8.5

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Review: “I’m Going to the Beach with Josh and His Friends!”

Episode 1.09

Comedy Reviews Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
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<i>Crazy Ex-Girlfriend</i> Review: &#8220;I&#8217;m Going to the Beach with Josh and His Friends!&#8221;

Back in the distant days of 2015, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend still felt like a secret. Beloved by a rabid crew of critics—present company included—but watched by a mere million households, The CW’s musical comedy was poised to sail through its first season and take its rightful place in the history book of smart comedies that were cancelled too soon.

So much has changed, and it’s impossible to talk about “I’m Going to the Beach with Josh and His Friends!” without acknowledging that. First, Rachel Bloom rode a wave of well-deserved love all the way to a Golden Globe win. That significantly boosted the show’s chances of securing a second season. Then, every TV enthusiast with access to a keyboard urged their friends to watch last night’s midseason premiere. Suddenly, the secret was out.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend didn’t come back from the break a different show, but it did return with more eyes on it, and under more pressure to live up to the praise that has been piling up in these first few weeks of 2016. As I watched, I wasn’t worried so much about my own enjoyment, but I was keenly and, at times, painfully aware that this would be many viewers’ first visit to the world of West Covina.

Given presumably high expectations, “I’m Going to the Beach with Josh and His Friends!” is not one of the greats. It’s no “I’m Going on a Date with Josh’s Friend!” or “My First Thanksgiving with Josh.” But it’s still a solid introduction to the unique emotional core of the series, which can sometimes be overshadowed by the critical hype around its songs. This isn’t a perfect blend of Crazy Ex’s individual elements but it may be the most moving episode to date.

“Beach” sees Rebecca butting in on—and then renting the party bus for—a beach excursion planned by Josh, Valencia, Greg, and White Josh. Valencia urges her to come so that she can finally confront Rebecca about her true motivation for moving to West Covina and Rebecca, of course, agrees because she is still hopelessly in love with Josh. It’s a disaster waiting to happen in a confined, bottle episode-friendly space.

Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz) gets the first song, an upbeat country number called “Women Gotta Stick Together” in which she insults everyone around her while hypocritically and cheerily declaring her commitment to the sisterhood. For example: “Women have the power / the power to make a change / like this girl should pluck her eyebrows / and those jeans should be exchanged.”

The song is an early high for an episode that otherwise struggles to build momentum in its first half. For a good ten minutes, the episode is stuck: stuck in Rebecca’s awkward position as a hanger-on, stuck in traffic, stuck in the bus. But eventually we marinate in Rebecca’s misery for so long that deliciously cringe-y things start to happen.

Crazy Ex has never been the laugh-a-second show that so many female-led sitcoms of late have led us to expect, and it’s not about to conform to that format now. The punchlines come unexpectedly, landing on an off beat or slipped into an interstitial line of dialogue. Case in point: Josh starts beatboxing while Rebecca does the robot and wryly drones, “Someday I hope to become sentient. Oh, wait! That hope is evidence of sentience.”

Once Greg’s new girlfriend Heather and Rebecca’s boss Daryl hop on board the bus, the hits start coming more frequently. Desperate for attention, Rebecca launches into an ill-advised pole-dancing number while wearing revealing cutoffs, giving the bus more of a show than she intended. (“As my teacher, a lovely trans woman named Professor Goddess said that pole—true pole—was about reappropriating the male gaze,” she says in her defense after Valencia accuses her of clamoring for Josh’s attention.)

And then it happens. In what will likely be the first season’s narrative turning point, Rebecca finally comes clean about her reasons for relocating from New York. It’s agonizingly difficult to watch but it’s also so pivotal for her growth as a person. Josh’s forgiving response, and the accompanying reprise of “West Covina” from the series premiere, is even more of a punch to the gut.

“I’ve spent my whole life defending this town to people like Greg,” he tells her. “Do you have any idea how proud I am to be the one who told you about this place?”

All along, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s struggle has been to balance its best music with its touching depiction of mental illness. In that sense, “Beach” runs parallel to episodes like “I Hope Josh Comes to My Party” with its pronounced emphasis on the latter ingredient. This is an episode where we look past the surfaces Rebecca projects to others straight into her heart. It’s not the show at its best, but Crazy Ex wouldn’t be Crazy Ex without the emotional work of episodes like these.

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.