[Spoilers for the October 21 Season 2 premiere.]
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW) diagnosed Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) as a depressive and a self-indulgent self-loather last year, but those labels matter a lot less than the ways she’s sown chaos in her life and her relationships because of her desperate unhappiness. Mental illness can often alienate, but Rebecca has remained an empathetic protagonist in large part because her “craziness” manifests as a problem with which we’re pop-culturally familiar: arrested development. Fittingly, the three people most important to her in West Covina — Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), Greg (Santino Fontana), and Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) — are all grappling with their own versions of stagnancy.
Or they were. Friday’s marvelous Season 2 premiere kicked off the show’s 13-installment sophomore year by drawing a big, fat line between the characters who wanted to move on (Paula and Greg) and the ones who didn’t (Rebecca and Josh) — i.e., those who refuse to get caught up in Rebecca’s responsibility-shunting obsessiveness any longer and those who haven’t found a way out of that snare yet. After patching things up with her husband, Paula no longer needs her friend’s crush as a source of vicarious romance, and so finally retired from her position as the enabler of Rebecca and Josh’s relationship. By applying to law school, Paula’s signaling her increasing disinterest in remaining Rebecca’s subordinate partner. (Staying true to its feminist roots, the series featured a lovely scene in which Rebecca praised her friend’s professional capabilities.) Since the friendship between Rebecca and Paula is often considered Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s real love story — and the paralegal was given the short shrift by the show’s writers last year — the continuation of that evolving bond is the most promising thing about the current season.
Likewise, Greg has been fleeing Hurricane Rebecca (a smart turn) after chickening out of telling her that he loves her (a pathetic but understandable move) in the Season 1 finale. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend positioned Greg early on as Rebecca’s The One — but only after they both grow up. (His most character-defining songs — “Settle For Me,” “What’ll It Be,” and “I Could If I Wanted To” — center around his fear of failure and feelings of paralysis.) We’re not necessarily supposed to join Team Grebecca — Greg has issues with anger, arrogance, and, as we just learned, alcohol — but we do root for both characters to get to a place where they could be right for each other. (That’s right: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is Team Emotional Health.) Greg attending AA meetings and (presumably) quitting his bartending job suggests that the show will continue to play up its biggest source of tension: Are Greg and Rebecca meant for each other?
And yet, it’s hard to deny Rebecca the (very awkward) sweetness she’s experiencing in her current kinda-sorta-maybe-hopefully relationship with Josh. She’s wanted it for so long, and, as she sings in “Love Kernels,” she’s content right now to interpret any and every kind word and invitation to hang out as a sign of romantic affection. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that Josh is with Rebecca while he’s at his lowest. Previous episodes have established that Rebecca’s attachment to Josh is a regression to teenage comfort — she met him during the one summer she managed to escape the life her mom had boxed her into, she imagines him as a boy-band heartthrob, and she indulges in the adolescent fantasy that he is “the answer to all [her] problems.” The season premiere made clear that Josh isn’t just dim (“[Rebecca] says so many things! She-she has me so confused!”), but developmentally stunted himself: moving back in with his parents and unable to commit to his last girlfriend after 15 years of dating. Once he falls into Rebecca’s sex trap (made literal by those handcuffs), they get stuck in a slightly-more-than-fuck-buddies system that, aptly enough, can’t move forward. Rebecca was right all along: They’re perfect for each other — but only for the time being. Even in her delusional fog, though, Rebecca knows that they won’t be able to drag out this stasis forever.