Warning: This contains spoilers for Season 4. Never seen Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Read our spoiler-free review of Season 1 here.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend over the course of its four seasons did something truly remarkable – every episode had at least one song, most had two, leading to over 130 songs homaging everything from Broadway to ska to rap to Bruce Springsteen. Better than that, it managed to tell a compelling story, wherein its entire cast were treated to credible arcs and it ended in an unbelievably satisfying manner, entirely on the terms of the show’s creators and in a way that brilliantly resolves the thematic journey the show has taken. Season 4 is, by far and away, the best the show has been – and it’s one of the best final seasons of any show, not petering out, but, in the words of fan Lin-Manuel Miranda, sticking the landing. With style.
Each season brought with it different ideas. Season 1 was the set-up: Rebecca Bunch leaves her high-flying, big-bucks job in New York to move to West Covina, California, to pursue her childhood sweetheart, Josh Chan. The second season was all about obsession, exploring Rebecca’s psyche after she apparently has what she wanted, romantically – although it subtly shifted the perspective to being about friendship. Season 3 got under the skin of that tricky title, grappling with mental health in a surprisingly frank way, slowly revealing that the show has always been about her personal journey, not just her relationships. Season 4 harmonises all of these themes into one glorious, cohesive piece of storytelling that goes big on the romance, bigger on the self-actualisation and somehow also manages to make it more of an ensemble piece.
The songs in Season 4 are among the best (stay tuned for a roundup of every single CEGf song, ranked). Highlights here include Luca Padovan’s absolute barnstormer I Want to Be A Child Star, where a kid aspires to have a “teenage Hollywood breakdown”, and the rather sweet Hello, Nice to Meet You, where Rebecca reintroduces herself to Greg (now played, with almost zero explanation, by Skylar Astin instead of Santino Fontana). There’s much more emotional weight to some of the songs here, too – it’s hard not to feel the gut-punch of Bloom singing an ode to the darkness that lives within her. There’s also a bigger sense of scale this season, with more audacious dance numbers and a wider variety of musical styles. It really makes every episode feel like an event, a miniature musical marvel packed into 45 minutes.
Naturally, Donna Lynne Champlin is the musical and emotional high-point of the series. That’s not to denigrate the formidable work of the rest of the cast, who are uniformly excellent, it’s just that Champlin is another level. As Paula, she contains multitudes, expressing parental anxiety, a drive for success as a lawyer and a growing depth of understanding for Rebecca, all with a smile or a sigh. Her vocal abilities border on witchcraft, with I’ve Always Never Believed in You showcasing her at her best. Somehow, she manages to hold E and OO vowels on high notes in ways that would make anyone else waver.
One of the most appealing aspects of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is its belief in human change – however slowly and messily it happens. Rebecca’s been a mess for the entire four seasons and the final episode doesn’t entirely resolve that, but we’ve seen her progress, inch by inch, towards becoming a better person and we’ve loved her the whole way. Yet the show sneaks up on you in making you care for all of the other characters. By the end, you realise how much the whole group have grown: Nathaniel has learnt kindness; Josh has found purpose; Paula has realised her dreams while caring for her family. Yet it’s taken four whole seasons to manage this, and it ends still hinting at more change to come. The slow and steady progress of change has been the consistent thread throughout the whole of the show, which is what lends the finale such weight – they’ve really earned these resolutions.
Not everything works. A couple of high-profile cameos don’t land and feel crowbarred in, with little more to them than recognition value. Rebecca’s relationship with her mother gets forgotten by the final few episodes, which might have been nice to fully resolve. The much-vaunted tribute to Chicago’s Cellblock Tango ends up falling flat. On the whole, however, it’s a show that seems to have fully found its stride in the series that ends up being its last. By ending it now, with the showrunners fully in control, the show ends on an undeniable high.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, in hindsight, was a show of incredible consistency, balancing the scatalogical and the sexual, the serious and the silly, with astonishing poise. There hasn’t really been anything like it on TV before and it’s hard to believe that there’ll be anything like it again. The worst you can say of it is that each season was a few episodes too long. But now that it’s over, that feels like a churlish complaint. The whole thing is a wonder and it’s on Netflix in its entirety. Cherish it.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.