“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” certainly didn’t have much of a ratings pedigree to back up the CW’s decision to renew the show. But it did prove to be one of the year’s best new programs, a musical romantic comedy that proved endlessly inventive in its lyrics and gutsy in its approach to a “broken inside” leading lady. The season finale, moreover, took additional chances, offering a plethora of possibilities as the series looks to find a little more love — from viewers, that is — in season two.
The series was rather famously developed for Showtime, and in some respects, those pay cable sensibilities — and the more rarefied audience they usually invite — never left it. Yet while this wasn’t going to be a show for everybody (people with an avid taste for musical theater amount to a subset of the network-TV crowd), its comedic sensibilities and sense of melancholy made it such a perfect companion to “Jane the Virgin” as to seemingly justify CW’s leap of faith.
Having impulsively uprooted herself from a New York career to chase a perceived chance at love in West Covina, Cal., Rebecca (star and co-creator Rachel Bloom) spent the better part of the season pining for Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), the one-time boyfriend she identified as the potential solution to her unhappiness. In the finale, however (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), she landed the big game, only to produce almost immediate pangs of concern in him when, in the midst of a romantic clinch, she confessed, “I just knew you were the answer to all my problems.”
That’s a lot of weight for any relationship to bear, and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” had the audacity to present Rebecca’s twisted psyche warts and all. Where the show really excelled, though, was in making everyone around her just a little bit crazy, if not quite broken, but still lovable — from the commitment-phobic Greg (Santino Fontana), Josh’s pal, whose attraction to Rebecca couldn’t quite overcome his cynicism and snark; to Rebecca’s co-worker Paula (Donna Lynn Champlin), who became so emotionally invested in seeing this romantic fable fulfilled as to lose all perspective over whether Josh would be Rebecca’s prize or theirs.
The songs, meanwhile — a hurdle for every series to brave this on a weekly basis, from “Cop Rock” to “Smash” to (most recently) “Galavant” — were not only consistently clever and funny but actually managed to advance the story. The writers also operated in a host of musical genres, although Rebecca’s attempt to warble the equivalent of a Disney princess-type ballad fell intentionally flat, since this is a show about the illusions and unrealistic expectations we forge around the concept of happiness, not the “ever after” part of it.
In that regard, Josh’s pained expression in the closing moments brought back memories of “The Graduate,” where what would normally be the uplifting ending yields unsettled questions — and second thoughts — about what comes next.
Even with the renewal, of course, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is hardly out of the woods. CW has enjoyed enough success on its terms to take a flyer on a series that its executives understandably loved, but unless word of mouth and critical accolades inspire more sampling, the network won’t be able to sustain the show as a charitable endeavor.
On the plus side, the show not only maintained an impressive level of quality throughout its run, but consistently improved by fleshing out supporting players like Darryl (Pete Gardner), Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz) and Heather (Vella Lovell). So while Rebecca might have thrown away that New York job to look for love in the wrong place, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” gave those who watched it an awful lot to love. The trick now, in TV terms, will be whether it’s possible to inspire a few more folks to make a commitment.