Crazy Ex-Girlfriend pulled off an ambitious piece of genre gymnastics in its first season. Leading with an offensive-at-first-blush title and the dated premise of a VHS romantic comedy, the show managed to stick its complex landing as a nuanced portrayal of the emotional, physical and sometimes financial consequences of taking a stereotypical love fantasy seriously.
Now that Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) has gaslit her way back into the heart of her adolescent summer fling, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), she now has to keep her prize. The first season saw Rebecca commit several acts (many definitely illegal and all immoral) that put aside common decency for the dream of fairy tale love, and the sophomore season’s premiere continues this by opening with some premium reverse psychology on the show’s least bright Josh. This isn’t to say the show hasn’t changed or that Josh is a victim—neither are true. We’re now all textually aware of Rebecca’s dangerously immature attitude towards intimacy, and Josh is, implicitly, someone that has a lot of sexual growing up to do.
Why else would he stick with Rebecca because of a Trump-esque theorem that troubled women are best in bed?
Rebecca, constantly evaluating whether to be on the offensive or the defensive when it comes to her imaginary relationships, avoids honesty and open communication in the aftermath of her and Josh’s post-wedding hookup. That is, until the new theme song kicks in.
Continuing the conceit that the series’ musical numbers are all in her head, Rebecca freely admits her irresponsibility and obsession until the music—and self-awareness—stops. As she and Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) determine just what three weeks of sex, couch-squatting, and no commitment means (“respeffing” or “effsploiting”?), the audience is given a chance to adjust to the show’s new dynamic. The cadence is the same, with romantic subterfuge being planned like a series of heists, but with the new recognition (at least by some characters) that these fantastical shenanigans affect people’s lives.
That means that while Rebecca and Josh double down into their immaturity, refusing to shatter their love story with something real, the rest of the characters solidify their growth. People who were once the means to a romantic end are now the moral bedrock supporting an unstable couple. They’re not blameless, but their focus on self-improvement certainly helps us ignore their contributions. Paula and her husband, for instance, use Rebecca’s failures as many of us use reality TV or romance: to fuel their own. They’re real-life recap addicts, and their improved sex lives suggest that shipping characters is a decent replacement for traditional relationship fixes. Amazon Prime is certainly getting its ad money’s worth as long as they’re cool with being the new go-to for sex-starved fans of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Paula understands the dangers of escapist pleasures as much as the next person, as she hides behind legally binding friendship contracts to protect herself from her more mischievous desires. In response, Rebecca, ignoring the pleas of Pat Benatar, continues to use sex as a weapon— even against her best friend. It’s second nature to her now. She’s used to getting what she wants at any cost, and “Where Is Josh’s Friend?” sets her up to face the music.
Speaking of music, the episode’s desert-set songs are a bit drier than expected, though channeling Flight of the Conchords is never a completely bad thing. Some meta-humor, including the introduction of Broom Darryl as the best and most cost-effective new character on the show, helps supplement what is otherwise an episode sonically composed of ragtime riffing.
Doing the same old shtick is Rebecca, the self-acknowledged villain of the story whose manic pixie dream girl has become an unstable squeaky nightmare lass. Continuing to dig herself deeper into this fiction while her friends put themselves together, her story teeters on her ability to escape the elaborate fantasy she’s fled into. Her tether, Greg (Santino Fontana), is growing up, and contrary to the other two vertices in his love triangle, he’s facing the consequences of his actions. Then we have Josh, somewhere between enabler and patsy. Despite Josh’s protests that he, as an adult, eats the crusts on his sandwiches, his mother knows that he still has a lot of growing up to do.
We’ll see if Rebecca and Josh can manage to eat the crusts this season, or if they’ll remain stuck in the same adolescent cycles that got them here in the first place. As a comedy, the shifting power dynamics—both in character roles and their relationships—leave something to be desired, but as a season premiere, “Where is Josh’s Friend?” is much more than a continuation or a reset. It’s a complete ethical restructuring of the show—and we’re all Paula, living vicariously as we watch along.
Jacob Oller is a writer and film critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, Playboy, Roger Ebert, Film School Rejects, Chicagoist, Vague Visages, and other publications. He lives in Chicago, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and struggles not to kill his two cats daily. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.