There’s only one person who can explain what just happened with those cat puppets. That’s why EW asked Crazy Ex-Girlfriend showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna to take fans behind the scenes of this week’s episode with her own blog. Enjoy!
Every season has an unusual episode for us to write and for some reason, those tend to be written by our weekly consultants, Dan Gregor and Doug Mand. This year, we threw at them one of our season’s most out-there episodes — a twisty, thriller-type episode featuring the brilliant Paul Welsh as our recurring character Trent.
Trent is a loose cannon, a fellow Harvard alum who has blackmailed Rebecca repeatedly. He’s very obsessed and so in some ways, he’s like Rebecca. He’s basically her id come to life. When he shows up, the stories tend to get extreme. In this episode, for starters, Trent dresses up like Rebecca and re-creates one of our credit sequences. He also breaks out of a full-body cast, eats a lizard, howls like a coyote, makes a booby-trapped paint bomb that explodes in Rebecca and Paula’s faces, and we find out he’s been hoarding Rebecca’s socks and underwear. There are also a bunch of singing cat puppets in this episode (back to them in a second) but weirdly, none of that wacky stuff was the tough part of creating this episode.
Our process started as usual: Dan and Doug wrote a script which we revised in the writers’ room, just as we always do, and then we did a table read — again, as per the ush. We made a few adjustments and were ready to go.
But the night before we started shooting, I bolted out of bed. Something was wrong with the end of the episode’s story. Trent’s incursions into Rebecca’s life were affecting mainly her love life and not enough of her broader character journey. I realized we had to make some big changes. I’m normally NOT an unravel-y writer. Some writers have a tendency to be a kitten with a ball of yarn, pulling at every story until it’s just a pile of string, often at the last minute. We don’t do that on our show. Rachel and I, and then the room, agree on a direction and we generally stick to it.
But I knew we had to re-break the last part of the story, even though we were pressed for time. I rushed to Rachel to tell her the changes I thought we needed to make. Rachel quickly agreed and she and I riffed on story ideas.
Then I ran over to see the director, our beloved Stuart McDonald, who was dressed as a pirate, and our legendary line producer Sarah Caplan, who was dressed as Sarah Caplan, but then again so was I! It was Halloween and my costume was Sarah. I told them I was going to rip up some stuff and they should be prepared. Neither blinked an eye, although one of Stuart’s eyes was covered with a patch so I’m not totally sure about that.
Then I shouted to my assistant, who was dressed as Anne Hathaway. (That day all of our assistants were dressed as different Anne Hathaways.) I asked her to assemble the writers right away.
Everyone was all hands on deck for an emergency rewrite. We dug in, did a first pass. Then Dan and Doug and I stayed late refining the changes. We all felt like we were on the right track but—
—there was one HUGE problem with the new approach. One of the songs in the episode was a Rebecca/Paula duet, “Back in Action,” where Rebecca and Paula go back to sleuthing. It was written to be triumphant, but with our new story logic, Paula was having her arm twisted instead of volunteering and so the upbeat bravado of the song wouldn’t work.
I was worried we would have to cut a song, something we are loathe to do. Songs are excruciatingly hard to write and Rachel, Adam Schlesinger, and Jack Dolgen, our songwriters, had written a brilliant one. But songs are also secondary to story — that’s a very important rule to us — so if it wasn’t going to work, it would have to go.
Then, miraculously, Dan had an idea of how to not only salvage the song but to make it even funnier — he proposed revising the song so that there is one reluctant person and one over-enthused person. We ran that idea by Rachel, Adam, and Jack, they got right onboard and boom— they turned it around in less than a day (for the record, they are brilliant magician wizard creatures and I’m not sure how they do what they do).
So after hours of last-minute hard work, we were able to wind the yarn back together into a respectable ball. Phew. Story and script are everything in a TV show; they are the engine of the whole machine. If they don’t work, nothing else does. Once we knew it was right, we could all relax. After all that hubbub, finding a way to get the lizard scene and make a body cast come apart seemed easy by comparison.
And as for those cat puppets? They are the co-stars in the episode’s first song, “A Buttload of Cats.” Shooting that song was one of the best days ever on our set. As word spread that the cat puppets had arrived on set for their musical number, people floated in from all around our stages, the editing suites, and the writers’ room.
Gathered to watch Rachel sing an upbeat song with a bunch of fake, furry creatures, everyone forgot about the stress of making a TV show. We just bopped along with the puppets. We’re all aware that blissful creative experiences like the one we are lucky to have on our show are so rare and we’ve learned to savor the moments when the cats are singing and the story finally makes sense.