Paula runs into her first love and Josh... gets a pimple
For the first time, in Crazy Ex history, the episode title doesn’t include Josh.
It makes sense; once the center of her universe and the propulsive force of Rebecca’s narrative, Josh Chan has become, over the previous two episodes, an afterthought or even, since Rebecca’s suicide attempt, not even a thought at all.
It’s almost like Josh has become a MacGuffin in the ideal sense of the term — in which the desired object is less important than the way it affects the other characters. Josh Chan was never as important as wanting Josh Chan was, and now that Rebecca is one step closer to self-actualization, it feels right that he’s left the forefront of the show.
Post-diagnosis, Rebecca is showing her Syracuse-educated doctor what sort of over-achiever makes it to the Ivy League (“I’m sorry, Syracuse is a lovely school for… communications or something?”). She’s an A-student, filling out armfuls of therapy books like therapy is the iTunes user agreement where the goal is just to get to the end as fast as possible. But, as her hot doctor tries to remind her, the overachieving is part of the problem when it comes to her personality, and in this case, getting an A+ paradoxically means being able to get a C+.
Rebecca decides to take his advice by joining Paula on a messy adventure: to visit Paula’s heavy-drinking Republican dad in Buffalo (where Rebecca has wanted to go ever since she saw Bruce Almighty.) For Paula, the journey is something of an awkward reprieve from her husband and children, who aren’t quite there where she left them after she went off to care for Rebecca more-or-less full time. “We don’t know how long this is going to last,” her husband says, with heart-breaking nonchalance when they reject Paula’s pancake breakfast. “You go through phases. There’s always something you’re obsessed with and it’s never us.”
Whether it’s through vampire novels, Rebecca’s love story with Josh Chan, or Outlander, Paula has been wanting a distraction from her everyday life, and it’s become obvious to the ones who she’s trying to distract herself from. And that break — between fantasy and reality — comes to a head when Paula runs into her first love, Jeff Chanington, back in her hometown.
The parallels to our other J-Chan are not accidental: Jeff is Paula’s Josh, as becomes immediately obvious when all of the brand names in the aisles of the grocery store become “Jeff!” while Paula sings the hilarious ABBA-inspired “Very First Penis I Saw.” Jeff has gone slightly gray, but still looks pretty dang fine, and Paula is more than tempted when he gives her a card and tells her to come by to see the old Camaro he’s restoring.
Meanwhile, Rebecca is at home with Paula’s dad, bonding with a father-figure she hopefully won’t sleep with. In a Shirley Temple-esque ditty, she explores why the relationship works so well: because he’s not actually her dad, and only tangentially in her life at all, it’s easy to dismiss his questionable political views and “ironic” racism and just enjoy the drinking and cheesy jokes. He’s Rebecca’s type-B adventure, an excuse to make a mess and sext Nathaniel and not feel guilty for it.
But while Rebecca is distracted, Paula lets herself get dangerously close to trouble with Jeff: Like she says, he makes her feel 17 again. Like Outlander, Jeff allows her to go back in time. As it turns out though, just hearing that Jeff wants her is enough. While they dance, Jeff admits that he thinks about her, and regrets breaking up with her, and just like that, the magic spell ends. Paula gets the closure she needs, and she can go back to her husband without feeling like he was a consolation prize. Now if only she could get him not to feel that way…
The episode’s theme of growing up comes through a bit thinner and less nuanced with its B and C plots: Without his job at the electronic store, our original J-Chan gets a job as a bartender and becomes way too into bartending tricks through an extended delusion that he’s Tom Cruise in Cocktail. That storyline gets a bizarre ending when Josh pops a pimple (a symbol of age-regression?) after cleaning dirty glasses and gets a staph infection that pops into one of the drinks he’s making in a gross-out sequence that doesn’t quite fit the tone of Crazy Ex.
Darryl and White Josh have been dragging their feet with regards to their inevitable breakup, and they’re pushed along by Darryl’s daughter Madison who orchestrates an accidental meet-up at the Dugout while a baby shower is going on (who has a baby shower at a baseball-themed bar?). The breakup feels cursory and unemotional: the show’s best couple deserved better — at least a song! And the over-the-top acknowledgement of the episode’s theme (I guess it took a child to get us to grow up, huh?) felt shoehorned and unnecessary.
I wish this had been a bottle episode in Buffalo: There’s plenty of territory to cover with regards to Paula’s feelings and her fixation on escape, and Rebecca’s relationship with Paula’s dad could have been given more depth. Really, I’m just bummed that this episode didn’t give proper space to the end of Darryl and Whi-Jo’s relationship. And maybe we could have done without a storyline about an infected pimple.