Brow Beat

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Sings About Something Scarier Than Vampires or Zombies: Social Anxiety

Patton Oswalt in a skeleton suit in a graveyard with backup dancers and other-such ghouls.
Patton Oswalt and the cast of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend perform “The Cringe.” Scott Everett White/The CW

Halloween is almost upon us, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is getting into the scary, scary sexy spirit with an episode all about being haunted, whether by ghosts or by one’s own feelings of embarrassment and guilt. It’s a theme that even found its way into the episode’s title, “I Am Ashamed,” the second ever on the show not to include a man’s name, following last week’s “I Want to Be Here.” (“I Am Ashamed” was directed by two women, Audrey Wauchope and Rachel Specter, though only Wauchope is credited due to a Directors Guild of America decision. More on that here.) That change in episode titles marks yet another sign that despite being called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, this show is no longer about Rebecca’s relationships with Josh or Greg or Nathaniel or even Trent. On Friday’s episode, it became about Rebecca’s relationship with her past choices—and also with Devon, a woman Rebecca has never met but who was murdered in her house years earlier, allowing Rebecca to get it on the cheap. Though Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been home to dream ghosts and memory spirits in the past, “I Am Ashamed” marks the first time it has focused on an actual poltergeist.

There are three songs to consider in “I Am Ashamed” instead of the usual two, thanks to the new theme song, which premiered right here on Slate. “Meet Rebecca” is the simplest opening title sequence yet and the most nostalgic, set over a montage of clips of Rebecca from seasons past as a chorus of singers try, and fail, to describe her. Thematically, it’s most similar to the theme song for Season 1, self-aware about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s own limitations and strengths. Many of the same adjectives that describe Rebecca in the song also apply to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as a whole, a show that is similarly “hard to summarize.” It’s a musical! It’s a comedy! It’s a thoughtful and sometimes grim examination of mental illness! Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is every bit as complicated and potentially alienating as its protagonist, who is as likely to hire an assassin to kill her ex’s new girlfriend as she is to, for example, lie on the couch and masturbate to gay porn for hours.

That’s exactly what Rebecca does in “Time to Seize the Day,” which is like if Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song” were diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. With her various sins and crimes exposed on the internet for all of West Covina to discuss, Rebecca is struck with an attack of agoraphobia, too afraid to leave her house even for a Hocus Pocus screening, which is both in keeping with the episode’s Halloween theme and a fun little callback to “Friendtopia” in Season 2. (All citizens must watch Hocus Pocus!) And because Rebecca is Rebecca, she chronicles her unsuccessful attempts to leave the house in an upbeat patter, describing in real time all the things she’s doing instead of going outside, which include looking up facts about stingrays, cleaning the fridge, buying a new fridge, and the aforementioned masturbation.

You really have to love any song that rhymes “Carpe diem, carpe don’t-em” with “Time to grab life by the scrotum.” While it’s hard to pin down a particular musical inspiration for “Time to Seize the Day”—it could be dropped into any of a dozen Broadway musicals if you don’t listen to the words too closely—it’s perhaps most in the spirit of The Sound of Music’s “I Have Confidence,” with the heroine pumping herself up to do something that scares her. Rebecca’s version, however, is a procrastinator’s anthem, riffing on the old “one step forward, two steps back” cliché: “One step forward, two steps back/ No, two steps forward, four steps back/ Five steps back/ And now I’m back in bed.” And I certainly don’t remember Julie Andrews taking a break to jill off midsong. Shout out to the CW’s long-suffering standards and practices department for allowing a musical number that both uses the word scrotum and sees Rachel Bloom stick her hand down her pants.

There is less masturbation but considerably more shame in “The Cringe,” a song all about how a social faux pas can be as haunting as any ghost. Patton Oswalt reprises his cameo as the creepy security guard from the first season to sing a “Monster Mash” rip-off about regret. “People are scared of cemeteries,” he says in his introduction. “They come here spooked with thoughts of the undead, but what haunts people the most … is their own past!”

“The Cringe” (not to be confused with “The Creep”) isn’t seasonal like Bobby Pickett’s famous novelty song, however, because rather than singing about Dracula or zombies, the cast is singing about the kind of horrors that linger year-round—memories of bad hookups, unintentional insults, and regrettable tattoos. They’re soon joined by zombies whose unfinished business is similarly cringeworthy.

VALENCIA: Banshees and ghouls can give a good fright

PAULA: But that’s not what keeps me up at night

HEATHER: I think about that time in bed with my ex

When I chuckled at his penis during sex

ALL: She does the cringe

HEATHER: It was a full-blown laugh

ALL: She does the cringe

HEATHER: It looked like a cute little puppet

ALL: She does the cringe

HEATHER: He went soft and cried

MR. TRAPANI: And that was the night their relationship died!

One of those zombies is Devon, who died in the most embarrassing way imaginable and has come to symbolize Rebecca’s own past. Ghosts may not be real, but that doesn’t mean an exorcism isn’t in order. There are some other fun zombies, too: Lest we forget that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend takes place in West Covina (as if we could ever) there’s even a dig at the town motto, “Live Work Play,” with the zombified coiner calling it “not my best work.”

Best song of the week: There’s a lot to love and fear in this week’s episode, but it’s hard to top the universality of “The Cringe.” Oswalt’s return is welcome, as is the throwaway line about being a murderer. Cringeworthy! What’s less cringeworthy are those costumes by Melinda Root, complete with skull-and-bone bustles. David S. Pumpkins wishes his backup dancers were that stylish.