Brow Beat

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Is Back to Ruin All Your Problematic Faves

Assuming your problematic faves are songs from musical theater’s Golden Age, that is.

Rachel Bloom stands on a bare stage, arms splayed, a piano in the background.
Everything you love is terrible!
Greg Gayne/The CW

“What if these classic musical theater songs that I’ve loved for so many years and kinda based my life on are … bad?” Pack it up and go home, everyone, because with just three episodes (and one concert special) of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend remaining, Rebecca has finally figured out that she can’t model her existence after a movie or a play or a musical dramedy series that airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.

You’ll recall that before the show went on a brief hiatus in February, Rebecca had decided to pursue her passion for musical theater by auditioning for a local production, a tribute to the fictional composer Elliot Ellison. In “I’m Finding My Bliss,” she learns that the secret to her happiness probably does not lie in the works of Ellison, a stand-in for any number of real composers and librettists—but mostly Rodgers and Hammerstein, who have already been mimicked once this season with “The Group Mind Has Decided You’re in Love.”

The Ellison musical revue means this episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has more songs than usual, and they’re not just in Rebecca’s head this time.

Let Me Be in Your Show (from Let Me Be in Your Show)

Telling actors to prepare 16 bars and then making them all sing the exact same song anyway is quite a bait-and-switch, but it certainly is efficient. We’ve already heard Rebecca’s enthusiastic, off-key warble many times—as the director, guest star Cheri Oteri, notes, “Singing: zero. Commitment: one million.” But Gabrielle Ruiz and Michael McMillian also get to invent “real” singing voices for their characters, and the results are fun, especially Ruiz’s, which is girlishly high.

Five writers are credited on this song (Rachel Bloom, Adam Schlesinger, Aline Brosh McKenna, Ilana Peña, and Alden Derck) even though it is the shortest in the episode, a fact that is somehow funnier than the song itself.

Etta Mae’s Lament (from Saloon Nights and Engine Fights)

“Ethel Merman sang it, and then Gwen Verdon sang in the revival, and then Bernadette Peters sang it in the second revival, and then Michelle Obama sang it on Glee,” says Rebecca excitedly when she’s assigned this comedy number. But in studying the lyrics, she experiences a realization that we all come to eventually: Her fave is problematic. “Etta Mae’s Lament” is something of a cross between “I Cain’t Say No” (Oklahoma!) and “Adelaide’s Lament” (my own problematic fave, Guys and Dolls), sung by a simple, desperate-to-marry prostitute.

Get me off of my back

And standin’ up straight

So I can be the type of lady that you’re not afraid to date

Get me out of the cathouse

And into a kitchen

I’ll wear white and pray to martyrs

I’ll trade in my guns and garters

‘Cause there are only two types of women

Me and virgins you commit to

It’s worth noting that neither Adelaide nor Ado Annie are actually prostitutes, but musical theater is full of songs sung by ladies of the night, often about how they are tired of being ladies of the night: “The Miller’s Son” from A Little Night Music, “Whore’s Lament” from Amour, “The Oldest Profession” from The Life. Rachel Bloom plays this one well, balancing Rebecca’s self-loathing at the overt sexism and slut-shaming with a desire to smile through it and do the song justice.

The Tick Tock Clock

Not only have Ellison’s lyrics not aged well, they’re pretty lazy, as evidenced by this “Racing With the Clock” knockoff during a montage. Jack Dolgen wrote on Twitter that “I’m Finding My Bliss” contains “the stupidest song I’ve ever written.” I’d bet on this one.

I’m the Bride of the Pirate King

The getup suggests Pirates of Penzance, and because everything you love is terrible, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, but I don’t think Gilbert and Sullivan are the real targets here. Instead, “I’m the Bride of the Pirate King” seems to dig at the “romances” in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (kidnapping) and Carousel (domestic abuse). Ruiz’s matter-of-fact, cheerful delivery as she rejoices in her character’s Stockholm syndrome also recalls Bloom’s “Historical Accurate Disney Princess Song.”

Apple Man

Tim sees himself as a leading man, but as soon as Nathaniel enters the room, he’s downgraded to comic relief, with a song to match. “A character song? An unnecessary, forgettable, cuttable character song?” he asks incredulously. McMillian had his own glorious character song last season, “The Buzzing From the Bathroom,” and “Apple Man” simply can’t compare.

Still, I’m glad McMillian got one more solo before the show concluded, and I’m relieved we didn’t have to sit through “Good Bosses and Friends Let Their Employees Soar Elsewhere If Need Be.”

Etta Mae’s Lament (Revised)

Though Rebecca doesn’t think of herself as a writer-performer—”I’m not Ike Barinholtz!”—she does tweak the lyrics of “Etta Mae’s Lament.” We’re only privvy to a few lines before the whole show is shut down.

Original: “I pray to above that I’ll find true love, but no one wants a lady who’s used”

Revised: “I pray to above that I’ll find true love, a man who won’t say that I’m used”

Original: “Oh, can someone lasso me a husband? I’m nothing without a husband”

Revised: “Oh, can someone lasso me a husband? It would be nice to someday have a husband”

When The King and I was revived in 2015, director Bartlett Sher chose to include the controversial song “Western People Funny,” which is often cut, by emphasizing the irony to offset the racial insensitivity. Rebecca takes a similar approach to Ellison, choosing revision culture over cancel culture.

What’ll It Be? (Reprise)

The original, for comparison. He may not be Santino Fontana, but Skylar Astin can certainly sing.

Best song of the week: The musical revue songs really work best when taken as a body of work, but if I had to pick, I’d go with “Etta Mae’s Lament,” with Rebecca’s revisions, of course. Rebecca watching Nathaniel perform the number and realizing that someone else is singing her song was a sweet touch.