Crazy Ex-Girlfriend s4 ep 9

Most of this episode is terrific. Rebecca’s storyline – in which she distracts herself from her feelings about her three exes by trying to sleep with Jason, the dude she connected with online – is a head-spinning mixture of feminism, guest stars, double-entendre-as-metaphor, romance, and gynaecology. Also a terrifically meta joke about Neil Patrick Harris, and colossal amounts of shade being thrown at ‘Cats’. It’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend at its full-tilt best, and it’s perilously close to genius. 

In the margins of that, Greg and Nathaniel meet-cute at the gym and start to hang out, both not yet knowing that they dated Rebecca. White Josh watches in horror as the inevitable day of revelation approaches. This is fine, even if I’m now pretty sure that New Greg isn’t as good. But Darryl’s plot, in which he’s feeling unloved in his workplace, and is at his neediest and whiniest, is no fun at all. 

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Public Service Announcement 2 of 2019: Bull, Better Things, Sex Education, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

It’s difficult to know what to give top billing to. So let’s start with Bull, more or less explicitly a vehicle for Michael Weatherly with a slight procedural drama attached: he plays Dr Jason Bull, the head of a jury consulting firm. But really you could change “jury consulting firm” to “private investigation company” or, for that matter, “big-city FBI office”, and following some very minor tweaking of plots and characters it would still be the sort of thing one could half-watch while ironing, or idly perusing the web. Which is fine; as I keep saying, TV drama can’t – and shouldn’t – be wall-to-wall premium shows which need you to do your homework before and after watching. Season 2 ended with Dr Bull having a heart attack, and season 3 is now well under way in America, which suggests that, y’know, he survived, because the clue’s in the show’s title.

But here, of course, is the thing: Eliza Dushku, who was in three episodes at the end of the first season, and had been tapped for a regular role going forward, has just received a vast amount of cash money from CBS as an out-of-court settlement after being fired from the show following her complaints about Weatherly’s on-set conduct. This is… not good, and it will be interesting to see whether it affects the show’s future; traditionally, shows have kept going if they make financial sense, and everything would otherwise point to Bull being nailed-on for a fourth season. But the way in which the Roseanne reboot was summarily executed might suggest that times are changing (Friday 11 November, FOX (UK), 10pm).

And, continuing that general theme, the first season of acclaimed comedy-drama Better Things makes its way to the UK tonight. It’s very much a collaboration between the exceptional Pamela Adlon and her long-time friend and supporter Louis C.K.; between them, they wrote every episode in the first two seasons. Adlon – very often the best thing in Louie – stars as Sam Fox (a name which clearly has less significance in the US than in the UK), an actress and single parent to three children. (She has three children in real life.)

But here, again, is the thing: Louis C.K. has since been unmasked, to Adlon’s evident anguish, as a serial sexual predator, is not involved with the show’s third season, and in his post-shame comedy routines he appears to be doubling-down on being a persona non grata. This is… not good. I plan to keep the art and the artist firmly apart, though, and watch this show (tonight, BBC Two, 9pm).

Two less #problematic shows: Netflix’s dramedy Sex Education, starring Gillian Anderson as a sex therapist and Asa Butterfield as her teenage son, who starts to provide therapy to his peers. The critics who have seen it like it, generally quite a lot. And Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is back on Netflix in the UK this weekend for its final run of episodes. I haven’t found it easy to write about, but I’ve started so I’ll finish; reviews until the end.

Also starting: season 8 of amiable cops-in-the-sun drama Death in Paradise (tonight, BBC One, 9pm); season 2 of The Orville (tonight, FOX (UK), 9pm); season 2 of Friends From College (tomorrow, Netflix); and season 1 of Titans (tomorrow, Netflix).

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend s4 ep 8

It’s the last episode before the mid-season hiatus, and perhaps the most important one of the whole season, because Greg is back. Unfortunately Santino Fontana isn’t, and the role is now being played by Pitch Perfect’s Skylar Astin. Who is perfectly fine – some of his line readings are discernibly Old Greg, and he has a certain charm of his own – but he isn’t Fontana. Will this matter? We’ll find out, I suppose, in due course, when his chemistry with Rachel Bloom has a chance to develop. Which it might: Astin is an old friend of Bloom’s, and it appears to be generally accepted that Bloom and Fontana, excellent actors both, were never close.

Anyway, Greg’s back in town because it’s his high school reunion, which sparks the episode’s two other plots. Valencia reveals to a fascinated Heather that, at school, she cheated on Josh with someone, even declaring her love in a letter she put in their jacket on the last day, but never hearing anything more. The reunion between Valencia and her crush is surprising and moving, and yet another reminder of the strength of this show’s cast. Meantime, Josh – behaving, it has to be said, like a bit of a jerk – finds out that he wasn’t elected as prom king after all, ends up hanging out with George and the school’s magic club, and discovers that there’s more to life than being popular. It’s slight but, as Josh plots go, not at all bad.

The main event, though, is the return of Greg, trailed by Rebecca’s ongoing “romantic trills” in relation to Josh and Nathaniel. Is she, she wonders, meant to be with either of them? Nope, say Heather and Valencia, everyone thinks that she’s meant to be with Greg. (Unpopcult certainly does.) “Greg who we literally never talk about?” asks Rebecca. “That Greg?” If not that Greg, certainly a Greg. Quite properly, the show leans into the recasting rather than pretending it isn’t happening: Rebecca observes, on several occasions, that he’s like a completely different person.

And they reconnect. There’s a dazzling, playful song which narrates their attempt to have a fresh start while acknowledging that they, simultaneously, have a whole heck of a lot of baggage; in particular, Greg doesn’t know that Rebecca slept with his father, and she agonises about whether to tell him or not, eventually coming to the conclusion that if he’s going to find out anyway – which he probably will – he needs to hear it from her. That she told him, and his underplayed reaction, is offered as an example of personal growth on both sides, leaving open the outside possibility of further romance. (Maybe it is. Maybe it does. But still. His father. Ew.) Although Greg’s transformation gives the whole thing an air of unreality, underpinned by a good running meta joke about how he’s going to be there until the end of the series… of holidays, it’s a strong episode.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend s4 ep 7

Rebecca’s new thing is honesty: her new online dating profile, for example, includes her prison mugshot and the admission that she has “been known to stalk my exes”. That doesn’t stop one of those exes, Josh, from moving into her apartment while she’s on the East Coast staying with Valencia and visiting her appalling mother Naomi, played once again with delectable loathsomeness by Tovah Feldshuh. (I should say that as a Gentile I’m excused, I think, from having to worry about just how accurate a portrayal of a Jewish mom it is.) 

Naomi is due to pick up an award from a charity with which she’s involved, and she’s promised everyone that her childhood friend Elayne Boosler will attend the ceremony. Unfortunately Boosler has no interest whatever in coming, which means that Naomi stands to lose a huge amount of face in front of her deadly rivals in the poisonously competitive world of Jewish charities (I’m excusing myself again), and really isn’t in the best frame of mind to find out that Rebecca is no longer a partner in a law firm, but instead is running a pretzel stand.

Back in West Covina, Josh is trying to come to terms with living on his own for the first time. This might be my favourite post-stalking Josh plot ever. And Nathaniel has discovered, following last week’s episode, that he actually quite likes being a nice guy for once: he starts small, by providing free doughnuts for the office; and then, more substantially, helps Paula out while she covers Rebecca’s pro bono prison work.

And in New York, amazingly, Valencia manages to leverage Elayne Boosler into turning up to the ceremony to present Naomi with her award. Boosler and Feldshuh sing a flat-out fantastic parody of a summer camp song about lifelong loyalty, ‘If You Ever Need A Favor In Fifty Years’, which includes the advice that if you’re having difficulty in persuading one of your camp friends to help you, “have your daughter’s Goyish friend remind her”. “Wow”, remarks Rebecca afterwards. “That song was… dead on to this situation”. Emboldened, she stands up to her mother, something I’d venture to suggest that, whether Jewish or goyim, we all need to do at some point (and, in due course, have done to us if we’re parents).

It’s a strong episode with a tasty epilogue: Rebecca, back home, invites Josh to move in with her, then reminisces about making out with him. And when she finds out about the new good-guy Nathaniel, she remembers making out with him. This might just be the return of her libido after a few weeks in the doldrums, of course, and I’d be fine with that; less so if it means a reversion to Rebecca-as-stalker.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend s4 ep 6

Three road-trips. Rebecca wants a fun day out at a barbecue restaurant, but the only one of her friends who is available is Darryl, a sweet guy but way too emo/extra/whatever. Predictably, he spends the entire journey trying to start conversations about precisely the topics that Rebecca has made it clear she wants to avoid, then sulks when she finally calls him on it. Yeah, she has to apologise, of course. Then they eat their BBQ, head home, and… almost make out? WTF? No matter how much they might make it clear that they don’t see themselves as being romantically suited, I can promise them that I am even less sold on that idea than they are. Just don’t, writers. Don’t.

Paula, wanting to study for her finals, finds the perfect desk on Craigslist, and hires a “bro with a truck” online to go with her to get it. The bro turns out to be Josh, and once again it’s painfully clear that since Rebecca stopped being fixated on him he really hasn’t had much to do, and isn’t that interesting anyway. It’s pretty clear, even – eventually – to Josh, that Paula is procrastinating due to her fear of failure. They don’t almost make out, thank the Lord.

And Nathaniel, who really doesn’t want to speak to anyone, is picked up by Heather when his car breaks down. She takes him, at his request, to Santa Monica, while he clutches an envelope and refuses to talk about it. I was looking forward to this plot most of all – first up, Heather is still in the show, which is good news, because she’s great. (Valencia is still there too.) And Nathaniel is by far the most fascinating of this show’s male characters, at least since Greg left anyway – I know, hold that thought. So putting Heather and Nathaniel together should be an easy win. And, actually, it’s the best of the three plots by some distance; although, sadly, the bar isn’t particularly high this week.

The show has a bit of fun with the opposites-attract-road-trip-cliche by giving everyone a leaning-in-for-a-kiss moment, and the Beach Boys parody manages, spectacularly, to provide a brisk summary of the band’s whole career. (The ‘Kokomo’ part is deadly.) But as an episode it doesn’t really work. It all felt forced rather than organic; as if, with not long to go, the writers decided to throw three unlikely couples together in the hope that something entertaining would happen.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend s4 ep 5

Everything is going well for Rebecca… right up to the point at which Valencia announces that she’s going to New York, and Heather announces that she’s moving out. Not only is Rebecca’s squad breaking up, but everyone else seems to be further on in life than she is. “I see life as a contest”, she confesses to Dr Akopian. “And I am now losing”. I hear you, sister.

But she’s not the only one reluctant to cope with unwelcome changes: Paula has been on good terms with her son Brendan for about five minutes, and he’s successfully applied to the Peace Corps. Darryl and WhiteJosh, meantime, are no longer a couple, but still hanging out together wayyyy too much. Unless you’re the rest of the cast, of course, who are still shipping them hard, as they illustrate in a delightful Oklahoma!-esque song-and-dance number, ‘The Group Mind Has Decided You’re In Love’. Darryl eventually has to throw water over WhiJo to bring him to his senses and get him to put himself out there again. 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend isn’t the sort of show in which people don’t get to move on, so by the end Rebecca and Paula have both had to accept that as others change it might hurt them. The pain is both real and recognisable – most viewers, I imagine, will have experienced something similar – so the episode hits home. However, my pain will be amplified if this is the last of Gabrielle Ruiz (Valencia) and, particularly, Vella Lovell (Heather), who has been the show’s wry under-the-radar star turn for quite a while now. There’s also a nice running meta-gag about the way in which people consume TV these days, which helps to keep this episode in the comfortably-above-average category.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend s4 ep 4

Rebecca’s half-brother Tucker turns up at her new pretzel stand, claiming – very obviously falsely – that his mother knows he’s there. He charms Rebecca by seeming to have all of the behavioural quirks which she had as a child; actually, it’s astonishingly creepy, but Rebecca is so desperate to establish a relationship with him that she doesn’t pick up on that. As it happens, Tucker has found Rebecca’s childhood diary and is using that as a sort of guide to how to impersonate her; and his main reason for being in West Covina is so that he can go with Rebecca to Los Angeles and just-by-coincidence come across an audition for Peter Pan. It’s not clear to me why he couldn’t just have said that to Rebecca, rather than contriving this elaborate deception, but I may be missing something.

Rebecca is entirely forgiving of him when she finds out what’s been going on. Less so of Nathaniel, who is undoubtedly in love with her, but who makes the apparently relationship-ending error of spending some money to try and make her happy. There’s a fair amount of dishonesty involved here as well, mind you, and he’s an adult, but still. And Paula bonds with her sons at an escape room, in the least consequential part of an episode which succeeded in doing little more than annoying me. But the rapey 90s ad for ‘Take Me’ cologne was good, as was Tucker’s song “I Want To Be A Child Star”.