From the title on down, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has been built on dealing with expectations. What audiences expect from a show with frequent song breaks, what women expect from the world and each other, what behavior is appropriate in the wake of trauma. And it’s managed to do all of this while staying one of the most reliably funny and entertaining shows on TV.
Now as the show approaches its Season 3, the events of Rebecca Bunch’s (Rachel Bloom) past loom larger than ever over her life and everyone caught in her obsessive orbit. Instead of becoming an insular, for-fans-only dive down the rabbit hole of a jilted lover, these new episodes use her story as a jumping-off point for looking at just how far her behavior can go, and to what lengths her friends are willing to go to keep her happy.
Initially nearly catatonic after being left by Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) on their wedding day, Rebecca’s renewed vigor quickly makes her interactions with friends and colleagues alike darken more than her changing hair color. Mainstay associates Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) and Darryl (Pete Gardner) are back in their supportive roles, as are the once-reluctant extended members of the Bunch support group, Heather (Vella Lovell) and Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz). Not all of Rebecca’s colleagues and friends are as committed to destroying Josh in retaliation, but the more that Season 3 goes on, the more her drive becomes harder to ignore.
Seesawing back and forth between people who recognize a semi-righteous outcome and those who can pick out the proper way to get there, the show has created its episode-to-episode intrigue by showing how those two groups rarely overlap. The major difference for the show in Season 3 is that the law office bystanders and various spiritual/psychological consultants are even more tightly woven into the West Covina drama than ever.
As Rebecca’s conflicted chauvinist boss Nathaniel Plimpton, Scott Michael Foster proves his worth as a cast regular by playing both sides of his character’s own complex buffet of feelings. Josh may not be as equipped for his newly chosen vocation as he may have anticipated, but his new efforts to join the priesthood bring him back into the purview of the always-welcome Father Brah (Rene Gube).
So “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has become less of a window into one person’s self-justification for an escalating series of bad decisions and more a focus on the emotional and psychological chaos she’s left in her wake. Rebecca’s attitudes have slowly infiltrated the outer reaches of this community, and as she copes in her very unique way, the show considers the way she weaponizes the sympathy that comes her way.
As people like Josh’s potential brothers of the cloth and the Plimpton firm’s paralegal staff take a bigger role this season, they’re no longer just commentators. They have to wrestle with their place in this expanding West Covina mess, wondering how much to indulge Rebecca’s grieving process before intervening. For a few characters, that means processing all of this alongside their own massive personal anxieties.
The mismatched girl squad from a season ago now seems like a cohesive group, drawing comedy from a place of unity. And aside from their common efforts to keep Rebecca from entering truly dangerous territory, Paula still has a marriage to salvage, Heather still has a future to embrace, and Valencia still has a business to run. Where these characters in the past may have existed mostly in relation to Rebecca, they’ve begun to define themselves, bringing a tiny bit of Rebecca’s twisted logic with them.
The opening credits songs for the first two seasons each started with the word “I,” but there was always a consideration of the people around Rebecca. Last season’s Paula arc, in particular, showed that it could be successful when it veered away from the central “will they, won’t they.” Now that Rebecca and Josh are firmly split, that codependency energy is diffused elsewhere. Some of it returns to likely places, but the increasing family pressures between Darryl and White Josh (David Hull) also present another endearing way for the show to handle real-world anxieties in a thoughtful way.
As far as the songs themselves, the first three episodes bring a flurry of new standards, drawing again on musical theater (sometimes from shows that “Crazy Ex” has already mined from before) and pop stylings alike. There are explosions of neon, muted medieval ensemble pieces and a fierce ‘80s call to action, all of which pop right off the screen. Across genres and decades, the same usual fine attention to movement, instrumentation, and tone is still there. Even with provocative subject matter, there’s a commitment to joke craft that comes from an overwhelming sense of specificity, especially when the show moves into particularly heightened territory.
Overall, the show has found a surprising balance between letting the audience stay one step ahead of certain developments (let’s just say anytime a character eats a baked good, there’s a tiny tinge of terror) and throwing in some completely unexpected wild card moments. (There’s an audition sequence in the first episode that’s genuinely shocking.) To keep those in mind, on top of the handful of from-scratch musical numbers per episode, is an impressive juggling act that “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” somehow still manages to pull off with a particular panache.
If there’s one minor complaint, it’s that these episodes, now with a richer crew of individuals to track from week to week, find their pendulum swinging in a half-dozen directions. But the sheer on-screen energy it takes to maintain that momentum only underlines how these characters brains are working. The show has found its core, but it’s characters are still searching. Tragic in spurts but thoroughly entertaining throughout, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has carved out a very specific, satisfying piece of the TV pie.
Much like Paula’s vicarious, enabling adventures through the show’s first two seasons, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” seems to have its finger on the conflicted desire to see Rebecca happy. Rebecca may be caught in a series of Job-like neverending tragedies, but the only unseen force subjecting her to these trials is her own doubt and insecurity. So “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” becomes less about wallowing in the cringe-worthy consequences of her actions than seeing one woman come to terms with where her loved ones have left her. For the time being, she still has some folks left in her corner — the real drama comes from seeing how they choose to stick around.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” airs Fridays at 8:00 p.m. on The CW.