Aside from a disco-loathing opening number (disco is the most delusional musical genre) and another brief taste (ew) of the season-long promise of a full-scale “Period Sex” number, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s “Will Scarsdale Like Josh’s Shayna Punim?” focuses on insecurity and its ethno-religious personification, the Jewish people.
Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) and Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) are in a Facebook-official relationship that is also official on Waze, Instagram, and somehow the game Draw Something. This level of social media blast is usually reserved for overfunded start-ups and fake celebrities, which share the common denominator of generating their worth from the clicks of others. On a heart-branded Soul Train set, the couple dives into a song driven by the over-sexed, drug-fueled gaudy escapism of disco.
Their love isn’t just real—it’s the only thing they need. It can pay their bills and run their cars, so surely it can protect them from their relationship insecurities. Disco’s exuberance was the hyperreal, the ability to live your fantasy for a night among the lights and coke and away from the drab politics of the era. You see this in movies like Saturday Night Fever, where a blue collar kid can become greater than himself with the help of a silk shirt and some slick moves. When the lights went down and you woke in your bed the morning after, you weren’t a sexual goddess doing the Hustle in the limelight, you were simply a lawyer in West Covina with no self-esteem.
Heather (Vella Lovell), despite her dance moves to the contrary, sees this relationship for what it is—a sham—and tells them so. But Rebecca never learns anything the easy way.
When Rebecca and Josh go to a relative’s bar mitzvah, they quite physically leave the disco-fied honeymoon stage of their relationship for the real world, where their strangely phony version of love isn’t the bubble it used to be.
Tony and Grammy winner Patti LuPone guest stars as Shari, Rebecca’s hometown rabbi, and Tovah Feldshuh returns as Rebecca’s perennially difficult mother (who, over the course of the episode, learns not to call Josh an “Oriental”). It’s a delightful double whammy of musical talent and snark. Feldshuh even croons a few lines of “Period Sex,” continuing the series’ grossest and best running gag while simultaneously encouraging Josh and Rebecca to get it on. Nothing can be worse than the crime scene she witnessed between Rebecca and that kid from Model U.N.
Josh seems happy with her, but not the kind of happy Rebecca needs. She’s still not completely sold on liking herself, so when Josh takes to her mother and her history, it’s a turn-off. When Rebecca tries to bring down the ignorant, doltish joy Josh finds in simple things (like playing an inflatable guitar solo with Rebecca’s ex or their fun “Jewish beanies”), her psyche attempts to explain away her misery with her upbringing in Jewish culture. The resulting song, “Remember That We Suffered,” luxuriates in embracing horror.
The bouncy tune, quite literally when Josh brings a chair in for a Horah, juxtaposes a Mel Brooks delight in the Holocaust with the powerful pipes of LuPone. Bloom’s humor bites through with a more direct, authoritative approach in this song than the disco track, because it’s a different part of Rebecca’s subconscious at work. It’s not her fooling herself that love will solve her problems, it’s rationalizing that she can’t be happy because Jews just don’t have that luxury. It’s absurd therapy as caricature, with lines like “The sweet and the bitter / Remember that we suffered / Streisand and Hitler / Remember that we suffered,” preceding a deadpan DJ looking into the camera and proclaiming that his grandma’s a survivor.
“Being happy is selfish,” Shari says to Rebecca, which is, well, what she’s been rebelling against for the series’ duration. If it took a bar mitzvah dance sequence in a mansion once owned by the thematically appropriate Busby Berkeley (according to a New York Times interview with LuPone) to drive it home in Rebecca’s mind that relationships won’t fix her preoccupation with unhappiness, then mazel tov. At least we know her therapist (Michael Hyatt) was proud of her progress until the shocking proposal that closes the episode.
If we hear the full reprise of “Period Sex” on wedding night, I’m going to declare Crazy Ex-Girlfriend the greatest show ever made.
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.