So, here’s the story:
Three seasons into Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the situation is still a lot more nuanced than that. In fact, it gets more nuanced every time Rachel Bloom and the rest of the cast pop up on screen. From the very beginning, the show has found a way to take tropes, genres, musical styles, and any other damned thing they want and turn them all on their heads, never skating past a sticky moment, always opting for the more complicated route.
There’s nowhere that all that nuance, all that delicious complexity, is more in evidence than in the original songs that populate the show. To date, they’ve released around 120; the exact count depends on whether or not you include things like “This Song Goes In A Loop-De-Loop.” Either way, it’s a staggering accomplishment, and while they’re not all total winners, there’s a wealth of riches here.
There were some tough cuts. Sorry, Dr. Akopian. The 25 that remain — well, 27, including an honorable mention and a tie — are among the show’s best, but my list might look very different tomorrow. That’s the thing about the songs of Bloom, Jack Dolgen, Adam Schlesinger, and their occasional contributors: they’re so rich, so nuanced, that they only get better with time.
So sit on my lap like I’m Santa, and let’s all have a group hang and talk about these songs. See you at Home Base? I think it’s on East Cameron.
Honorable Mention: “George’s Turn”
Season 2, Episode 9: “When Do I Get to Spend Time with Josh?”
Some of the show’s funniest jokes come courtesy of teeny tiny little songs, often but not always reprises. With apologies to the delightful “Trent Is Getting Ready Song”, the best of the bunch is “George’s Turn,” performed with pitch-perfect intensity by Danny Jolles. Consider this one an amuse-bouche. There’s just no way we weren’t sneaking this in somehow. George will not be ignored.
25. “Nothing is Ever Anyone’s Fault”
Season 3, Episode 13: “Nathaniel Is Irrelevant”
This season-ending duet between Rebecca and Nathaniel sounds just lovely, from a melodic standpoint. Listen to those gorgeous rises and falls, the swell in the chorus, that delicate harmony. Then listen to the lyrics and bask in the genius of “Nothing Is Ever Anyone’s Fault,” a song that joins “The End Of The Movie” and “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” in the category of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend songs that want to make sure that you’re not missing the point. From that first “No!” of Nathaniel’s onward, this is a song of self-justification that gets progressively more absurd, and if you still think Nathaniel’s making some good points by the song’s halfway mark, the lyric “It wasn’t technically Hitler’s fault” should shut that right down.
The real special sauce here, though, are the earnest performances from Rachel Bloom and Scott Michael Foster, who play the song comically and the love story earnestly. It’s a combination that makes this the rare ballad that’s both an amoral plea for seeing things from John Wayne Gacy’s perspective, and a moment of sweet, honest connection between two broken people finally admitting they’re in love.
24. “Sex With A Stranger”
Season 1, Episode 4: “I’m Going on a Date with Josh’s Friend!”
Every season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is ripe with stellar pop parodies, but season one is positively stacked with them. Even in that crowded field, this is one of the best, a take on Beyoncé’s “Partition” with a chorus that harbors a dark but razor sharp punchline: “Hey sexy stranger, come back to my place/ and I hope you’re not a murderer/ Kiss me baby, all over the place/ and please don’t be a murderer.” Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does laugh-so-you-don’t-cry better than almost any other show, and that killer chorus is a prime example. Also: catchy as hell. Get used to hearing that, it’ll be a common refrain.
23. “What’ll It Be?”
Season 1, Episode 6: “My First Thanksgiving with Josh!”
It would be easy to dismiss this song, the first in the series that doesn’t in some way include Rebecca Bunch, as a “Piano Man” parody and nothing more. It certainly is that, and “I’ve never played piano before” is a hell of a joke, made all the better because Santino Fontana has obviously played quite a lot of piano in his day. But the song quickly leaves the parody behind, instead capturing the frustration and sorrow of a guy who nearly escaped the job and the town in which he feels trapped. It’s one of Fontana’s best vocal performances and an early example of Bloom, Dolgen, and Schlesinger’s knack for writing the occasional heartbreaker.
22. “JAP Battle”
Season 1, Episode 13: “Josh and I Go to Los Angeles!”
An important thing to know about the songs of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Rachel Bloom will occasionally post an explicit version of the songs. They’re always fun to see, but the explicit versions range from just slightly more fun (as with this season’s “This Session Is Going To Be Different,”) to absolutely essential (i.e. “Buttload of Cats,” also from this season, which then assumed its purest form, “Fuckton of Cats”). But god bless YouTube for giving us “Sheket bevaka, shut the fuck up.” Written by Zach Sherwin (of Epic Rap Battles of History) with Bloom and Schlesinger, “JAP Battle” is filthy, funny, and the perfect set-up to a relationship that would both drive the plot of the episode and demonstrate how much Rebecca Bunch had grown since the pilot.
21. “Let’s Have Intercourse”
Season 2, Episode 11: “Josh Is the Man of My Dreams, Right?”
If this were a ranking of the funnest lyrics from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, rather than just the songs, “I won’t be back to normal ‘til I see what your nipples look like/ They’re probably straightforward nipples” would place high. But with or without that winner, Scott Michael Foster’s first big number is a winner, a song that skewers Ed Sheeran-esque pop ballads and allows Foster to mug in, apologies, the bro-douchiest way possible. The icing on the warmly-lit cake, however, is Kathryn Burns’s choreography, an intricate dance between Foster and Bloom which is both genuinely lovely and funny as hell. Watch for the double-pump on “much better physical shape.”
Season 2, Episode 6: “Who Needs Josh When You Have A Girl Group?”
We’re gonna braid each other’s hair
Then cut each other’s braids
Connect the braids
To build a rope
To hang all of Congress!
You know a parody’s a good one when it taps into one specific element of a song or genre and goes long with it. In this case, “Friendtopia” imagines a Spice World where the girl group didn’t just conquer the airwaves, but actually wrested power from the mighty and installed a really sparkly dictatorship instead. It’s a joke played to the hilt by Bloom, Vella Lovell, and Gabrielle Ruiz, each of whom perfectly plays their role — “the brainy one,” “the cool one,” “the sexy one” — while making you just a little bit afraid of them. It’s funny and catchy, weird and delightful, and exactly the kind of relief one needs in a world gone to shit. If nothing else, Bloom, Lovell, and especially Ruiz are so clearly enjoying the hell out of themselves that “Friendtopia” becomes impossible to resist, which may have been their evil plan, all along.
19. “First Penis I Saw”
Season 3, Episode 7: “Getting Over Jeff”
By my count, Donna Lynne Champlin sings the word ‘penis’ 26 times in “First Penis I Saw”, an affectionate Abba sendup that gives Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s secret weapon a chance to dance through a grocery store, sing into an eggplant, and, yes, sing ‘penis’ a lot. This ode to a young girl’s first penis sighting sees Champlin leaving behind the brassy warmth she’s showcased in many of her other songs, some of which you’ll find higher on this list and none of which contain the word ‘penis.’
Instead, she taps into the young girl that Paula Proctor was once, belting out a precise pop gem that’s as giddy and exciting as Paula’s experience with that first penis must have been. She’s aided in this by two terrific backup dancers, a design team that plastered the word “Jeff!” on almost everything, some vegetables shaped roughly like penises, and the word penis, which gets funnier nearly every time it’s uttered. Bonus points for rhyming ‘keenness’ and ‘ingenious’ with ‘penis.’ Penis. Penis penis.
18. “Gettin’ Bi”
Season 1, Episode 14: “Josh Is Going To Hawaii!”
Pete Gardner’s charm is such that every song given to Darryl, the sensitive and insecure founder of Whitefeather and Associates, could show up on a list like this one and it would be tough to argue against. With apologies to “Having A Few People Over” (a personal favorite), “Gettin’ Bi” is one of Darryl’s best, and a standout moment for the show. Darryl’s over-the-top coming out anthem is jubilant, infectious, and definitely inappropriate for a work meeting, but it’s songwriter Adam Schlesinger’s insistence on dismissing some of the toxic ideas that surround bisexuality that makes this one special. Well, that and Gardner’s exuberant performance, up to and including that saxophone “solo.” Listen to it once, and you’ll want to start the whole thing over again.
17. “Ping Pong Girl”
Season 2, Episode 2: “When Will Josh See How Cool I Am?”
This writer might have been more into pop-punk in high school if all those bands had half the wit of “Ping Pong Girl”, a wildly catchy number for a fantasy version of Josh Chan, performed with appealing aplomb by Vincent Rodriguez III. Like many of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s best, it’s a song (and video) that gets funnier the longer you spend with it, juxtaposing scenes of Rebecca Bunch attempting to learn ping pong in an effort to impress Josh with what she imagines his musical response might be.
The response includes lyrics like “She’s like Serena or Venus/ Just watching her swing affects my penis/ You know us dudes, we love to talk about our penises” and “Whoa! Bro!/ Sega! Jock itch!” Most of Rodriguez’s musical highlights are pop parodies of some kind — see “A Boy Band Made Up Of Four Joshes” and “Thought Bubbles” for other prime examples — but this one is a cut above. He should maybe actually consider fronting such a band; after all, “Dudes sing these kinds of SONGS!”
16. “It Was A Shit Show”
Season 2, Episode 4: “When Will Josh And His Friends Leave Me Alone?”
Giving Santino Fontana what seemed to be his last big number on the show was surely a tricky proposition. Easily one of the show’s best vocalists, his departure was sure to be a big event, and a big fat ballad was warranted. Bloom, Schlesinger, Dolgen and Brosh McKenna certainly delivered, throwing “The Way We Were” and “My Way” in a blender with some good healthy obscenities and pouring out this showcase for Fontana, who gives the thing plenty of vocal firepower and sweetens the deal with his expert timing.
Add in a terrific, largely silent performance from Bloom and you’ve got a beautiful, heart-stopping, breathtaking, life-changing swooner that leaves room for lyrics like “A play about pieces of feces is what we are together!” Fontana had one last number in this episode, and you’ll find it (and other Greg numbers) further up the list, but “Shit Show” gets an edge on some of the very fine competition through degree of difficulty alone.
15. “We’ll Never Have Problems Again!”
Season 2, Episode 10: “Will Scarsdale Like Josh’s Shayna Punim?”
When one single line of “We’ll Never Have Problems Again!” returned in “Rebecca’s Reprise”, a medley from the season two finale that just barely missed our list, it was a gut punch. The groundwork for that moment was laid here. “We’ll Never Have Problems Again!” is a joyful anthem of mutual delusion that includes a hell of a Soul Train exit, a missive from inside the love bubble that only looks foolish from the outside. Making the most of this funny, fucked-up earworm is costume designer Melina Root, who puts Bloom and Rodriguez in matching jumpsuits adorned with hearts that match up when they stand just so. It is, to be frank, a total hoot, and is as likely to get stuck in your head as anything else the show has created, except perhaps “Period Sex,” which is utterly unshakeable for different reasons.
14. “You’re My Best Friend (And I Know I’m Not Yours)”
Season 2, Episode 11: “Josh Is the Man of My Dreams, Right?”
Usually when Crazy Ex-Girlfriend goes the stripped-down, simple route, the result is something funny but relatively uncomplicated: “I Have Friends”, “Makey Makeover”, and “Angry Mad”, to name a few, are all delightful but unlikely to tug at your heartstrings. Darryl’s best song, however, couldn’t be simpler, and its subject is a very specific human ache, brought to sweet and sanguine life by Gardner and a silent Champlin, just twisting around in two chairs.
Bloom, Dolgen, and Schlesinger deserve a load of credit for this perfect little ditty, and Gardner and Champlin couldn’t be better, but a lot of the credit here must go to director Michael Patrick Jann and Bloom, who scripts the show’s music videos. It’s a beautiful little pas de deux, deeply felt and warmly played. There are more complex songs on this list, and there are performances more daring, but few, if any, are as pure. It gets me every time.
13. “The Math Of Love Triangles”
Season 2, Episode 3: “All Signs Point to Josh… Or Is It Josh’s Friend?”
The best Crazy Ex-Girlfriend parodies take a joke, marry it to another joke, wrap that up in another joke, and then smush it all together in such a way that it seems like it somehow emerged, fully formed, just as it is. “The Math Of Love Triangles” is one such song, a loving sendup of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” that reflects Rebecca’s self-absorption and delusion about her romantic situation while layering in some biting commentary about “man math.”
Bloom’s Marilyn Monroe impression makes a great base for the rest of this ludicrously delightful number, which doles out seemingly endless math puns (“This triangle’s scalene.” “That’s astute! So I need to decide which man’s more acute!”) and a nice little story about the chorus of dancing math tutors, who grow increasingly more frustrated with their lot and concerned about the pupil’s lack of comprehension. It all leads to one of my favorite jokes in the show’s history: “So I’m a triangle?” “What?! No!”
12. “The Sexy Getting Ready Song”
Season 1, Episode 1: “Josh Just Happens To Live Here!”
If Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has an iconic number, then this is it. “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” acts as the back half of a mission statement from the show, establishing a balance it would return to time and time again: pop parody, mixed with social commentary, funneled through the perspective of the protagonist, and liberally dosed with jokes you could never see coming. That’s a perspective that crystallizes in three of the song’s most GIF-able moments.
In the first, Rebecca Bunch sings, “I’m going to make this night one you’ll never forget” as she waxes her asshole, then after blood splatters on the wall of her tub, two gorgeous backup dancers sing “Ass blood!” In the second, only seconds later, Rebecca has another backup dancer essentially hoist her into her Spanx, after which she studies her silhouette in the mirror and starts to sob. The third, and the best, occurs after guest Nipsey Hussle appears to do a guest verse and can’t actually get through it once he sees the horror show in Rebecca’s bathroom. “I’ve got to go apologize to some bitches,” he says. “I’m forever changed by what I’ve just seen.”
Through it all, Bloom and the dancers preen, sashay, and sizzle, ready to “whisper your dick hard” at a moment’s notice. It’s insanely funny, and gets funnier every time; it’s also a cathartic listen for any woman who’s ever shown up to a date exfoliated to the nines, only to find her paramour clad in jeans and a T-shirt of questionable cleanliness. Oh, and bonus points for making the “Trent Is Getting Ready Song” possible.
11. “I’m Just A Girl In Love”
Theme Song, Season 2
All three of the show’s theme songs (to date) have their charms, but “I’m Just A Girl In Love” is a cut above the rest. It hammers home the show’s central thesis in two short lines (“I’m just a girl… in love!/ I can’t be held responsible for me actions!”). It’s certifiably cute, and adorably obsessed. But the thing that makes this song truly great, the most Crazy Ex-Girlfriend moment in the whole shebang, is the nearly five-second stretch of silence that comes after the “blam!” It’s Rebecca Bunch in a nutshell: endearing, a little strange, and totally committed to her plan, even if that means she’s overstaying her welcome. She’s here! She’s adorable! And she’s never going to let you escape!
It’s perfect, this whole, big, complicated show crystallized in under 30 seconds. The only reason it’s not number one is that every remaining song on this list goes just a little bit further, does just a little bit more, and (spoiler alert) hurts just a little bit worse.
10. “A Diagnosis”
Season 3, Episode 6: “Josh Is Irrelevant.”
There are moments in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that are linked, not by recurring bits (though this has one) or plot continuity (though this has that, too), but by an absence. Those songs, including the aforementioned “Rebecca’s Reprise” and a few others still to come, stand out because they’re not really parodies, and not really played for comedy. Bloom put it this way, when she spoke with Consequence of Sound in December:
“…It’s an earnest emotional outburst. It’s still done within a musical theater structure that Rebecca knows and recognizes, but it’s not trying to comment on it. It’s the closest thing we have to an earnest “I want” song… There’s a scariness to when we have songs that are more emotional and dramatic and genuine. I’ve learned that that’s when it’s really exciting and good.”
She was speaking of “A Diagnosis”, a song that’s almost jarring in its absolute sincerity. It’s still funny — the voices, the envelope toss that calls back to her first “I want” song, “yes I like penises, but who doesn’t?” — but it’s emerging from a place of such hope and vulnerability that it’s almost tough to watch. Vulnerability from Rebecca Bunch isn’t anything new, but what Bloom shows us here is a woman on the verge of relief, someone who believes that finally, at long last, someone will be able to tell her what’s wrong, and help her get better.
Coming on the heels of Rebecca’s suicide attempt, it’s painfully lovely, a moment of sunniness and hope that’s moving and a little frightening. It’s also one of Bloom’s best performances, both emotionally and vocally, and every time she hits the ‘no’ of ‘diagnosis,’ an angel gets its wings.
09. “We Tapped That Ass”
Season 2, Episode 4: “When Will Josh And His Friend Leave Me Alone?”
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: the greatest strength of this song is that it’s positively filthy. “But where should we finish?/ Please not on my chest” remains one of the slickest can’t-believe-they-got-that-on-The-CW moments in the show’s history, and this season they worked in the lyric “Let me choke on your cocksuredness.” It’s a goddamn dirty hoot and is rightfully lauded as such. That and the terrific choreography from Kathryn Burns, jubilantly performed by Fontana and Rodriguez, make this one an absolute treasure. But what makes it among the show’s best is the context in which it’s performed, an element that adds the faintest note of bittersweetness to an otherwise heavenly and R-rated confection.
“We Tapped That Ass” introduces the central conceit of “When Will Josh And His Friend Leave Me Alone?” Rebecca Bunch is being haunted — literally, in the case of this song — by the memory of two failed relationships. The “polter-guys” won’t leave her alone, driving her to literally set her house on fire trying to burn up all her memories of them. It’s a comic recreation of what everyone goes through after a bad breakup, desperate to escape memories of a person in hopes of easing the heartache — but such memories are inescapable, because when a person really makes a place for themselves in your life, they leave an imprint “on this couch/ and in this chair/ in the doorway/ the hallway/ on every stair.”
All that, and an anal sex joke. It’s raunchy, slightly heartbreaking bliss.
08. “(Tell Me I’m Okay) Patrick”
Season 2, Episode 12: “Is Josh Free In Two Weeks?”
It just – it just feels like everyone is in this cabal of normal people, and they’re all laughing at me, like I’m the jester in my own Truman Show. Patrick, tell me what the secret is. Just tell me what the secret is. Is there a manual? Do you have the manual? I know you have the manual, Patrick. I know it’s in your truck, Patrick!!
Here’s the genius of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: In a song about a woman so desperate to feel even somewhat stable that she accosts a humble delivery driver for “gentle validation,” there’s a visual gag so funny it might capsize a lesser show. How do Schlesinger, Bloom, Dolgen, and Brosh McKenna pull that off? What witchcraft allows them to strike that balance? Who thought this sad, lonely song could sustain the sight of a UPS box playing the piano? How the hell do they do that?
Whatever that alchemy is, it makes for one of the show’s best ballads, a stunner sung by Bloom’s Rebecca Bunch to the deeply uncomfortable Patrick (Seth Green), who would really like to just deliver these packages and go home, please. It’s Burt Bacharach by way of cringe comedy, a moment of absolute need and anxiety filtered through a torch song. The framing of the video-within-the-song, which sees a bewildered Patrick suddenly playing the piano in front of an audience without any idea of how he wound up there, makes that delivery box gag possible, and adds just enough humor to the song to take out a tiny bit of the sting.
We can deal with “was I sick the day in school they taught you how to be a normal person?” because we get Green, perched atop a piano and totally confused. It still packs a hell of a punch, but that Bloom-Schlesinger-Dolgen-Brosh McKenna alchemy somehow keeps it from hurting too much. And that cardboard box can really play!
7. “West Covina (Reprise)” and “Face Your Fears (Reprise)” (tie)
Season 1, Episode 1: “Josh Just Happens To Live Here!”; Season 3, Episode 11: “Nathaniel And I Are Just Friends!”
Let’s allow for a little fudging the rules and group these two standout moments together. It’s what Rebecca would do.
The pilot episode of the series is terrific, featuring two great songs that have each found their way back into the show more than once. However, the first reappearance of “West Covina”, coming at the tail end of the episode, somehow surpasses the first, and does it without the giant pretzel or the marching band. Its significance to the show can’t be overstated — it’s the moment in which Rebecca Bunch finds a co-conspirator, someone willing and eager to step into her bubble of delusion and daydreams and ready to help make it a reality. The signal for this shift is as simple as can be: Rebecca starts to sing, and for the first time, someone else joins her.
To viewers unfamiliar with Donna Lynne Champlin — and at the time, that would have been most of them, give or take some giant Broadway nerds (a category that includes this writer) — the sound of her voice must surely have been a jolt. Champlin is an incredibly accomplished musician, and listening to that voice entering Rebecca’s fantasyland is a goddamned magical moment. This one reprise changes the rules of the show, alters its equilibrium, establishes its most important relationship, and lends the entire series a sense of possibility. Anyone can sing, at any moment, and there’s a chance we may never see it coming.
It’s a brief reprise, but one that builds bewitchingly, until it reaches a gorgeous moment of climax, when Paula sings “Julia Roberts and Richard Gere” as Rebecca sings “It’s time to kick it into high gear,” and their voices join in perfect harmony. It’s gorgeous, goosebump-worthy stuff, and while Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has aced a number of reprises, it’s been matched only once.
I’ve written at length about the power of this “Face Your Fears” reprise, which like the “West Covina” reprise, revisits a great song and somehow surpasses it. Rather than repeat myself too much, I’ll just say that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s ability to reach back years is unique in musical theater history. There are several elements that contribute to the power of this moment, Bloom’s remarkable performance chief among them, but director Erin Ehrlich’s deft touch and the thoughtful, evocative lighting certainly contribute to the power of the brief scene. Still, it’s the jump back in time, to a song sung by a friend in a moment of need, that make this one truly magical. It’s one the show’s best moments, and one can only hope it’ll make its way to the eyes and ears of Emmy voters sometime soon.
06. “Let’s Generalize About Men”
Season 3, Episode 1: “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Wants Revenge”
“Let’s Generalize About Men” could not have been better timed. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s third season premiere happened to air in the week after news first broke of the many allegations made against Harvey Weinstein, which was both merely the latest in a string of stories about powerful men using that power to abuse and diminish women, and a tipping point after which seemingly endless stories followed. It, understandably, led to a lot of generalizing about men, which is, as the song says, “a kind of primal ritual we need now and then.”
So Rebecca and her #gurlgroup4evah conflated all the guys, and we at home got to do the same. Part of what makes “Let’s Generalize About Men” so brilliant is that it’s not belittling the impulse. Instead, it celebrates it, while underlining the fact that of course it’s not all men, an assertion that men can go ahead and remove from their personal lexicons at their earliest convenience. Right now, they’re angry and sad, and it’s their right to get righteously mad. “Let’s Generalize About Men” would have been a delight in any week, in any year, because the sentiments expressed are timeless, the song is catchy as hell, and the performances are riotously funny.
Still, sometimes the universe has great timing, and this song’s debut is one such moment. “Yes, we know there are men who aren’t garbage,” the song says, through its very existence. “But you have got to let us have this. We have fucking earned the right to be righteously mad.” It’s an anthem for any woman who just needs to blow off some fucking steam about the fucking patriarchy, a song of catharsis with a side of self-awareness, all squeezed into a chorus that’s as good as they come. And it features a giant can of glittery hairspray, just for giggles.
05. “Where’s The Bathroom?”
Season 1, Episode 8: “My Mom, Greg’s Mom, And Josh’s Sweet Dance Moves!”
Good gracious, Tovah Feldshuh. Perhaps the most lyrically dense of all the songs on this list, “Where’s The Bathroom?” requires Feldshuh to race through some complex patter and to sell change after change of thought at frankly unsafe speeds. The song, in adopting this sense of highly-focused chaos, shows us exactly how Rebecca feels when Naomi Bunch comes careening into her home like an elegantly outfitted and highly judgmental tornado. That Feldshuh pulls it off is no great shock — she’s a damn national treasure — but that such an accomplishment is unsurprising makes it no less impressive.
Look at her go! Watch her swerve from the vendetta against vases to the lack of makeup, from the makeup to wondering if her daughter is gay, followed by an assertion that she’d still love her gay daughter, all leading back to the vase vendetta. Watch her go from that epic “don’t interrupt me!” to “you lived inside me for nine months” in mere moments. It’s incredibly precise stuff, a requirement of the incredibly precise lyrics, which contain wonderful surprises like “By the way you’re looking healthy/ and by healthy I mean chunky/ I don’t mean that as an insult/ I’m just stating it as fact,” all setting up the rhyme “I see your eczema is back.”
But like every other song in the top 10, it’s that little sting of sadness that pushes this one into the highest tier. We learn a lot about Rebecca’s relationship with Naomi, and while theirs is a toxic relationship, there’s no denying that this woman loves her daughter fiercely. Think about that eczema moment: there’s still a dig in there, but she’s sincerely worried about the eczema. Later in the episode, in a scene in which Bloom and Feldshuh are both predictably great, Naomi tells her daughter that happiness needs to be secondary to strength. “I am consumed by my love for you, and when you have a child, you will understand this… Happy? What’s happy? That’s a term for stupid people. I want you to survive.”
That’s all packed under the surface of this funny, frenzied song, and it feeds the tour de force performance that powers it. Watch it, then take a moment to catch your breath before you watch it again.
04. “The End Of The Movie”
Season 3, Episode 4: “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy.”
Here’s a moment where we’re seeing what Rebecca imagines, but also hearing straight from the writers of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend by way of vocalist Josh Groban:
Because life is a gradual series of revelations
that occur over a period of time
It’s not some carefully crafted story
It’s a mess and we’re all gonna die
If you saw a movie that was like real life
You’d be like, “what the hell was that movie about?
It was really all over the place”
Life doesn’t make narrative sense.
For two seasons and four episodes (plus a few more after this one), Rebecca Bunch tried to get her life, and her romances in particular, to fit into narrative form. That’s why it’s not accurate to call Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a romantic comedy — it’s deconstructing the genre, rather than participating in it, and when it hits the beats we look for in a rom-com, it’s usually accompanied with an ‘ohhhhh shit,” rather than an “awwwww how sweet.” In “The End Of The Movie”, the series made that perfectly plain. “People aren’t characters,” actual person Josh Groban belts, “they’re complicated and their choices don’t always make sense.”
In my review of this episode for The A.V. Club, I went a bit long on the brilliance of this song’s lyrics, which employ slant rhyme and imperfect meter to send the whole thing slightly off-kilter. That feeling of wrongness is underlined by Groban’s terrific, and terrifically Groban-esque, performance, but the lyrical achievement isn’t the only thing that makes “The End Of The Movie” so special. As with the rest of “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy”, director Joseph Kahn films the song like a movie, giving it a sense of heightened intimacy. Bloom and the other members of this terrific ensemble deliver exactly what’s needed, giving us brief glimpses of the concern, indecision, and sadness with which they’re all wrestling. And there’s Groban, threading the needle perfectly, making sure that this big dark moment is still somehow at least a little bit funny, that we’re ready for those hilarious end-credits (and seriously, it’s worth pausing to read them all.)
It’s a song that, as soon as it starts, feels like a moment to which this show was building all along. It’s perhaps no coincidence that it arrives near what’s (hopefully) the midpoint of the series, and that its occurrence is one of the last things to happen before the story underwent a massive shift. There’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend before “The End Of The Movie”, and there’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend after it.
03. “Settle For Me”
Season 1, Episode 4: “I’m Going On A Date With Josh’s Friend!”
Here’s another piece of what makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s pastiches so great: in addition to sending something up, they’re also able to make a great example of the genre or style on which they’re commenting. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when what you’re emulating is the world of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. But like “What’ll It Be”, which is covered earlier in this list, “Settle For Me” is an affectionate skewering that goes beyond mere parody through wit, winning performances, and in this case, really delightful choreography.
Bloom and Fontana are skilled dancers, though Astaire and Rogers they ain’t, but it hardly matters. What does matter is that even in a song (seen from Rebecca’s point of view) that paints Greg Serrano as a somewhat self-hating, insecure sad sack, he’s also an incredibly romantic figure, a nice guy with a terrific sense of humor who can see that Rebecca’s fixation on Josh Chan will likely lead to nothing but heartbreak. Even as he sings “Settle For Me,” Rebecca, and thus the audience, can see that he’s something special.
The same is true of both Fontana and Bloom, each of whom had plenty of standout moments after this one, some of them together, and several found elsewhere on this list. While this is mostly Greg’s moment, it’s still very much a joint effort, and they’re as funny and charming here as they are at any other point in the series. Actually, make that a three-way effort: Choreographer Kathryn Burns, who earned an Emmy for her efforts here, gives the pair the perfect platform on which to shine. Some highlights: the “Single Ladies” choreography on “Solange to Beyoncé/ not asking to be your fiancé”; the dip that’s supposed to be a short thing; that glorious cane toss and the resulting thuds; and also, all the rest of it.
Honestly, this is a song, and a sequence, that speaks for itself. It’s a great introduction to what might still be the show’s most popular romantic pairing, an early standout moment for the series, an award-winner and fan favorite, and it’s smart as hell, to boot. Any list of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s best songs would be incomplete without it, and while Greg Serrano may have escaped the Cov, this song will never abandon us.
02. “After Everything I’ve Done For You (That You Didn’t Ask For)”
Allow me, for those of you who aren’t musical theater fans, to introduce you to Mama Rose. The second that publicity stills from the first season finale of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend started to surface, it was obvious that Rebecca Bunch’s best-friend-meets-surrogate-mom was going to get her very own “Paula’s Turn”, an idea so delicious that it would have been easy for the resulting song to not quite live up to the hype. Well, that’s not what happened.
There’s a lot to unpack in “After Everything I’ve Done For You (That You Didn’t Ask For)”, particularly since the relationship on which it centers is easily the show’s most complex — a fact that was true then, and is doubly so now. That the center is an honest and meaningful friendship doesn’t erase the fact that surrounding that nugget of love is a metric ton of messiness: co-dependency, passive-aggression and neglect; a willingness on Rebecca’s part to take without giving, and a tendency on Paula’s part to treat Rebecca’s relationships like entertainment; a mother-daughter thing that’s lovely at some points and deeply unhealthy at others. The short version is that it’s complicated, but of course, the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.
A lot of that complexity bursts out in this musical roar, a masterpiece of indignation that also functions as a reveal of sorts: “I broke into Josh’s old high school and made copies of all his grades/ I ran into Lourdes at Starbucks and suggested you be a bridesmaid/ I blackmailed Valencia’s boss so now I control when she teaches/ That’s right, I make yoga class schedules! There’s no limit to where my reach is!” The most important lyric, however, comes not long after this one: “After everything I’ve done for you that you didn’t ask for/ God! Will your lies never end?”
That last is the key to this song. Paula’s not angry that Rebecca’s sleeping with Greg — well, not really — she’s angry that she’s been lied to, that her advice and help (asked for and otherwise) have gone unappreciated. She’s angry because she’s hurt, and that’s a theme that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend will return to many times (including in a reprise of this song, this one sung by Rebecca). And the reason it’s so believable, so funny and sad and just a little bit shocking, is because Donna Lynne Champlin is so goddamn good at her job.
The performance is a remarkable one, a chance for this Broadway vet to really wail while reminding everyone that she’s capable of bringing the house down as an actor, as well. What’s particularly remarkable about it is how different the two performances Champlin gives are: one a Mama Rose-style soliloquy, in which she’s commanding and powerful, the other, a woman who’s been stung deeply by her best friend and is now thoroughly losing her shit in a hospital room. Both are great, but one is how Rebecca (and possibly Paula) sees the moment, the other is the reality. They’re fueled by the same stuff but play very differently, and both versions work beautifully with the song.
That it’s a masterful vocal performance goes without saying. That it’s emotionally rich, on the page and the screen, is also obvious to anyone who watches it. It’s as upsetting and thrilling now as it was when it first aired, and that’s more than enough to earn it a spot near the top. But speaking of upsetting and thrilling…
01. “You Stupid Bitch”
Season 1, Episode 11: “That Text Was Not Meant For Josh!”
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, to sing a song about self-indulgent self-loathing, Miss Rebecca Bunch!”
Forgive the intrusion of the personal, but I remember exactly where I was when I first saw “You Stupid Bitch”, the best song that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has turned out to date; a song so good, it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever top it. I remember sitting on my partner’s couch in Portland, Oregon, holding a beer in one hand, like I was about to drink it, but somehow forgot it was there. I think I held my breath the whole time, but that can’t be true, because I also think I gasped when the audience chimed in. I know I kept holding that bottle and not drinking it, and I know after it ended I paused it, and stood up for a minute, and then sat down and finished the episode, and then went back and watched the song again.
Here’s what I wrote about “You Stupid Bitch” at the time:
Maybe there are people out there who can’t relate. I suspect there are. Some people surely grow up steady and solid, and when they make mistakes, they deal with them in a healthy, productive way. They get knocked down, but they get up again! You’re never gonna keep them down! But for many people—for this writer, at least—“You Stupid Bitch” will ring almost terrifyingly true. And just when it seems it couldn’t get more wonderful and awful, the singalong chorus starts. If you can find a better way to capture the kind of self-loathing that’s so deep that it includes room for loathing the self-loathing than a woman encouraging her audience to sing about what a stupid bitch she is because she deserves it, I’ll send you a nickel.
This is perhaps the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song with the fewest JPM (that’s jokes-per-minute), though both the “Face Your Fears” reprise and “Rebecca’s Reprise” might have something to say about that. There are still some moments of humor, or at least things that might be funny if you weren’t, say, frozen in place with a beer held halfway to your mouth: there’s that first “lose some weight,” which is basically the term ‘lolsob’ in joke form; there’s the phrase “poopy little slut,” which absolutely gets a laugh out of context; and there’s the idea, horrifyingly perfect, that Rebecca has an audience ready to sing along with this song in her head at all times.
But mostly this one just hurts. For many, it’ll feel shockingly familiar; it was for me. For others, it will perhaps open a little window into the mind of this character, and of other people with a tendency toward “self-indulgent self-loathing,” which is a phrase that’s self-loathing all by itself. Regardless of your personal experience with mental illness or self-hate, however, it’s easy to connect with what’s happening in this moment, to this woman, because it’s so honest and unsparing. It’s a lovely melody, and it’s beautifully directed and designed, but the secret sauce here is the performance — a performance given by one of the two people who wrote the song.
It’s worth reading all of what Bloom told us about the creation of “You Stupid Bitch,” but this section feels particularly important:
It was a song where I needed to have other people say, “I understand what you’re saying,” because there was a part of me that thought, This is just gonna come off as dark and fucking insane, and it didn’t. And it’s great to continue to hear that people identify with it. Because honestly, that validates me! I have, a little bit with this show — and I don’t know if Aline feels this way — but I feel like, in doing this show, in sharing some of these scary, vulnerable parts of myself, it feels like spitting out the poison. And it’s not just mine anymore; it’s not just my secrets and my feelings. I’m giving it to everyone, and it makes it hurt less.
It’s not just the show’s best song, and one of the best moments the series has staged to date; it’s one of the best moments of television in this decade. If there’s any justice in the world, people will still be talking about it, and probably singing it, for years to come.
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