Rebecca Bunch spent the summer getting overly attached to Josh Chan but I spent the summer trying to detach myself from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend so that I would be emotionally prepared for a sophomore slump.
By the time Friday night finally rolled around, I was ready to have my heart broken. How could a show that packed so many fresh ideas into one season—from a bisexual coming out anthem to a Jewish American Princess rap battle—possibly keep up the pace? How could it move past its original conceit when even the theme song was tied to season one’s plotlines? And would we be coming back to yet another TV sitcom love triangle? Yawn.
Then I watched the episode. Oh Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I’m so sorry. I never should have doubted you.
“Where is Josh’s Friend?” is a perplexingly good season premiere. It feels fresh while leaving the core identity of the series intact. It gives new conflicts to all of our West Covina favorites without erasing their pasts. But the most impressive feat it pulled off was entertaining both myself and the series virgin sitting next to me on the couch while I jotted down notes for this review. I got all of the in jokes about East Cameron and she was too blown away by Rachel Bloom’s beautiful, manic energy to feel excluded by them.
This is one of those rare sitcoms that cares too much about its characters to snap them back into position for new viewers. Everyone feels like they’re in a natural place three weeks after Josh and Rebecca finally sealed the deal in the season one finale. Paula realizes that she’s been papering over a void in her life with her matchmaking schemes. Josh begins to realize the full extent of Rebecca’s continuing obsession with him and backs away. Last but not least, Greg is living with his dad, trying to get sober, and drinking plenty of orange soda in the process.
That might seem like a real downer of an episode but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always managed to wring some of its best humor out of the darkest situations. Rebecca’s abstract musical number about being “a sexy fashion cactus, living from compliment to compliment” is both gut-bustingly funny and a punch in the gut for anyone who has ever loved someone more than they were loved in return. The closing number “We Should Definitely Not Have Sex Right Now”—which ends in sex, of course, as that sentiment usually does—also derives its humor from hitting too close to home.
But by far the most impressive thing about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s second season premiere was the sheer zaniness it packed into an hour of TV while still feeling emotionally real when it mattered. This is one of those rare sitcoms that is confident in its own weirdness and has a long-enough leash from the network to be itself. Among many other things, the premiere featured: a Kazaam reference, a fourth wall moment involving a mop disguised as Daryl, Rebecca dressed like a hamster drinking from a water bottle, a seemingly impromptu song about a drawer sung to the tune of Scott Joplin’s ragtime classic “The Entertainer,” and an owl wearing an Emory University sweatshirt in a dream sequence. And yet, when Greg delivers a monologue about being disappointed in himself during the AA meeting near the end of the episode, we still somehow believe him.
In that sense, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s closest peer at this point is probably one of my all-time favorite TV comedies: Community, a show which also managed in its Harmon-esque way to tug at your heartstrings while constantly experimenting with genres and subverting expectations. In its first two seasons especially, Community loved its characters more than it loved itself. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend seems ready to do the same.
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.