This piece contains mild spoilers about the Season Four premiere episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which airs Friday, October 11th on the CW.
Through the past three seasons of the CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) has churned through uproarious life-event after life-event at a pace and intensity that would leave the most gleefully overwrought Spanish telenovela gasping. (For those with fuzzy memories, and in the unlikely event that brave new viewers might hop aboard this late in the game, the premiere episode of its fourth and final season, airing Friday night, kicks off with an exhaustive catch-up.)
Last season culminated with Rebecca tossing a stalker off a roof to save her problematic, something-like-love-interest Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster, only one of the show's impressive cadre of strapping, ruthlessly symmetrical men who can sing).
But the show's broad, outsized, I've-got-some-costumes-in-the-barn (show-) busyness — after all, these characters are always experiencing emotions so heightened they're forced to burst into song — conceals the fact that at the show's center, there's something softer, sadder and darker. Yes, people on this show, especially Rachel, behave impulsively and selfishly. Yes, it's funny.
But the show has always taken pains to show that every self-destructive choice brings consequences in its wake. Last season, one such consequence was, very nearly, Rachel's literal self-destruction: She attempted suicide. The lead-up to that harrowing moment, and the ramifications of it, were deftly handled and responsibly portrayed. It was no mere plot point. It wasn't sensationalized or, worse, romanticized. It was a hard, cold ugly look into the darkness lurking at the heart of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; in a very real sense, beneath the jazz hands, that uncomfortable darkness is what the show has always been about.
Rebecca's working on herself, now, in the way that real-world, non-musical-comedy-characters do. And it's going the way it does, in the real world. Which is to say: not perfectly. She lashes out, she wallows, she backslides, and she seizes on easy answers (as in the Season 3 song "A Diagnosis," in which she tried to convince herself that simply learning the medical name for her condition would fix it, and not simply represent the first step in a long and difficult process).
She's doing the work she needs to do on herself — but the show's still funny, even breezy at times, because it knows something important. Rachel can grow — she can start owning her mistakes, claiming her emotional baggage, interrogating her choices and practicing mindfulness. And she can also be a self-obsessed jerk, just like always.
Because that? Is still funny.
The producers have said in interviews that this season will take the shape of a redemption arc for Rebecca — that they're aiming her at a place that, for this darkly witty show anyway, could at least resemble a happy ending. In this first episode back, Rebecca embraces the notion of redemption too tightly, by insisting on serving jail time for the crime of stalker-tossing, despite extenuating and fairly exculpatory circumstances, because "This is what I deserve."
She's right about that. She's also, as indicated by the smiling-through-gritted-teeth reactions of pals Paula (Donna Lynn Champlin) and Heather (Vella Lovell), very, very wrong about it — at least, in how she's choosing to address it.
The script deftly establishes that a Rebecca who acknowledges her mental illness can be just as funny as the Rebecca who denied her mental illness, because one thing about her — her obliviousness to the experiences of others — proves so wily and resilient. She's still searching for easy fixes, hilariously, in the musical number "What's Your Story?" in which she demands, over the annoyed reluctance of her fellow prisoners, that they empower themselves through the power of ... musical autobiography?
But it's in the second song of the episode, "No One Else Is Singing My Song," where the show strikes upon an essential truth of mental illness. The joke of the number is that three of the show's characters offer up a stirring, tuneful lament about their unique sense of complete isolation, without any of them realizing that they're all singing exactly the same song, in perfect three-part harmony with each other.
Eventually, as the number reaches its climax, two of the three become aware of one another.
But not Rebecca.
The power of her depression simply precludes her from realizing the other two have been right there by her side, joining their voices to hers, all along. It's something the viewer realizes only gradually, and at first, it's funny — there's Rebecca's characteristic self-obsession at work again, ha ha.
But then the meaning of that moment, of the chilling nature of Rachel's isolation, finally registers. It's so small, and perfect, and powerful, and quintessentially Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.