When the first season of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend hit Netflix, binge-watchers like me finally got the chance to see what all the fuss was about. I knew going in that critics widely praised the show for its smart, acerbic writing and catchy musical numbers. But I wasn’t prepared for the show to bowl me over completely with its sincerity and boundary-pushing cringe comedy. Co-creators Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh-McKenna have made great television. But for this fan of musical theater, I was especially pleased by how good the show’s songs were. Here are what I think to be the five best musical numbers in the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend opens with a song, but not its own. We first meet protagonist Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) as a retainer-wearing teen, halfway through a performance of South Pacific‘s “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy”. But when that prologue ends and the pilot dumps us into Rebecca’s adult life, it’s abundantly clear that she’s not a wide-eyed theater kid anymore. The music stopped long ago. But after seeing hunky ex-flame Josh Chan on the street, she’s found new purpose — follow him home to West Covina, California. Only then do we get a taste of what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend truly is: a heartfelt and raunchy musical made with equal amounts finesse and grit. “West Covina” set a precedent for musical sequences that the series has yet to match, though it’s come damn close.
Best Moments: There are two knockout gags in “West Covina” — the band and the giant pretzel. Both of them are set up beautifully.
“Settle For Me”
This is the show’s Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers number, complete with razor-sharp tuxedo, white lapel flower, glittering ball gown and tap shoes. It’s here that the tumultuous romance between Rebecca and Greg (Frozen‘s Santino Fontana) gets its first big moment. Fontana shows his impressive vocal chops, singing crudely hilarious stuff like “if he’s your broken condom, I’m Plan B.” The contrast between the show’s frank approach to sex and its more traditional musical numbers is something the show mines for humor quite a bit, but it’s always funny and never cheap. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences would appear to agree. They recently nominated “Settle For Me” for two Emmys: Original Music and Lyrics, and Choreography.
Best Moment(s): The tap dance break, because it’s classic and the orchestra is doing great things.
“His Status Is… Preferred”
It’s songs like this one that make me think of Paula (Donna Lynn Champlin) as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s MVP. Champlin has a voice for Broadway, and can belt out the ballads like a master. But she knocks this jazz tune so far out of the park that I’d buy an entire album of her singing this stuff. Paula’s flirtation with Calvin (a suave Cedric Yarbrough) is one of the show’s most surprising little plot threads. The show yanks this thread hard, exposing Paula’s dead marriage and loneliness. But her attraction to his bland executive consumerism (“Fine hotels are where he stays, the kind with grand breakfast buffets”) hits the right spot between sad and goofy.
Best Moment(s): The whole song is a best moment, but I love how clever the lyrics for this tune are.
You’ve seen actress Michael Hyatt in Ray Donovan, Nightcrawler, and season two of True Detective. She plays a hard-nosed cop in each one, and does it very well, but each role is a slight variation on the same character. I wasn’t surprised to see her play another authority figure as Dr. Akopian, Rebecca’s almost-psychiatrist. But imagine my surprise when she appeared in this extended dream sequence and sang her ass off. Glee’s Amber Riley and Ricki Lake (of all people) play her backup singers, and together they form a manifestation of Rebecca’s subconscious that looks and sounds like Diana Ross and the Supremes. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna calls this song “our biggest earworm.” She’s right.
Best Moment(s): “This lady’s dreaming in Portuguese, so I’m not sure what she wants.”
Here’s the Music Man parody, an unabashed homage to “Ya Got Trouble in River City”. The original involves a blustery con man getting small town residents worked up over a pool hall. He’s a natural-born politician, fear mongering by lying about the slippery slope to depravity. Rebecca and her team use their lawyer skills for good, rallying local citizens to fight the city in court. But just like the Music Man, there’s an ulterior motive at play. Many of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s songs are subtle parodies, but this is one of the few that fully embraces the homage. If the show can continue to do that with as much grace and humor as we see here, I’ll always be eager to hear what famous musical they’ll spoof next.
Best Moment(s): “Allow me to set the scene! Imaaaaaa—”
• “The Sexy Getting Ready Song “- Profane and hilarious. Bloom’s observations on the female body are always bracingly honest.
• “What’ll It Be?” – I’m not a Billy Joel fan, but this “Piano Man” inspired song is one of Santino Fontana’s best scenes in the entire season.
• “You Stupid Bitch” – All of Rebecca Bunch’s self-hatred is distilled into this sweeping Streisand-esque ballad. It hits very, very hard.
• “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Theme” – It’s instantly memorable. From what I’ve read, season two will have a new opening theme. I can’t wait to hear it!