TV shows usually aren’t able to turn a discussion of two seasons of television into a thoroughly enjoyable low-key cabaret night. But that’s precisely what the cast and crew of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” did on Wednesday at the Television Academy in North Hollywood.
Gathering in front of TV Academy voters for their 2017 For Your Consideration event, the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” cast performed eight songs from the show’s sophomore season, weaving in a discussion of the various challenges that the latest run of episodes provided for the whole team. In a surprise move (that, in retrospect, is the only way that one of these things should start), writer/co-creator/star Rachel Bloom introduced the evening’s participants via a re-worked version of the show’s song “I Have Friends.”
Though the audience had trouble getting the song’s distinct clapping rhythm in unison, stars Vincent Rodriguez III (Josh Chan), Donna Lynne Champlin (Paula Proctor), Pete Gardner (Darryl Whitefeather) and Gabrielle Ruiz (Valencia Perez) enthusiastically joined co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna, choreographer Kathryn Burns and songwriter Jack Dolgen in roll-call style.
Brosh McKenna also made news by announcing that fellow panelists Scott Michael Foster (Nathaniel Plimpton) and David Hull would be joining the cast as seasons regulars for Season 3. Though she and Bloom were tight-lipped about spoilers for the upcoming season, Brosh McKenna did say that should “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” continue to a Season 4, Foster would continue in that capacity. (Foster’s later performance of “Let’s Have Intercourse,” complete with a confident bicep kiss, seemed to validate this decision.)
Foregoing the format of last year’s event, Brosh McKenna assumed hosting duties, guiding each member of the panel through their thoughts about the surprising developments, unfortunate departures and fresh faces of the show’s second season. Though the trials of Rebecca Bunch are often front and center on the show, the first full performance of the night went to Josh and the boys, with Vincent Rodriguez III singing “Ping Pong Girl” with Hull and Gardner —the latter using his necktie as a headband — providing backup vocals.
As Brosh McKenna and Bloom pointed out at various points over the evening, one of the vital sections of Season 2 was a multi-episode stretch that effectively became Rebecca and Paula’s love story. That stronger, sisterly connection allowed Champlin to take on an even larger, more confident role than she did in the show’s opening season. At this particular event, that meant the chance to perform her Disney-adjacent “want song” “Maybe This Dream,” high B-flat and all.
“In this show, we had Rebecca sing a Disney villain song,” Bloom explained. “If anyone’s the princess, it’s Paula.”
On the heels of talking about Champlin’s song (and after the ensuing enthusiastic applause had subsided), character expectations became another running discussion topic of the night. Though the FYC format encouraged the group to focus on specifics from this particular most recent batch of episodes, Bloom also had the chance to talk more broadly about the themes of the show. “I wish that more people would ask us about what we think of love on the show because in many ways, what feels like fate is not good for you and not conducive to your overall happiness,” Bloom said.
That search for overall happiness also came through when Bloom took the mic for an impassioned rendition of “(Tell Me I’m OK) Patrick,” dropping to her knees for the song’s finish. It was another example of these performers taking the opportunity to truly perform their songs, an indicative counterpart to the kind of commitment that each of them bring to their big moments on the show.
Paula and Rachel weren’t the only characters to take a major leap on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” this year. After spending much of Season 1 being tethered to her relationship to Josh, Valencia had the opportunity to find a bit of herself in this crazy West Covina world, something that Ruiz found exciting. “I really enjoyed in Season 2, that she was a spectator more than a forward drive. There was a lot of mystery in how she was handling it. She’s OK by herself. She found her independence and I think that’s really powerful,” Ruiz said.
The overwhelming volume of songs that the music team, including Bloom, Dolgen and executive music producer Adam Schlesinger, creates on a day-to-day basis also leads to some tricky decisions when it comes to including things in the final cut. Some of these songs have become fan favorites and audience favorites, but the music team members on the panel talked about keeping the music and jokes separate and distinct. “Rachel and I landed on a few philosophies,” Dolgen said. “The music of the song should be the straight man of the song. If you didn’t know English and heard the song, you should think it’s a real song in that genre.”
Some of the evening’s most entertaining moments came when cast members had to fill in for those that weren’t there. The big Horah number “Remember That We Suffered,” which was originally part of a big crowd scene, now required all the on-stage singers (most of whom are not Jewish) to work. But one of the true highlights came a bit later, when Hull filled in for the Heather part on the Spice Girls riff “Friendtopia,” dutifully performing all “zig-a-zah” hand motions without a hitch.
Something that came up multiple times over the course of the evening was the writing staff’s openness to letting the actors take part in the fun of these characters. Brosh McKenna took time to highlight one particular cast member’s enthusiastic reactions. “The best person to tell the stories to is Vinnie,” Brosh McKenna said, as Rodriguez reacted knowingly. “He is so excited about every story twist. It’s like we’re describing the show to a fan.”
That kind of interaction also yielded some of the season’s most powerful emotional moments. Paula’s discovery of her husband’s infidelity led Champlin and Brosh McKenna to talk about what would come next for the character. “At first, I said ‘I don’t think she would stay with him. She’s gotta stand up for herself,'” Champlin said. Even though Paula ultimately comes to a different conclusion, Champlin explained how their conversations still had a bearing on how she got there. Speaking to Brosh McKenna, Champlin said, “What I love is that you took all of my arguments from when we were sitting in my trailer and you put them in! I was so grateful, because it felt like I could absolutely get on board.”
As for what was still to come, Bloom and Brosh McKenna were understandably wary about promising details, something that they’ve learned from those actor conversations. “This season, Aline was like, ‘Let’s not tell the actors anything until we know what’s happening.’ I have told people, ‘We’re gonna do a whole song for you!’ then had to tell them, ‘Never mind. It got cut.'”
Even if the evening didn’t have any promises for the future, it left plenty of reminders of what made the second season special. As the addendum to Darryl’s song “You’re My Best Friend (And I Know I’m Not Yours)” — one that Gardner performed live with his own ukulele accompaniment— goes, that’s OK.