What did we do to deserve Donna Lynne Champlin? She’s a Broadway-caliber performer, an unbelievable singer, and, as Paula on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the ideal ride-or-die best friend. Paula has long outgrown her role on the show as Rebecca’s sidekick—last season saw her decide to have an abortion, start law school, and fix her crumbling marriage—but she’s still the most reliable person in Rebecca’s life, which this season has meant helping Rebecca through her breakdown and the first steps of her recovery. Now that it’s underway, though, the show has found more time to devote to Paula’s own arc.
Paula returned to her hometown of Buffalo on this week’s episode to take care of her father (Eddie Pepitone), a man we’ve only heard about through terrible anecdotes. (“You’re a breeder, not a leader,” was one of his mantras for his daughter when she was growing up.) Sure enough, Paula hasn’t been home more than five minutes before he starts to insult her and make racist remarks, so she escapes to the supermarket to get more supplies. There, Paula sees her high school sweetheart, and we get a fun recreation of the scene from Season 1 where Rebecca runs into her beloved Josh at the supermarket: There’s a puff of smoke as this stranger opens the freezer door, a curious employee with an afro looks on, and Paula uses Rebecca’s preferred phrase to describe the encounter, “like glitter is exploding inside me.”
Paula’s “Josh Chan” is even named Jeff Channington, with the result that the episode, “Getting Over Jeff,” has the distinction of being the first Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episode ever without Josh’s name in the title. After all that build up, when Paula bursts into song at the sight of this long-lost crush, you’d expect something romantic, right? Well …
It’s an ABBA parody about penises! Or at least, one very special penis in particular. The “Mamma Mia” imitator, “First Penis I Saw,” is so marvelous and unexpected that it’s hard to know where to start doling out the praise. Kathryn Burns’ jaunty choreography is a gift. Props to the props department for making it look like every cereal box and bottle of laundry detergent in the entire store says “Jeff!” (And of course, for the very suggestive vegetables, complete with the sign that says “Suggestive Vegetables” overhead.) The writers, of course, deserve hearty congratulations, too—it’s almost as though they were sitting around the table trying to see who could come up with the most surprising penis rhyme: seen his, mean is, cleanest, greenest, keenness, ingenious.
And Donna Lynne Champlin. Oh, Donna Lynne Champlin. “First Penis I Saw” is one of the best songs of the season, but it’s also one of the best the actress has ever delivered on the show, right up there with “After Everything I’ve Done for You (That You Didn’t Ask For)” and “Maybe This Dream.” Every single one of her facial expressions is just waiting to be gif-ed.
After the giddy highs of hearing someone say penis so many times in a row on network television, the episode’s other song, “My Friend’s Dad,” is a comedown. While Paula is off having her own adventures, Rebecca, who has tagged along on this excursion, gets to know Paula’s father better and finds she’s unbothered by his drunkenness, bigotry, or general grossness, because, hey, he’s not her dad. This leads to a Shirley Temple-style tap number:
This song is a bit of a bummer! It doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about Rebecca or Bob, and I don’t think the relationship being described here, “girl and girl’s friend’s elderly, racist father,” is universal enough to warrant a musical number otherwise. I guess we’re supposed to be shocked by the combination of the wholesome genre and grossness of the subject matter, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has already done that this season much more successfully, with “Maybe She’s Not Such a Heinous Bitch After All.” All in all, not a strong note to go out on for the midseason finale.
Oh, well. At least we’ll always have the penis song.
Best Song of the Week: “First Penis I Saw” blows “My Friend’s Dad” out of the water.
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