' ' Cinema Romantico: My 10 Favorite Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Songs

Friday, April 05, 2019

My 10 Favorite Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Songs

The series finale of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” airs tonight at 7 PM CST (8 PM eastern) on The CW Network. You probably will not notice. Most of America will not notice. After all, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has consistently been one of the lowest rated shows on all of television. Last season it ranked second-to-last (206 out of 207) in total number of viewers. And yet, The CW, bless its heart, refused to cancel the show. It is possible, granted, that creators and executive producers Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna were given an ultimatum of one more season only or else, but the network’s committing to four years from nothing more than critical acclaim and creative success remains an impressive win where data sets typically trump art. I mention it because I rarely watch TV shows beginning to end. I have too many movies to watch and only time for a precious few small screen ventures. If your show ain’t doing it, I’m gone. And though I came to “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” midway through the first season – at the behest of My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife – rather than right at the start, I have been with it ever since.

If the title suggests a show as unfortunate cultural cliché that is only because Bloom and Brosh McKenna have spent the entire show turning that cultural cliché inside-out, deconstructing the expression Crazy Ex-Girlfriend through the mental and emotional trials and tribulations of its main character Rebecca Bunch (Bloom), who has come to West Covina, California in search of her ex-boyfriend Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), by examining how such expressions emerge from our warped perceptions and then warp our perceptions further still. And if in turning that cultural cliché inside out Bloom and Brosh McKenna have utilized myriad narrative truisms that is only because they have spent the entire show dissecting, skewering and transfiguring those truisms into actual truth, rewiring gods of machine into inner demons. If the storytelling is both satirical and sincere, elaborate and deft, the kind of duality I significantly value in art, it is also prominently both a dramedy and a musical.

Indeed, each show includes two musical numbers, drawing from a vast array of genres and styles, arriving, like any good musical theatre, not to accentuate certain moments but literally be emotional apexes, or nadirs, or points in-between. Such songs are not easy to pull off on a tightly budgeted show of this scale, which merely makes it an extra impressive achievement worth celebrating. And celebrating, I think, is an order. If the time seems right for a What’s It All Mean? piece, well, I’m not sure I could tell you What It All Meant until the show actually concludes and I’ve had proper time to ruminate. No, today, on the verge of this sensational show’s culmination, I would merely like to raise a glass to Rachel Bloom, genius, and all parties involved, and give a toast to my ten favorite “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” songs.

10. Santa Ana Winds. My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife, in talking through this post with me, noted that probably no one liked this song as much as me, which is not me tooting my own horn so much as conveying straight away this is no definitive list, merely the designations of one idiosyncratic mind. After all, “Santa Ana Winds” does not tend to crack the Top 50 of various “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” song power rankings you can find all over the interwebs, never mind the Top 10, but as theme song to an episode in which the titular weather phenomenon makes everyone in West Covina get a little loopier than usual, it fits right into my sweet spot. Sonically, yes, between the Frank Valli-esque frontman (Eric Michael Roy) and especially that aces Phil Spector backbeat but also in how the song is recurring rather than one-off, with the singing narrator repeatedly popping up, his entrances growing more cuckoo. If to some this bit might get old, that’s why I love it, like the NBC version of David Letterman going back, again and again, to a gag that keeps bombing. Given the unwelcome insistence of “those damn devil winds”, it feels just right.

9. The Math of Love Triangles. As Season 2 began, Rebecca found herself with feelings for not just genesis-of-the-show Josh but malcontent Greg (Santino Fontana) too, not that either of them were sending similar signals back as her astute, eternally frustrated therapist Dr. Akopian (Michael Hyatt) notes. It is a deliberate refusal to the read the room of her life summarized in “The Math of Love Triangles”, a “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” spoof in which Bloom re-purposes Marilyn Monroe classic who-me? naivety. A chorus of dapper mathematicians answer her queries about love triangles in extremely literal terms, information she gleefully ignores, preferring to draw her own incorrect conclusions, rolling with the story she has already mentally penned and driving these erudite dudes comically batty.

8. Tell Me I’m Okay (Patrick). At the end of Season 2, when all of Rebecca’s self-imposed strain has her teetering on the edge, figuratively and eventually literally, she seeks validation of her increasingly off-the-rails life decisions from an unsuspecting UPS Deliveryman (Seth Green) who shows up at her door, imploring him, as the title suggests, to just tell her she’s okay. She makes this plea through the song where the setting suddenly changes from her front door to a stage with a fake skyline as backdrop and a piano at which the Deliveryman sits, still in his uniform while Rebecca is now decked out in a dress and pearls, a regular person suddenly pulled into this woman’s fantasy, Green’s bewildered “wait, what?” expressions emblemizing the inherent terror of being inside Rebecca’s over-active imagination. And though his eventual sprawling out on the piano illustrates a kind of amusing empathy, the song also ends with Rebecca’s fantasy wilting away; he doesn’t tell her she’s okay.

7. Settle For Me. Though a spot-on elemental homage to Astaire & Rogers, with the monochrome and mid-song tap breakdown recounted in a full shot rather than disguised cuts and close-ups, “Settle For Me” just as ingeniously sends up the iconic dance duo’s familiar romantic push and pull. Though in every Astaire & Rogers movie their characters are clearly meant to be, she nevertheless resists, until her heart can no longer deny what is obviously real and their true love explodes in dance. “Settle For Me”, on the other hand, as the title suggests, is Astaire and Rogers’ emotional opposite with Rebecca not so much resisting and then admitting what is true as refusing to get dragged down to Greg’s glum level and then shrugging and getting tugged into the muck anyway, turning the climactic dance into less an expression of unbridled joy than show-defining deluded dysfunction.

6. Who’s the New Guy? When, late in Season 2, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” went the way of so many shows before it and introduced a new character in the form of water polo playing bastion of white male privilege Nathaniel Plimpton III (Scott Michael Foster) to complicate Rebecca’s love life, it was only inevitable that a show so meta would address this ancient TV narrative maneuver. And though it did by turning a boring old office into a Broadway stage through a chorus number with simple yet hysterical choreography, “Who’s the New Guy?”, true to the show’s overriding spirit, also worked on its own terms, a comic ditty of employment anxiety to which any post-2008 white collar peon can totally relate.

 5. Don’t Be A Lawyer. It was admirable how much Bloom emphasized her supporting cast as the show went along and primo evidence was this last-season song in which hapless attorney Jim (Burl Moseley) is afforded the spotlight. Though “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” honored hip-hop frequently and righteously, particularly in Season 1’s “JAP Battle” (that’s, Jewish American Princess) between Rebecca and nemesis Audra Levine, I was most enamored with this ode to New Jack Swing, complete with appropriately boxy suits that could have come straight off the Guy album cover and utterly committed backup dancers, in which Jim makes like legend Teddy Riley in evincing the stressful perils of the eponymous profession. The bleak comedy is firmly in my wheelhouse, epitomized in both the closing shot, where you really need to pay attention to the woman’s face in the bottom left-hand corner, and perhaps my favorite “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” song couplet: “It’d be great to be on the Supreme Court / But you’ll never be on the Supreme Court.” Those lines are a simple yet diabolical evisceration of every You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind To motivational poster ever.

4. Friendtopia. One of my favorite developments during the show’s run was how Rebecca and Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz) transformed from enemies to friends, subverting the trope of fighting over a man into a statement on girl power. In doing so, this truly allowed Heather (Vella Lovell), FCOS (favorite character on the show), into the mix, at first merely a more psychologically astute vocal-fried Waldorf & Statler before growing into herself too without betraying her flippant attitude. If there were ever a “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” movie – and to set the record straight, I don’t there should be – I’d like to dream of it as a sort of “Spiceworld” fronted by these three (and the invaluable Donna Lynne Champlin’s Paula), which is why I flipped my lid when this trio chose to tell the world about becoming besties through the framework of a Spice Girls anthem with an agreeably dyspeptic streak toward the world they have banded against through their alliance. “We’re going to braid each other’s hair / Then cut each other’s braids / Connect the braids to build a rope / To hang all of Congress.”

3. Gettin’ Bi. In the moment Rebecca’s quirky one-eighth Chippewa boss Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner) came out as bisexual by song I thought about that dreadful moment in “Almost Famous” when Stillwater’s drummer came out as gay in one of those false, humorless bits where, only at the point of dying, does he admit it, and grudgingly, like he hates himself. Darryl doesn’t hate himself. In a show where characters frequently struggle with confusion, indecision and insecurities, “Gettin’ Bi” isn’t Daryl asking a question – “Am I bi?” – but jubilantly declaring that he absolutely is, which makes “Gettin’ Bi’s” Huey Lewis homage so appropriate since his and The News’s only objective was to make you feel good. And if the irked reaction of Daryl’s coworkers seems at odds with the moment, well, that’s probably only because they don’t care that he’s bisexual, ok, it’s perfectly fine, whatever, they just wonder why he has to shove his bisexuality in their face.

2. End of the Movie. If “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has a thesis, it is probably this song, concluding an episode in which Rebecca commits her most egregious act of self-destruction during the show’s entire run. Reality, the song explains, “doesn’t make narrative sense”, which speaks not only to Rebecca’s ongoing predicament but to the Bloom and Brosh McKenna’s penchant for spotlighting and then twisting narrative banalities, a single lyric explaining “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” overriding point. What’s more, the song belongs not so much to Rebecca but to Josh Groban, his cameo functioning in the moment as the voice in Rebecca’s head, which is why his capping joke, repeated twice, is not only perversely hilarious but self-flagellation, as true an evocation as you’ll ever find of laughing ‘til you cry.

1. Let’s Generalize About Men. Ours is a time of endless anxiety and anger, both self-made and from outside, where one is essentially forced to, now and again, go crazy to keep from losing it, especially, I suspect, if you are a woman in an age where you are told (generally by old, angry white men) that all things are equal now even as evidence continually emerges to suggest that, no, all things are absolutely not equal now. That’s what makes “Let’s Generalize About Men”, which comes on like the lost great Bonnie Tyler track (she could have squeezed it in between “Take Me Back” and “Straight from the Heart” on “Faster Than the Speed of Night”, rounding it off to even 10 tracks), an anthem of empowerment by way of pent-up aggression, the opening lines intentionally determined to peeve the same men born to complain about female empowerment anthems. Yet if the song honors the fury of Rebecca, Paula, Valencia, and Heather as both necessary and righteous, it simultaneously uppercuts their fury at every turn, a comical tangle of lyrics that the quintet of superb singing actors sell with extravagant gusto, so furious they never see the forest for the trees even if the song cleverly allows us to see it, the disconnect coming through with the capper, so hilarious and so churlish you stop laughing because your jaw – still frozen in a smile – falls wide open. This is the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” song I’d take to a desert island.

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