This has been one of the most draining weeks for the entertainment media in a long time. Inside the industry, it feels like the sky is falling (but sort of in a good way). Outside the industry, the onslaught of news has been on the whole disorienting, upsetting, and exhausting.
It is a very good time for Season 3 of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
The musical comedy from Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom has had its faithful fans since the very first episode, and the show has nabbed several awards for its quirky appeal. Season 3’s premiere, “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Wants Revenge,” is the weakest of the three episodes released to critics, but the show quickly snaps back into fine form with the second, “To Josh, With Love.” And the third, “Josh Is a Liar,” ends on a bombshell that is going to change the course of the show.
But what I really want to talk about is the extraordinary number, already released, called “Let’s Generalize About Men.” It’s from the premiere, and it was only after I watched it that I knew the show was coming back with the same delightfully perceptive snark that it maintained throughout Season 2. The ’80s power ballad takes place during a bitchfest at Rebecca (Bloom)’s house; as they get drunker and angrier, the musical versions of them sit under hairdryers in a neon salon, wearing fierce heels, geometric earrings, and black pantyhose. Their frustrations are with men, of course. All of them.
“Let’s not distinguish between them at all,” sings Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), in hot pink eyeshadow. The other women join her to “make a bunch of blanket statements,” throwing down their magazines and getting up to dance. “Let’s take one bad thing about one man / and apply it to all of them / let’s conflate all the guys / let’s generalize about men.”
In one fell swoop, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” identifies both why it is so satisfying to bitch about a huge group of people — and how quickly it falls apart, even within the rhetoric of righteous indignation. The Squad Girls (Bloom, Champlin, Gabrielle Ruiz and Vella Lovell) fall over themselves to make broader and broader statements; in the second verse, Rebecca sings, “there are no exceptions / all three billion men are like this,” and the rest of the “Squad” gently croons in response, “three-point-six billion men!”
“Let’s Generalize About Men” is really about the limitations of zero-sum empowerment, which is a massive thesis to tackle in such a fun little music video. In its twisted anti-rhapsodizing about the other sex, it’s undercutting and complicating the easily parroted and quickly sold motto of girl power, even as it’s celebrating girl power’s sharp suits and sensible black pumps. The Squad Girls are having so much fun on their soapbox that they start tripping over their own contradictions almost by accident; when Rebecca asks, “Hey, what about gay men?” The girls respond with a chorus that makes a mockery of the first half of the song: “Gay men are all really great / every single one / they’re never mean, just sassy! / they’re all completely / adorable and fun.”
The Squad Girls regroup, both ideologically and lyrically, to focus instead on straight men. “Let’s generalize about them,” they sing, before listing all of the things they know all straight men to be: Monsters, murderers, and rapists. And then Paula, in a bolt of sudden realization, confesses: “Wait! I have sons!”
The other three women plant their heels, put one hand on their hip, and raise the other one high in a pose of triumph, singing, “Your sons are going to be rapists!” And in the funniest moment of the show that I can remember, Paula first stares at them — the only power-suited lady to not be posing — and then reluctantly, and a little worriedly, adopts the position of feminist victory. “Oh,” she mutters.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has always been a show that delicately traverses the line between easy labels and the complexity of existence; this tension is present in even just the title. In the opening credits of the first season, when the chorus around her sings “She’s a crazy ex-girlfriend,” Rebecca turns and retorts, with hilarious self-consciousness, “The situation is a lot more nuanced than that.” In just one line, it’s the show pegging itself. “Let’s Generalize About Men” — like the show’s past subversive numbers “Settle for Me,” “Sexy French Depression,” and “We’ll Never Have Problems Again” — makes its own subtext literal in order to re-complicate it. Which is sometimes funny and sometimes gut-wrenching. For a show that relies so much on parody and silliness (and even poop jokes, in the Season 3 premiere), “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” can be a tense and challenging show to commit to.
But we live in a tense and challenging world. It’s been a long week — a long year — of pointing the fingers of blame, yelling on the Internet, feeling horrified by the headlines, and attempting to come to terms with who we are and what we’ve become. “Let’s Generalize About Men” is a welcome antidote of upbeat, thoughtful sass — one that lets you feel the complexity of a situation and enjoy it anyway. Right now, that is truly a gift.