Brow Beat

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Fourth and Final Season Kicks Off, Appropriately, With a Nod to Chicago

Rachel Bloom in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Robert Voets/The CW

Welcome, Bunchkins, to the beginning of the end. Not only did the CW renew Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for a fourth and final season—nothing less than a miracle for one of TV’s least-watched shows—it also gave the creators 18 whole episodes to tell the end of their story. That means at least 36 new songs for fans, assuming the show sticks to its usual two-per-episode standard, which was case in the season premiere on Friday. While the first episode of Season 4, “I Want to Be Here,” didn’t unveil the new, reinvented Crazy Ex-Girlfriend theme song just yet, there’ll be plenty of time for that in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, we have two new musical numbers to unpack, including one that’s an immediate inductee to the Crazy Ex Hall of Fame.

The fourth season picks up immediately where Season 3 left off, with Rebecca pleading guilty to trying to kill Trent despite having perfectly justifiable reasons to push him off that roof: She was saving Nathaniel’s life. Now, though, no one (except perhaps the prosecutor, played in a fun cameo by showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna) is willing to accept Rebecca’s largely symbolic confession to atone for her crimes “both real and metaphorical”; somehow the same people who last season simply couldn’t believe that Trent was a stalker and that Rebecca was protecting Nathaniel are now convinced of her innocence. Plot conveniences aside, the judge agrees to give Rebecca what she wants and sends her to jail—but only for six weeks, until her hearing can be rescheduled. “Let’s see how you like it in there,” she says smugly.

At first, it seems as though Rebecca might actually like jail just fine, because there’s a theater class there held by an outreach group. She quickly hijacks her first session by proposing the inmates perform “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy,” the same song that sparked her love of theater as a teenager, as seen in the show’s pilot. Watching Rebecca lead the inmates in song, two things become clear: 1) Rebecca may have gone to jail to “do penance,” but it’s really just a different way for her to escape from reality; 2) While Rebecca is a talented singer in all of her fantasies, she can’t carry a tune in “real life.” The other inmates are not enthusiastic about South Pacific (or about Rebecca, for that matter) so she tries a different tactic: They’ll perform an original piece in which the inmates share their stories. “And then maybe Lin-Manuel Miranda tweets about it,” she gushes. (Mission accomplished.)

The result is a bleak parody of Chicago’s Cell Block Tango,” as Rebecca attempts to make life in jail seem sexy and empowering, imagining the inmates wearing lingerie over their shapeless orange jumpsuits. She fails, because it turns out there’s nothing sexy or empowering about their situation, and the crimes the rest of the group committed are too sad, and too mundane, for a tango. (“You guys aren’t really versed with a sense of story structure,” admonishes Rebecca.) These are no merry murderesses who executed their men for cheating or chewing gum: One inmate took the fall for her boyfriend because they have a son together. Another struck and killed a teenager while driving distracted. A black woman reveals she’s serving time for stealing a sweater.

“Oh, hey, I stole a sweater too,” a different inmate, who is white, chimes in. “I got two months. How long are you in for?”

“Three years,” the first sweater thief replies dryly.

Racial inequality doesn’t quite pair with Rebecca’s incessant chant of “Ra-ta-ta,” so she tells her own story. Remember the litany in “After Everything You Made Me Do”? The list of crimes has only gotten longer, and her confession in “What’s Your Story?” is so sordid and unbelievable compared with the other inmates that she seems like a fictional character infiltrating their grim reality, and that’s the point. By the time the song ends, everyone else has left in disgust, and even the real drums and horns that had been playing throughout the song go silent, leaving her to deliver her bizarre, a cappella castanets noises to an empty room.

Besides introducing two concepts that will be important later in the episode—privilege and atonement—“Cell Block Tango” is a fascinating song for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to take on. Sure, it’s the obvious choice because of the jail storyline, but it’s also appropriate, because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend shares the same central conceit as Chicago: Both are told from the perspective of an unhappy woman who is obsessed with theater and makes sense of the world by dreaming up elaborate musical numbers. Just substitute Pippin for vaudeville, and what is Rebecca Bunch but a modern-day Roxie Hart?

Rebecca’s friends, still trying to get her out of jail, can’t understand the appeal of her cabaret fantasies or her need to punish herself for a crime she didn’t commit, leaving her feeling misunderstood. Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster) is feeling misunderstood too; after Rebecca ignored his advice to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, he arranged a “survivalist excursion,” hiring one of those companies that will beat you up and abandon you in the woods for money. He’s tailed by faithful sidekick George (Danny Jolles), who suggests that Nathaniel’s need to push himself physically isn’t therapeutic but another form of “emotional cutting.” That leads us to one of my favorite Crazy Ex-Girlfriend songs to date, “No One Else Is Singing My Song.”

It’s clear why Rebecca and Nathaniel are singing this power ballad about feeling misjudged and alone, since they’ve both chosen to isolate themselves from their loved ones, respectively by going to jail and embarking on a kidnapping adventure. Josh, as the third in the song’s “three-part harmony,” is a little harder to place—he spends the episode trying to diagnose himself with various mental illnesses, refusing to accept that he’s really just having the same commonplace problems as a lot of people his age. He’s looking for the kind of belonging that Rebecca sang about in “A Diagnosis,” but he’s also determined that his problems must be unique—even as Rebecca and Nathaniel are, ironically, singing the exact same lyrics:

REBECCA/NATHANIEL/JOSH

No one else is singing my song.

No one knows the rhythm enough to sing along.

When the core of your problem is a

Complicated melisma

No one gets

NATHANIEL

How alone … 

REBECCA

How alone … 

JOSH

How alone …

REBECCA/NATHANIEL/JOSH

Only I am.

That’s the joke, of course, but you have to love the attention to detail—even the lyric “You’re next to someone who is fast asleep (that’s so specific)” can apply to all three despite the wildly different settings. They’re soon joined for an 11-part harmony by a bunch of other characters from the show, including Benjamin Siemon’s Grocery Clerk With Half an Eyelid, but not David Hull’s White Josh, for whatever reason. Maybe he’s too well adjusted?

It wouldn’t be Crazy Ex-Girlfriend if one of its funniest songs to date didn’t throw a spoonful of medicine with all that sugar, and sure enough, we get a dose just as the characters hold out their “lonely hands” and realize that there are, in fact, almost a dozen other people singing their exact song. But as Heather, Valencia, Hector, and more glance around, Brady Brunch–style, Rebecca can only look mournfully into the distance. As far as she knows, she really is alone.

Best Song of the Week: Don’t get me wrong, “No One Else Is Singing My Song” is easily the episode’s standout and will probably wind up in my top 10 for the show as a whole. Still, with 17 more episodes to come, I wish the writers had slowed down and really taken advantage of the Chicago parallels by committing for the entire episode—after all, they’ve done songs from Les Misérables, twice.

Imagine: Nathaniel trying, and failing, to sing “Mister Cellophane” because he’s too handsome and keeps getting noticed, or Paula insisting that Rebecca tell the truth about her innocence in a reversal of “We Both Reached for the Gun.” Even a “When You’re Good to Mama”–type number would at least have given wonderful guest star Britney Young—who has become famous in her own right on GLOW since her last Crazy Ex-Girlfriend cameo—a little more to do.