Welcome to Camp Canyon Grove. The year is 2005, and the camp’s musical of choice for the season is South Pacific. A quintet of girls is performing “A Wonderful Guy,” complete with squeaky-clean sailor hats. The camera focuses on a pretty blonde who’s singing lead, looking as poised and professional as a camper can. The focus quickly shifts, however, and we settle on the girl standing behind her. Over-eager, too excited, looking a little crazed with enthusiasm. And this is Rebecca Bunch — or, as you might have guessed, our soon-to-be Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
As the summer comes to a close, Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) is forced to say goodbye to her camp boyfriend, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), a handsome but obviously disinterested bro who breaks up with Rebecca about two seconds after she spills her feelings for him. (He’s got school, and baseball!) The devastated teenager pleads with Josh, who argues that she’s too dramatic. She counters by screaming, dramatically, that she’s not dramatic. And so ends their summer of love.
The entire setup is embarrassing, cringe inducing, and, for anyone who ever participated in youth theater, a little too familiar. And that’s exactly what makes this premiere episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend so entertaining: Rebecca acts like an insane person, sure, but you know you’ve done — or at least thought of doing! — some of the same things. Admit it. You have. ADMIT IT.
But forget camp. Fast forward to present day, when Rebecca is no longer an awkward chorus member of South Pacific, but a successful lawyer living in New York. Translation? She’s absolutely miserable. As she sits in her big fancy apartment staring at a sad online dating profile on her computer screen, a TV commercial for butter poses a heavy question: “When was the last time you were truly happy?”
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We get the sense that Rebecca can’t remember, but who needs happiness when you have a high-powered career, right? Upon arriving at work, she learns she’s being promoted to partner — the youngest at the firm! — and while her brain tells her she should be happy, the news throws her into an emotional panic. She steps outside for air, frantically grabs her Xanax, and asks God for guidance. (“Dear God, I don’t pray to you because I believe in science…”) As if he were a gift from the heavens, Josh Chan appears. He’s still handsome, still a bro, still a little boring, and he’s moving home to West Covina, Calif., to escape the New York rat race. He’s done it for eight months, and he’s tired.
The light bulb goes off in Rebecca’s head, and there’s no turning back. This successful, Harvard- and Yale-educated lawyer — an occupation that relies heavily on logic and reason, let’s remember — has decided to abandon life as she knows it and head to to West Covina, a town that is two hours from the beach, four hours in traffic. So, she’s stalking a boy she knew for two months 10 years ago. Is this crazy? Yes. But the girl is fresh out of hope, and in this moment, Josh provides her with some, no matter how delusional that may be. She turns down the partnership and runs into the streets of New York and breaks into song, belting the words “West Covina, California!” with all the passion and glee of an animated Disney Princess. West Covina, however, is no Magic Kingdom. (This is truly the moment the show will either hook viewers or lose them for ever. But I wish more TV shows included Broadway-like musical performances, so count me a fan from here on out.)
NEXT: A bartender and a paralegal walk into a party…
Rebecca is enjoying all that her new California apartment has to offer — linoleum floors and wall-to-wall carpeting — and she’s feeling so calm she dumps all her pills down her garbage disposal and texts Josh. The next day, when she starts her new job at a local law firm, he still hasn’t responded. But we’ll come back to that.
Her new boss Darryl (Pete Gardner) is nice but clueless (he makes more than one inappropriate comment about Jewish people and asks Rebecca if New York still has that great pizza place downtown), and the office’s head paralegal, Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), immediately has it out for Rebecca and becomes oddly obsessed with finding out the real reason she moved to West Covina. Why? It’s unclear, but she’s fixated. We’ll also come back to this later.
After work, Rebecca attempts to track Josh down and, based on an online check-in, follows him to a sports bar. (Why is this even an option? Technology is terrible.) A charming and oh-so-precious bartender named Greg, who happens to be childhood friends with Josh, invites Rebecca on a date to a party where Josh is supposed to be. And so inspires the episode’s second musical number: “Sexy Getting Ready Song,” a genius takedown of all the nonsense women do/are expected to do to look socially presentable and attractive. Waxing, shaving, curling, tweezing, Spanx-ing — it’s all a very unsexy process. Rapper Nipsey Hussle appears in the scene, takes one look around Rebecca’s bathroom, which is covered with hair, blood, and evidence of pain, and says, “This is some nasty-a–, patriarchal bulls—. I gotta go apologize to some b——.”
But Rebecca’s already armed with waist-high Spanx, so she heads to the party and obviously spends the entire night asking Greg for details about Josh’s life. Greg, who’s an absolute angel, catches on and puts an end to the evening, but not before accidentally telling Rebecca that Josh has a girlfriend. What?! How can that be? He’s listed as “single” on Facebook! Girl, we’ve all been there.
As Greg escorts a weepy Rebecca out of the party, she encounters an unexpected guest: Paralegal Paula. Paralegal Paula spent some time snooping through Rebecca’s computer and figured out that she moved to West Covina to track down a dude, not for a change of scenery. Now, there’s a lot of stalking happening in this episode, but isn’t it more unsettling that a grown woman is stalking her new colleague just to prove her a liar than it is that Rebecca is stalking Josh, someone she thinks she loves?
Whatever side of that argument you come down on, let’s all agree that it’s still weird and not totally clear why Paula cares so much about Rebecca’s motives — but now that she knows she came here for love, or the confused idea of love, she’s totally team Rebecca. Maybe Paula’s just bored and lonely? Maybe Paula’s just a big fan of The Bachelor and is glad Rebecca’s here for the right reasons? Anyway, they’re friends now. And just as this new lady-friend love fest is happening on the lawn of the house party, Rebecca gets a text. From Josh Chan. “Wanna grab dinner? [Smiley face.]” Cue the sweeping musical reprise.