“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (9 p.m. Eastern Fridays, The CW) spends a lot of its Season 4 premiere reminding us where the story is at – and it’s at a very weird place. Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) is in jail, which is where she wants to be as penance for being a horrible person, not necessarily for attempting to murder crazy ex-boyfriend Trent (Paul Welsh) – an act for which she has a strong defense-of-others claim.
“I Want to Be Here” is not an episode I would tout as a sterling example of this series that’s annually among my 10 favorite on TV. But it puts “CXG” on a better track. For three seasons, Rebecca has been (often humorously) self-absorbed, and this episode makes a strong case that she’s turning over a new leaf – even if the case is bluntly made by Rebecca repeating the episode’s title in her cell. Fortunately for our leading lady, “CXG” isn’t the type of show where her cellmate would stick a shiv in her for being annoying.
But it is the type of show that allows room for everything else – including Rebecca contributing to society. The refresher-course nature of the hour is much appreciated, because late last season there was a time jump we’re still reeling from. The chaotic nature of recent storytelling leads to the best joke of “I Want to Be Here”: At her “Yay, You’re Out of Jail!” party, Rebecca asks “Who’s baby is that?” Taken aback, Darryl (Pete Gardner) explains that it’s his, and that Rebecca in fact donated her eggs to make the baby.
And for those who like fourth-wall breaks, Heather (Vella Lovell) at one point notes that this is a weird episode … “of ‘Sex and the City,’ ” she adds after a pause, riffing on a running joke about online quizzes. But we know what she means.
Rebecca is perhaps merely the most self-flagellating of a cast full of selfish characters in West Covina. Many modern sitcoms are unwatchable not only because they aren’t funny, but also because they lack admirable people. Although it’s way funnier than most of its contemporaries, “CXG” is likewise absent of anyone you’d hold up as a role model.
As an example of the rampant casual self-centeredness, no one remembers George’s (Danny Jolles) name in the first three seasons. But Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster) calls him George throughout this episode. Granted, Nathaniel takes pains to note that George is not his friend, but hey, baby steps. Maybe everyone is ready to turn a corner this year.
Through three seasons, “CXG” has handsomely coasted on its absurdity – such as the aforementioned gags – and, of course, its songs. “I Want to Be Here’s” two numbers are more pointedly thematic than they are memorable. The first is a “Chicago” parody, “What’s Your Story?”: Everyone is in jail for minor offenses such as stealing sweaters to keep warm — but for major time (two months for the white sweater-stealer, three years for her black counterpart).
Well, there is one murderer in Rebecca’s cell block: She accidentally killed someone with her car while in a panic trying to reach her daughter in the hospital. This is the least scary batch of jailbirds ever, and it destroys Rebecca’s glamorized vision of violent, hardened (but sexy in lingerie, presumably) criminals.
The second tune, “No One Else is Singing My Song,” could sum up the whole series: Rebecca believes no one can understand her inner pain, conflict and self-loathing because she is totally, pathetically unique. Nathaniel joins her on the song in split-screen, as does Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III). Before long, it’s an 11-part harmony, with even the Grocery Clerk with Half an Eyelid joining. Still, I totally forgive Rebecca for this failing. In this episode, I related to Josh realizing there’s something wrong with himself and seeking desperately to find a name for it, but I also relate to Rebecca more than I’d like to admit.
Rebecca’s obliviousness to her ordinariness might be her biggest fault, but it arguably comes with the territory of a show wherein her problems are turned into songs. (Granted, every character’s problems – except George’s and Maya’s, unfortunately – are turned into songs, but Rebecca’s tend to advance the main narrative.) “CXG” is an often great show, but it doesn’t have great people in it. Season 4 seems like a conscious effort to change that – to ultimately become a lovable show, too.