The Songs of Crazy-Ex Girlfriend: Brocabulary Lessons and Motherly Funk

(Episodes 2.08 and 2.09)

TV Features Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
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The Songs of <i>Crazy-Ex Girlfriend</i>: Brocabulary Lessons and Motherly Funk

We welcome Crazy Ex-Girlfriend back from its mid-season break with a multi-song duo of episodes that move the characters beyond basic plot bends.

While “When Do I Get To Spend Time With Josh?” comes chronologically second, its light musicality merits a quick mention before diving into the meat. Its brief office songs refer to poor ratings and television conventions, echoing something like the surprised-to-be-alive opening number of Galavant’s second season, while reminding us that nobody cares about a side character like George—and shaking up the pop-to-Broadway ratio of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s musical tastes in the process. As the characters and plots become more complex and nuanced, so must the songs encasing and nurturing them.

But it’s “Who Is Josh’s Soup Fairy?” that drops a plot bomb in its opening scene, the fallout of which is felt for the rest of the episode. Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) learns her husband cheated on her, spurring outbursts that finally get through Rebecca’s (Rachel Bloom) narcissism-addled skull. Finally convinced that their friendship deserves reciprocal kindness, Rebecca meets Paula’s vitriol with her own brand of bombastic helpfulness when volunteering to watch her youngest son for the weekend.

The resulting fantasy song has its heart in the right place, but it still contains the arrogance that drives Rebecca’s selfishness. If she’s the best at everything she tries—and obviously she is— then why bother thinking about anyone else unless they can make her even better? The self-assured rhythm, thumping to its parenting podcast accompaniment, swaggers with the same bemused confidence of an inexperienced babysitter. How hard could it be?

Like Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” but about motherhood, “I’m So Maternal” includes a similar electro-funk beat and boogie bass line as the Bruno Mars hit and its brassy ‘80s influences. That these happen to correlate to the show’s Mr. Mom references is icing on the nutritional breakfast cake Rebecca offers her ward.

Rebecca’s pink blazer, gold chain, pompadour and flashy metallic pants supplement a great rap and simple choreography—including her backup dancers trying to breastfeed in one of the most delightfully horrifying bits of goofy business in any song this season. The subtle location change from the city to a tree-lined suburban neighborhood is a sly joke in a song filled with over-the-top prop gags.

Combing hair with a spoon may not be the easiest way to convey inept parenting, but tenderizing a banana and putting it in a tortilla sounds exactly like something my brother would sadly wrap up in his college dorm room after exhausting his other resources. Slicing up homework into cereal seems almost as nutritious. Even without listening to the words or seeing the hilariously furrowed brow of a fawning podcast host (Jamie Denbo), the song mounts our dread at Rebecca’s parenting plan while we tap our foot to the beat.

Lyrics like “Relax ladies / Give your babies / to a Carol Brady- / level matriarch” continue to showcase the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend writers’ quick-witted musical acuity. Later in the episode, after Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) embarrasses himself yet again by being the absolute worst in a multi-zippered jumpsuit, we get a taste of the lower part of this lyrical spectrum.

Josh’s pop love song about realization (oh, he really does like Rebecca) underlines something the show’s done a great job with so far, which is tailoring the vocabularies of the song to both the musical genre and the character performing it.

Josh’s song’s quasi-glamorous framing (glitzy club lights and decor), emphasized by Josh’s ridiculous head moves—like being physically blown away by his realizations—parodies the faux-romantic club bangers whose dimly lit VEVO videos haunt YouTube. It also contains, like most pop songs, few multisyllabic words.

The chorus refrain of “duh” is the sort of brocabulary word we’ve been trained to expect from Josh and doesn’t seem at all out of place in an industry that pushed songs like “No,” “Work” and “Dang!” in the last year. Rebecca’s too smart (and emphatically so) even to fantasize without dropping some great references and a dabble of feminist theory. Josh is lucky to keep the words coming out of his goofily grinning face from veering into nonsense. “Like that one time… and that other time,” Josh croons, desperately trying to enunciate his newly discovered feelings.

It’s Josh and Rebecca’s character dynamic as seen through the genres they’ve been most closely associated with: Top 40 pop and pop-punk for Josh, rap and grrl power pop for Rebecca. They’re designed to hit us in different places, one our hearts and the other our heads.

The mix of both in one episode highlights the core differences between the two characters and helps us understand why the relationship isn’t working. When Rebecca makes an actual decision for someone besides herself at the episode’s close, effectively brushing off Josh to make room for her friend that needs her, we’re not completely surprised because of the sheer contrast between the characters as they’re drawn in and out of the show’s musical moments.

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.