You will be redirected back to your article in seconds
Back to IndieWire

‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ Redefined Songs in Musical Comedy With One Showstopping Number

Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna go inside the series finale that brings lawyer-turned-pretzel maker Rebecca Bunch happiness at last.

Rachel Bloom, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

The CW

ConsiderThis

After four seasons, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” closed the songbook on a unique musical comedy the likes of which has never been seen on television before. It’s not just that the show delivered two original songs with accompanying music videos a week — a feat unto itself — or that those songs brought the protagonist’s Id to raunchy, rhyming, and occasionally heartbreaking, Technicolor life. But in its final episode, The CW show moves the role of song from gimmicky storytelling device to an essential part of the narrative. The fantasy transforms into exciting, enlightening reality.

On the show, triple threat Rachel Bloom plays massively unhappy but successful lawyer Rebecca Bunch, who desperately wants to find love. After four seasons of dating various men, receiving a mental health diagnosis, quitting law to sell pretzels, and then establishing a healthier state of mind, she’s ready for love, if only she can decide which of her three suitors is the one. Rebecca’s one constant throughout this emotional joyride are the songs she sings in her head, and the finale circles back to this refuge as the answer to Rebecca’s search for happiness.

“Good finales are good finales because they bring things full circle,” Bloom said in an interview with IndieWire. “I actually really love the series finale of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ because it brought back a character and a storyline that they’d actually dropped in the past couple seasons and it went back to the original sins of the Steve Buscemi’s character. I love stuff that loops back to the beginning because … life is chaos, and we tell stories to make sense of that.”

The “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” finale stands apart from the other episodes because it features only one song, but it’s a life-changing one. Playing off of the “11 o’clock number” in theater, Rebecca has a huge, show-stopping musical moment with “Eleven O’Clock.” She’s transported to an abstract musical theater space that is blank except for a giant rotating turntable. On this, Rebecca dances and sings a medley of some of the show’s past songs while revisiting the outfits that accompanied them. Take a look:

“When [songwriter] Jack Dolgen and I honed in on the songs to include, we were really trying to explore the lies and stories Rebecca told herself,” said Bloom. “But also, it had to fit into a stream of consciousness. So it’s like, ‘I moved to West Covina/ I was just a girl in love/ I didn’t want to be crazy/ I knew I’d have problems again.’ It became this run-on sentence of a medley. That gave it a nice shape.”

Although the series has been known for some crazy imagery — such the cactus costume in “Love Kernels,” an homage to Beyonce’s “Lemonade” — “Eleven O’Clock” isn’t just a parade of funny costumes.

“Always on the show, it’s writing before everything. At one point we were going to have a little joke for ‘My Sperm Is Healthy’ with a sperm costume, but it just lifted out when we actually edited the song,” she said. “Every second of television there are a million decisions that were made. There are a million jokes that were cut. There were a million costumes that I wish we could’ve done. It’s always agonizing to make cuts.”

The use of the turntable is another common musical theater device, and it didn’t present any problems since Bloom doesn’t get motion sickness or nausea. However, she did delay production on the number because of a physical malady. “That day was captured in a documentary of the making of the final episode [which can be seen on The CW Seed],” she said. “We were really short on time and then I made the mistake of eating tacos. So I had to shit myself like every other minute of filming. It only made us run shorter on time. I really fucked up.”

Rachel Bloom, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

The CW

Although some may feel that this scatological tidbit falls into the category of too much information, embracing one’s body and its everyday biological realities has been part of the show’s charm from the beginning. Whether it’s Rebecca having “Period Sex” or a boyfriend celebrating “I Gave You a UTI,” the show has been a body-positive show on the most visceral level. Even the finale includes a dream sequence that takes place while Rebecca is on the toilet after drinking some green juice.

Once everything has been shat and done, Rebecca’s existential crisis remains. As her musical dream self reminds her, “You’re still a poopy little slut who lives in a dream and doesn’t know how to love,” Rebecca finally understands that no matter which guy she chooses, she won’t be happy. It’s her best friend Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) who gives her the key to what’s missing in her life. She should be doing in reality what she’s been doing in fantasy: working out her thoughts and feelings through songwriting.

This is a slight twist on what’s usually seen in musical theater. Usually the song-and-dance numbers occur as part of the storytelling reality. Characters communicate musically, and the audience accepts this by suspending disbelief. Other times, they’re used in a more realistic way, such as in the Carole King musical “Beautiful,” in which the songs she writes are acknowledged as songs performed on stage or at a piano. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” began with the songs as part of the fantastical narrative, and have pulled them out, poked them, and decided to put them into everyone’s reality.

In a table read that IndieWire attended earlier this year, Paula merely gives Rebecca this advice about songwriting. However, after the script was reworked, the final version of the episode includes a scene where Paula actually visits Rebecca in that musical fantasy space. It’s yet another moment in which “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” pierces the veil of Rebecca’s subconscious to bring her inner self into outer reality.

Rachel Bloom and Donna Lynne Champlin, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

The CW

Co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna, who co-wrote and directed the series finale, said, “We always had Paula being the one who says, ‘You’ve found this important thing. You should go do it. This is your identity.’ But having her physically be there and physically see it became clearer as we were building that environment. It just became clearer that it was going to be a much better manifestation of showing that she needed to show somebody that world.”

Paula’s advice completely shifts Rebecca’s world. Although she’s supposed to tell one of her three men — Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), Nathaniel Plimpton III (Scott Michael Foster), or Greg Serrano (Skylar Astin) — which one she chooses, she instead chooses none. Instead, she takes a year to learn how to play piano, sing, and write songs. At the end of this journey, she invites all of her men and friends to a club, sits down at a keyboard and announces, “This is a song I wrote,” before the show ends and cuts to black.

For some fans wanting a big romantic payoff, the episode is a big fake-out. But from the start, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” had always challenged rom-com tropes. Rebecca following Josh to West Covina is not romantic; it’s latching onto the idea of what happiness he can bring her. Being jealous or obsessive isn’t love; it’s insecurity. And in this episode, love isn’t a destiny; it’s a choice shaped by opportunity. In fact, in the initial table read, Rebecca originally had a line in which she indicates that if she chose anyone, it would probably be Greg, but that never makes it to the final version of the episode.

“We dropped that line because the point we wanted to make was that all of the guys in their own way are viable options for Rebecca, and that’s not the issue,” said Brosh McKenna. “We really wanted to go against was the idea that there is ‘one’ person for anyone, that one person is the key to your lock. That’s the thing we need to stop telling people. It’s not helpful and it’s not true. When you know the path you’re on and the trajectory you’re on, there are a lot of people who can work for you.”

The finale is a love story with a happy ending though. Titled, “I’m in Love,” the episode is about Rebecca finally embracing and nurturing the true identity she’s been trying to hide all of these years.

Rachel Bloom, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

The CW

“Back in 2013 when we first pitched the show, we always knew it was going to end with cutting to Rebecca at an open mic saying, ‘This is the song I wrote,’” said Bloom. “We always knew where we were going, which is someone marrying the inside of themselves with the outside of themselves. Someone pursuing true happiness and kind of rebuilding themselves.

“Since we always knew how it was ending, there was a certain freedom to knowing this is what we were going towards,” she added. “All we could do was make the show we wanted to do.”

Despite critical acclaim, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has never garnered any major Emmys (it earned one for choreography and one for editing). Brosh McKenna would love some awards attention for the songwriters and Bloom herself.

“I think the songwriters have made an exceptional contribution to the American songbook by doing 157 original songs,” said Brosh McKenna. “No one’s done that, and anyone who’s tried to do anything like that knows how difficult that is. And Rachel, to me she’s a combination of Lucille Ball and Madeline Kahn and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Carol Burnett and Bernadette Peters.”

Bloom doesn’t expect the show will win any Emmys in its final season, especially since it’s difficult to launch an awards campaign that will attract the attention of enough voters, who are also watching dozens if not hundreds of other shows.

“We’re getting dwarfed by cable and streaming. And the Television Academy is so big. You have to go with what the voting body knows and has heard of, and that’s why we still feel like the little show that could,” said Bloom.

“I would love to get the show and my co-stars nominated, but I’m sure we don’t think it’s going to happen. I can’t really start my own hashtag campaign because that looks gross, so if someone else wants to, they can. But even if I wanted to self-publicize, I already made a music video called ‘I Don’t Care About Award Shows.’ I’ve already kind of whored myself. There’s nothing I can do.”

In the end, Bloom is happy enough without the awards because the show itself is a huge accomplishment.

“The fact that we got to do our entire show is a miracle. It’s bizarre. I’m amazed that this got ordered at all, let alone by a broadcast network, let alone by The CW,” she said. “We had the lowest-rated show in the history of broadcast television. I’m amazed we actually pulled it off with our budget – which was good but not huge. We had to film an hour show with two musical numbers in seven days. I was in the writers’ room, I was on set, I was in editing. It felt impossible.”

Rachel Bloom, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

The CW

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Awards and tagged , , ,


Newswire