At 8:55 PM last night, I was practically screaming at my television, “Where is my second song?” Then, with three minutes left to go in the midseason finale, Rebecca Bunch and the entire West Covina crew broke out into “California Christmastime,” a number about mall Santas who moonlight as unemployed stuntmen, “super tight” eggnog froyo, and other Golden State holiday staples. The song has a rambunctious charm, with all of the main cast—including Heather (Vella Lovell), finally—chiming in and dancing together for the first time. It was, if you’ll excuse an on-the-nose analogy, a high note for the show to go out on before returning in January.
It’s fitting, too, that “My Mom, Greg’s Mom, and Josh’s Sweet Dance Moves” is about family because this is the episode when the characters in Crazy Ex’s West Covina start to feel like one. Watching Rebecca, Josh, Greg, Paula, Darryl, and Heather sharing a stage in the closing number underlines the season’s most laudable achievement over the course of its first eight episodes: taking this complicated jumble of characters and genres, and forming it into something cohesive and irreplaceable.
By now, everyone’s been properly introduced, and the show can get on with the work of throwing its leads together into novel situations: Rebecca recruits Paula and Calvin to impress her perpetually-disapproving mother (Tovah Feldshuh) while Greg and Heather attend the former’s upper-class family get-together. Josh Chan flies solo this week in a disappointingly sparse C story about being a grown-up during the holidays but his naiveté and his dancing are both so endearing that it mostly works.
Of these various threads, it is Broadway legend Tovah Feldshuh’s turn as Mrs. Bunch that makes this episode so special. The neurotic Jewish mom isn’t exactly a new character type for a sitcom, but, in this case, the quality of the performance trumps any concerns about originality. When Feldshuh bursts into Rebecca’s apartment singing, “Where’s the bathroom?” her character feels at once exaggerated and lived-in. The lyrics of her song perfectly toe the line between passive-aggression and motherly concern: “Since when do you have a vendetta against vases? / When did you stop wearing makeup? / Are you sure that you’re not gay? / I’d still love you if you were gay / It would explain this vase vendetta.”
Rebecca tries in vain to please her mother, asking Paula to pretend to be someone more sophisticated at their lunch. Inspired by the advice she received in her corporate improv class to make “bold choices,” Paula chooses to be a British Jew—“Tea and matza, anyone?” she asks, chortling—and, in so doing, Donna Lynne Champlin briefly steals the show from Feldshuh, proving herself once again to be the show’s comedic heartbeat.
Meanwhile, Heather tag alongs with Greg for a Christmas dinner with his mother and stepdad. It’s a smart pairing, not just because it will surely disrupt future West Covina love triangles, but also because Heather’s apathy is a great match for Greg’s intensity. Working-class Greg resents his perfectly sweet mom for divorcing his dad and then marrying someone with more money but all Heather sees are the perks of a wealthy household.
“You know, romanticizing the working class perpetuates economic disparity, right?” Greg preaches to his family, turning to Heather for affirmation.
“I don’t know,” she says, returning eagerly to her candy cane mocktail.
Both Greg and Rebecca reach resolutions with their moms that seem a little forced, but in an almost realistic way. There’s something about the holidays that allows you to temporarily build bridges over divides you wouldn’t normally be eager to cross. Rebecca is still, as Paula puts it, a “Level Five Mom-Pleaser” and Greg is still self-righteous but they can both manage a moment of connection for Hanukkah and Christmas. Rebecca says a tearful goodbye to Mrs. Bunch in the episode’s final scene, and so, too must I bid farewell to my beloved Crazy Ex-Girlfriend until January. A New Year with more Crazy Ex of this quality would be a happy one, indeed.
May Saunders is a professional dog walker living in Minneapolis and an occasional freelance writer. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her cat, who does not need to be walked. Follow her on Twitter.