“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” returned this Friday and without much fanfare. As fast as the post-Golden Globes hype poured in for this show a mere two seasons ago, it has evaporated just as quickly. There were no Buzzfeed articles, no trends on Twitter. If it wasn’t for writing this review, I would have missed the premiere completely. Although I consider myself a fan of the show, even I can admit that it has experienced a waning in general quality. Evidence of this decline has never been as clear as in the season three finale — a finale so bad I had to repress the memory of it.
Season three concluded with Rebecca (Rachel Bloom, “Portlandia”) in a bind. Shortly after revealing the totality of her indiscretions to her closest friends and turning them against her, she accidentally pushes her stalker, Trent (Paul Welsh, “Broad City”) off a ledge. She soon is on trial for second-degree murder. Rather than taking the easy way out and claiming insanity, Rebecca, desperate to prove her responsibility to Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin, “Another Period”), pleads guilty to the charges.
Whew. It makes a lot more sense if you’ve been watching.
The choice to end the season with a cliffhanger or a big plot twist is not out of character for the show, however, it was the choice to make this finale so saccharine and melodramatic (without a hint of the show’s signature self-awareness) that made it seem out of character. Rachel Bloom did atone for the theatrics of the finale in the season four premiere in multiple ways. One scene that particularly stood out came early in the episode: Rebecca is discussing her sentence with the judge, and Paula is standing in as her legal counsel. Both Paula and Rebecca are taking the scene too seriously when the exasperated judge brings them back to reality: She points out that she can’t accept Rebecca’s plea because it wasn’t a plea, but rather a speech that was directed at Paula and not her. It is hilarious and delivered with such genuine confusion that the judge feels like the Greek chorus for the audience.
In addition to these fantastic moments of lampshading, the musical numbers also proved to be up to the standards of the previous seasons. The musical numbers of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” have always been the best part of the show — insightful and educational, like an adult version of “Schoolhouse Rock” for those trying to become socially aware. After the season premiere, it is safe to say that the musical numbers are back and better than ever. “What’s Your Story?,” the “Chicago”-inspired number concurrently satirizes the way our society sensationalizes crime while dehumanizing criminals, and also allows viewers to see the holes in the martyr routine Rebecca has been performing throughout the episode.
But, despite these high points, all is not well in the first episode of the new season. According to Rachel Bloom, the fourth season will be the series’ final, and it certainly feels like it. Except in rare cases (the greats, “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad”), watching the last season of a series feels like watching someone try to finish a marathon. While most shows in their final season have long sacrificed substance in sake of superfluous storylines, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” suffers from the opposite affliction. The show feels as smart as ever, but it simply has run out of places to take the plot. It is for this reason that the show seems to have gone so far off the rails with the entire storyline of Rebecca being put on trial.
What made the show great in its first (and best, so far) season was over-analyzing the mundane aspects of everyday life. Now, it seems to have lost its balance. The episodes seem polarized between the impractical (Rebecca’s trial and Nathaniel paying people to beat him up in the woods) and the lethargic (Josh trying and failing to self-diagnose himself). Hopefully, “Crazy” can get the train back on the tracks for a solid final season, and give long time fans like me justification for sticking around this long.