sadly, that means the fan-favorite character Greg has been written out of Rebecca’s life — except for the stray fantasy sequence like “We Tapped That Ass,” which is more of a memory of him. The timing worked out for Fontana, who had initially only signed a one-year contract with The CW, and when the show was waiting to find out about its second season, he had lined up other movie, TV, theater and singing gigs.
“When we did hear of the pickup of the show, which was exciting, I would’ve had to pull out of all of those and ultimately, I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “So I ended up actually getting the best of both worlds. I was able to do those plays and movies and TV gigs and still come back in some capacity for the second season. So that was ultimately great and I miss my ‘Crazy Ex’-family and West Covina, but I’m also in touch with a lot of them all the time.
“And I love how they wrote Greg’s story in this season and it’s open-ended,” Fontana continued. “Greg didn’t die, Greg didn’t leave saying, ‘I’m never talking to any of you again, I have to cut you out.’ I’m excited to hear about what happens with him next. If he returns or not is really up to the fans and up to the writers. I hope I get to come back and play with everybody again… I spoke to Aline. I know she was very optimistic about that, about to check back in with Greg. I would love that.”
For now, Fontana is keeping busy. He recently wrapped a romantic comedy called “Galileo” in New Mexico and a thriller called “Impossible Monsters” in New York. He also did an episode of “BrainDead,” is writing a piece for New York Stage and Film, is recording the soundtrack to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s first musical, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” and will be singing with the Houston Symphony Orchestra and at the Kennedy Center in December. He also has a big solo gig at Lincoln Center for its American Songbook in February.
Greg Gayne/The CW
Looking back, Fontana said he enjoyed several of his musical numbers like “We Tapped That Ass” for its choreography, and “I Could If I Wanted To” because it was one, single long take. But it was “Settle for Me,” the routine that was reminiscent of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, that stuck with him the most — because his grandfather raised him on such musicals.
“He would sit me in front of the TV, and then when it was done, he would just rewind it and play it again because I don’t think he really knew what to do. I ate it up,” he said. “So I remembered going to my parents after baseball practice, which I played through high school, but I remember as a kid going to my parents and being like, “So when do I learn to tap dance?” So there was kind of an amazing full circle of then doing that on television. It’s crazy! Also we shot that right before my wedding, so I have a very fond memory of that.”
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on The CW.