The Perfect Timing of 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend'

One of this year’s most satisfying finales spotlights a theme that lasts long beyond 11 o’clock.

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It was a Saturday in early April, and I found myself blinking away tears at 7 a.m. while on a bus driving through Connecticut. My phone was tilted long-ways in my palm, and Rachel Bloom, co-creator and star of the sweet and subversive musical comedy series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, had just uttered her last line as Rebecca Bunch through my headphones. I’d realized a little less than an hour earlier that the series finale was online, and that I could watch while many others on that bus and in our timezone napped. Cut back to that moment where it was all over, and I was awash in that feeling you get when something you love not only ends but ends well.

As our own Valerie Ettenhoffer pointed out, a lot of television series have had spectacular endings so far this year, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was one of them. The show was a closed loop since it began, a six-year conversation between Bloom and her collaborator Aline Brosh McKenna (writer of The Devil Wears Prada) that was always intended for four seasons. And while I’d gladly follow four more, the creators’ careful intent still shone through right until the very end, offering an extremely satisfying experience in the time I and other fans had with the show while it lasted.

After sitting with it for a while, I can’t help but think that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is all about perfect timing (and it’s not just because the finale features a literal 11 o’clock number that reprises some of the show’s greatest hits.) The pace, and ultimate conclusion, of Rebecca’s hard-won arc, just feels right in this moment. Each season took the character to a new level of emotional maturity, building to a finale that foregrounds how far she’s come above all else. It all brings into relief the show’s own place in a moment where rom-coms – or at least stories that share the genre’s DNA – seem to be doing the same.

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As Rachel Bloom has stated, the entirety of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is “a prequel to someone becoming herself.” In the series finale, this revelation is structured around a one-year time jump, starting with the possibility of Rebecca choosing between the three romantic partners she’s been with throughout the show, and ending with a rejection of that choice altogether. Ultimately, Rebecca sits herself down before a piano at an open-mic night and tells the ensemble gathered there (as well as some unwitting bar patrons) that she’s about to sing a song she wrote. It turns out that she spent the previous year not deliberating about who to pair off with but taking music lessons and committing the songs that happen inside her mind to paper.

While this resolution could have been anticipated on some level – the show has always gleefully subverted rom-com tropes, not least of which the idea that romantic love is the end of someone’s story – this last fakeout still offers something the audience has been craving since the start of the series: Rebecca finally finding peace with herself by discovering her true love, in this case, her music. The time-jump bracket adds to that satisfaction, alluding to the layered idea that the show is a culmination of years of hard work. After all, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend isn’t just the result of Bloom and Brosh McKenna’s long-time collaboration but also of Rebecca’s own imagination. She’s been creating these elaborate musical numbers in her head for just as long, despite not understanding them as anything more than a coping mechanism wrought by her BPD.

As the series’ final musical moment asserts, though, Rebecca doesn’t need to fully understand her creative process in order to find herself; she just needs to accept it. In a more surprising twist, we see Rebecca introducing her best friend Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) to the abstract theatrical space in her mind, where she imagines all of the songs that have appeared to us throughout the series. As the camera spins around them, they sing a short, quiet reprise together that mirrors their duet from the end of the pilot episode, when they originally banded together to pair Rebecca off with her once-true love, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III).

There’s a familiar gut-punch that comes with a solid musical callback, and in watching these moments one after the other, we witness a setup and payoff that’s been years in the making. What was once a duet rooted in enabling an unhealthy obsession now becomes one about offering permission to be creative — as Brosh McKenna puts it, it’s an older woman giving a younger woman a pen and telling her to write her story. The reprise removes the pair from a destructive cycle by nodding to something similarly cyclical, being the progression of the show’s music on the whole; what Rebecca needs just happens to be here, in the art that she’s been making since the moment she stepped in West Covina.

In considering the roles of emotional progression and creativity in this show’s finale, I can’t help but take a step back and consider the moment in which this episode aired. Right now, the rom-com is resurging in fun and interesting ways, from Netflix hits like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Always Be My Maybe to other TV series that center on complicated women in love. Personally, I keep thinking about how Crazy Ex-Girlfriend especially connects with another great comedy series that ended this year: Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag.

While not explicitly a rom-com, Fleabag surely incorporated both elements in its second and final season, following its lead character as she undergoes a romance with the legendary Hot Priest (Andrew Scott). More importantly, her constant asides to the camera, and the way they’re broken down by letting another character in on the joke, carry the same thrill as the moment when Paula recognizes Rebecca’s tendency to retreat into her own head; “Oh, I get it, you’re doing that thing you do,” she says as Rebecca stares off into the distance, the wall between her fantasies and their reality crumbling away with a single line, and eventually, a single song.

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Really, what makes these shows so special is that catharsis is coming first and foremost from an exploration of the self. We get a bittersweet sense of contentment from the idea that Rebecca and Fleabag are finding an emotional release in the creative processes that they’ve been undergoing for years, whether that involves speaking to an imagined audience through dialogue or through music. Their (in some cases literal) walks off into the sunset also spotlight them getting to a better place with their mental health and their expectations about love; as Brosh McKenna summarizes, “It’s not about auditioning for the missing puzzle piece. We wanted to show that it’s about getting everyone to a place where they can healthily prioritize someone else.” Ultimately, we’re seeing fitting endings for these women who are still growing; with the help of someone who loves them, they’re accepting that they’re capable of taking that first step towards becoming who they’re meant to be.

In the end, Rebecca’s final moment at that piano, as she prepares to bring her music out of her head and into the world, makes her feel so much more alive than the stereotype she was destined to subvert. Again, it’s that level of purpose, of following a series that has consistently centered it’s lead’s self-actualization above all else, that has made the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend finale one of the best of the year, and that should allow it to stand the test of time.

(Intern)

Film student about to step into the "real world," whatever that means.