Warning: This contains spoilers for Season 3. Not caught up? See our spoiler-free review of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 1.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend should, by rights, have only lasted one season. It was a shaky concept about a woman travelling across the US to stalk her childhood sweetheart. Hence the name. It’s a one-season plotline; there’s only so long you can drag out secrets before they explode or resolve. Season 1 ended with Josh and Rebecca together, only a moment of fear in Josh’s eyes suggesting that this relationship may not last. But the problem remained: she was no longer an ex-girlfriend. So, Season 2 shifted the emphasis from it being about Rebecca’s obsessive romances to her friendships in general, although romance still played a big part. It ended with the shock revelation that the “crazy” of the title may go beyond “being a bit overbearing” to actual mental health problems.
A third season beckoned. It arrived with uncertain expectations – could a goofy musical comedy series that previously featured songs named “I Gave You a UTI” and “Heavy Boobs” cover such a sensitive topic while still maintaining its sense of humour? The answer is… sort of. The latest season of Crazy Ex leans heavily into the issues hinted at with the second season finale. We get right under the skin of Rebecca and we see her at her most damaged and vulnerable, but it occasionally struggles with tonal control.
Rebecca’s story is the show at its best, the writers revelling in the tension between Rebecca’s own agency and the effects of her Borderline Personality Disorder. The mid-season darkest point comes when she tries to kill herself on a flight home from visiting her mother. It’s a testament to Rachel Bloom’s performance and the strength of the writing team that this whole plot is sold convincingly and with sensitivity. Crucially, it isn’t used as a sensationalist plot point (although it does end the episode as a cliffhanger, which is perhaps a shade too tasteless), but it’s entirely in keeping with the journey they’ve taken the character on. By the end of Season 3, as she’s confessing her guilt and owning up to her actions for perhaps the first time, Rebecca’s arc – and her relationship with Paula, in particular – have reached a satisfying conclusion. It shows just how well Bloom and her team understand Rebecca Bunch.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the rest of the supporting cast, whose subplots veer into trite melodrama. Sure, the show has always been melodramatic, but the developments here are strained and contrived. It gets increasingly hard to care, for instance, about the surrogacy subplot or Valencia’s revelation that she’s bisexual. Both subplots feel tacked on to something more serious, used as a vehicle to demonstrate the show’s progressive credentials as opposed to credible developments for the characters involved. Many of the secondary characters begin to feel superfluous and, sadly, become annoying: Daryl leans into his whining too much; Josh should just be dropped from the show (one episode title states that “Josh is Irrelevant” and it’s easy to agree).
Worst of all, the songs have taken a dip in quality as the focus shifts to a more complex character drama. This season was never going to be as funny and that’s fine – Bojack Horseman went through a similar tonal shift and pulled it off with panache – but when you do attempt the funny moments, you need them to land. Many of the songs feel like first drafts, where if they’d pushed the concept further, they could have maximised the impact. Songs such as “I Go to the Zoo” and “Back in the Action” have the potential to mine some great character humour, but end up one-note without a true guffaw. They elicit a snigger, a chortle, but leave you feeling wanting.
Every once in a while, however, the team pull it back with an absolute belter of a tune that fits in perfectly with the plot and is chock-full of hilarious lines or smart concepts. The final episode features one of the best of the series to date, The Miracle of Birth, sung by MVP Donna Lynne Champlin as Paula. It’s a folksy tune about what happens when you give birth, complete with a womb-like set and children bursting out of some pink curtains. A taste: “And explosive diarrhea / means that labour’s drawing nearer…” It’s moments like that where you’re reminded of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s capacity to make you splutter with disbelief and laughter.
The third season is a mixed success, not as memorable as the first two and with the usual mid-season lulls that have plagued the show from the start. The finale leaves the show in an intriguing place – a musical Orange is the New Black anyone? Perhaps for the show to thrive, however, it needs to cut Josh, Valencia and maybe even Heather in order to focus on what makes the show really work.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 1 to 4 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive on Saturdays, within 24 hours of their US broadcast.