Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 1x09 "I'm Going to the Beach With Josh and His Friends!" & 1x10 "I'm Back at Camp With Josh!" (What's Wrong With Being Confident?) [Contributor: Maddie]

“I’m Going to the Beach with Josh and His Friends”
Original Airdate: January 25, 2016

Over the hiatus, The CW’s website offered free streaming on all of the episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend so I decided to check out the show. I had heard only great things about it, from those talking about Rachel Bloom’s Golden Globe win to our very own fearless leader Jenn. Since our tastes in TV are pretty similar, I had a feeling I would enjoy the show, but it only exceeded my expectations. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is quirky and so much fun, filled with a great cast of interesting characters and ridiculously catchy musical numbers. For real though, I’ve had “I’m So Good At Yoga” stuck in my head for days. However, what sets it apart is how intelligent and heartfelt the show can be as well. Bloom has created a wonderful compelling mess of a character in Rebecca Bunch and she doesn’t shy away from how flawed Rebecca is and how much she is hurting. The midseason premiere was Rebecca at her most awkward and wonderful, but also at her most vulnerable and raw.

One of the reason this review is multiple weeks late is because this episode majorly messed with me and I kept crying while trying to write this review. There are a lot of ways I can identify with Rebecca, but this was the episode where I most sympathized with her. I knew exactly how she was feeling, and so this episode hurt like a son of a gun. As much as Rebecca is consumed with a desire for romance, in the form of her Josh-obsession, at her core she just want to belong and be loved. While romance is still something she yearns for, Rebecca also craves the love and support that comes from having friends.

Personal background here: until I joined this site six months ago I had never had a group of friends before. I’m used to a group of friends consisting of awesome people dispersed throughout the country, so believe me when I say I understand where Rebecca is at in the beginning of the episode. You go out to the movies, a restaurant, whatever, and all around you there are groups of people around you that look so happy. And the only thought running through your mind is how much you want to be a part of that. The shots of Rebecca standing a safe distance away seeing Josh, Greg, and the crew chat about the movie they had just seen was played with the perfect amount of wistfulness, longing, and a touch of awkward. It was such a real moment because when you are in a small town you can't help but run into the people excluding you from social gatherings and it sucks.

When I was a freshman in high school, I discovered there was a party for the entire grade besides me. I did not learn this from the conversations at school on Monday because that'd be much less painful than what really happened. The host of the party happened to live next door to my grandparents whom I happened to be spending the evening with. I heard the entire party, the laughter of people I so desperately wanted to be friends with, the frivolity that people my age supposedly engaged in. Alas, I was on the other side of the fence with that same awkwardness and melancholy that Rebecca exuded hiding behind the potted Sega Palm. That’s why the genuine surprise and cautious glee in Rebecca’s voice when she says she’d love to join the crew to the beach positively gutted me. Rachel Bloom played that moment with such vulnerability and earnestness that I couldn’t help but feel real emotions in response.

So once Rebecca gets the invitation for the beach day that she so desperately yearned for, she stays true to form and totally over-does it. I laughed out loud when she started pitching words games as a fun social activity because I have literally done the exact same thing before. Rebecca ups the ante and gets a party bus, which we all know from New Girl will make everything go great. Naturally, the rest of the group pairs off, which leaves Rebecca alone and desperate for attention; thus Rebecca goes from jumping through metaphorical hoops to get attention from Josh and his friends to literally jumping on a stripper pole to get their attention. Sure, girlfriend can work a pole, but at this point Rebecca is majorly dialing 1-800-TOO-MUCH.

An outraged Valencia orchestrates the party bus crew to have an airing of grievances like it’s Festivus, insinuating Rebecca is the root to everyone’s problems, which culminates in all secrets being exposed. Rebecca is left raw and humiliated with nowhere to escape when everyone learns she followed Josh to West Covina. Rachel Bloom breaks our hearts as Rebecca reveals she has been at her happiest in West Covina, and then it all falls to pieces. However, this leads to one of the sweetest moments in the series. Expecting further heartbreak and humiliation, Rebecca is surprised to find comfort, validation, kindness, and a moment of true connection with Josh. Amidst all of the loneliness and embarrassment of the day, Rebecca ended up getting a brief moment where everything was golden and wonderful.

While I heavily ship Rebecca and Greg, and am shocked that they only have eight works of fanfiction on Archive of Our Own, this episode helped the audience see why Rebecca could fall for someone like Josh Chan. Plain and simple, Josh cares. He’s the type of guy people mistakenly assume of having little emotional depth because he’s outwardly happy all the time, but that’s not the case. Josh makes the conscious decision to view his world and those around him with a positive outlook. Just as he sees the best in West Covina, his small town best known for a billion car dealerships and a mall with a good Cheesecake Factory, he sees the best in Rebecca — even with all of her baggage and neuroses. Vincent Rodriguez III plays Josh with such an earnest warmth that the audience can’t help but fall a little for him and his infectious smile. Likewise, Rebecca is drawn to the light he exudes to the point that in her mind, her interactions with him glow with a golden hue. The reprise of “West Covina” really is a beautifully bittersweet moment between them. This is the moment where Rebecca, and the audience, realize she isn’t merely infatuated with the idea of Josh but she truly loves him and can see how great they’d be together.

I feel like this is why Valencia was in her prime mean girl mode this episode. This was the episode that, to me, upgraded Valencia from antagonist to villainess. Her manipulation of events is with the signature blend of passive aggression and Machiavellian cunning that comes from the type of girl that makes high school a living hell for the rest of us. My initial reaction was something along the lines of: “Sure, Rebecca is a little weird but that’s no reason to be this mean to her. Go listen to some VeggieTales, Valencia!’

For real though, Valencia needs to watch some VeggieTales.

So why go to a full-on social assault of Regina George proportions? Valencia is beginning to feel legitimately threatened now that Ms. Bunch is here to stay and clearly has something with Josh. The status quo has been upset and the new variable in the equation has the chance to disrupt her life plans. Thus, she targets Rebecca with vicious ruthlessness, intent on social annihilation, and she almost succeeds. Unfortunately for her, she neither expected nor knows that the conflict she stirred about actually brought Rebecca and Josh closer together.

Conflict was another big theme of this episode. Sure, it is messy and is never easy but conflict is necessary to have lasting and meaningful relationships. In order to remain friends as adults, Josh and Greg needed to realize how different they are as people but because of the bond created by lifelong friendship they respect those differences. Likewise, Paula’s tough love helped Rebecca be emotionally honest with herself and acknowledge that she loves Josh. When Rebecca’s joy of declaring love faded to the heartbreak that she can’t be with him, Paula was there for her in a genuinely touching moment of female friendship.

While Rebecca’s initial efforts to achieve acceptance this episode went in flames, she did end the day having received kindness and support from those that mattered.

Stray Thoughts:
  • I love that Gabrielle Ruiz’s voice is versatile enough to pull off both Bollywood and country pop genres.
  • How did Paula beat Rebecca to the beach? Whether in a bus or minivan, Saturday beach traffic on The 10 will catch you.
  • What is it with me and OTPs that use light imagery?
  • I love Rebecca’s party playlist.
  • The harmonies on Rebecca and Josh’s reprise of West Covina were heavenly.
  • I love that they followed up on the throwaway gag of Hector oversleeping.
  • Kenny Ortega directed this episode which means I want an alum from High School Musical to guest star now.

“I’m Back at Camp with Josh!”
Original Airdate: February 1, 2016

While there's nothing wrong with being confident, as stated by the Demi Lovato anthem, finding empowerment is still easier said than done. In this episode, different characters learn to find empowerment in unexpected places.

Rebecca begins the episode still in the glow of admitting her feelings for Josh but is unsure of her next move. She wants to remind Josh of how magical their time at camp together was, and serendipitously gets the opportunity to join Josh as counselors for a camp for underprivileged teens. Being around the environment where one spends time as a teen has a curious where bringing back the habits in insecurities to come with adolescence. Likewise, Rebecca is brought back to some of her 16-year-old roots.

Back when she was 16, Rebecca wrote a letter for Josh that she was going to give him at the end at the end of camp but then he broke up with her. Rebecca still has the letter and wants to give it to him despite Paul is urging not to. After several attempts to rekindle that camp magic, she finally gets a chance have a moment with Josh at the peak of one of the foothills at sunset. This is it. The moment Is picturesque, and Rebecca has braved mocking teenagers, an elbow to the face, mosquitoes, and anaphylactic shock to get to this moment. Alas, this is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend so we all know this moment isn't going to go out. Rebecca's big and bold and by the romantic setting and shows Josh the letter. She reads the flowery prose in a sweet moment of emotional intimacy, but has her hopes dashed is Josh find the letter hilarious. He laughs about "how weird and dramatic" she used to be, obliviously rubbing salt in the wound. Rebecca truly got for vulnerable and showed a part of herself to Josh, making his dismissal, albeit completely unintentional, of her feelings all the more heartbreaking. Ironically, it's at Rebecca's most devastated and disheartened that she gets her female empowerment speech to the campers. When Rebecca breaks down partway through her speech and is reduced to a blubbering mess, the teenage girls take pity on her and work to make her feel better with the trope that will never die: MAKEOVERS!

Something I adore about the show is the writers’ ability to write songs that are simultaneously catchy beyond belief and weird and complex in this message. "Put Yourself First" makes interesting commentary on how the super sexy version of female empowerment popularity is link to how it is still appealing to the male gaze, while still being a really fun pop song that you can totally dance to.

After the makeover magic, Rebecca doesn't exactly adhere to the girls’ “put yourself first” message and immediately acquiesces to having a talk with Josh, but the following moment is a great scene. Sometimes, while we may still be a work in progress in learning to love ourselves, we are able to see just how great those we care about are, and helping them realize that is everything.

Josh, who is more perceptive than he appears, realizes how upset Rebecca was earlier and rereads the letter. While Josh my think some of the flowery language which is dramatic, the core of the message means the world to him. Rebecca’s unwavering support and faith in him is something he's never see from anyone else. His happy-go-lucky ways are both a disappointment to his parents and to Valencia. So all the dramatics aside, a letter expressing that someone believes in him means the world when just that morning he was being belittled by Valencia. In return, Josh and Rebecca have their first moment of affection as he kisses her on the cheek. The camper spying on the conversation or shocked to see that a cheek kiss is all that happens, but to Rebecca, that small display of affection and affirmation is everything.

Meanwhile back at West Covina, Darryl is lonely and invites Greg, Hector, and White Josh to his place to try to make new friends. “Having a Few People Over” is officially one of my jams, and Pete Gardener kills it the entire episode. Watching Darryl gain confidence and develop an adorable friendship and possibly more with White Josh was so sincere and fun to watch. The sweet and simple joy the mere kiss on the cheek causes Darryl was so endearing to see.

Lastly, Greg found the confidence to face commitment issues. Heather wants to be an exclusive couple with him, and he immediately reacts by saying they need some space. Like Rebecca, Greg struggles with abandonment issues brought on by an absent parent. Thus, he gravitates towards relationships where both parties have one foot out the door. Consequently, it is easier to break up before things get serious enough to be invested emotionally. Additionally, he has a negative view of himself, which makes it difficult to see himself in a committed relationship with someone. Once Greg gets the confidence boost of having his high school crush be super into him, he is able to start seeing himself for someone who could be in a real relationship. While I find Heather and Greg's relationship coupling to be more of a fun novelty then an interesting dynamic for the show to explore, this lesson is still a huge deal and a great moment of character development for Greg.

Overall, this episode was an important step for several characters’ development and ability to move forward while still keeping the show’s quirky fun tone, and sets up the path for some potentially really wonderful storylines.

Stray Thoughts:
  • Paula and Rebecca’s simultaneous soprano-toned“Yay!” was amazing and the pinnacle of ladies lunching together.
  • I need to have people over solely so I can play “Having a Few People Over” when during party prep.
  • Who else wanted one of the panda lollipops Josh had?
  • Snailana Grande! I live for these puns.
  • “I don’t watch [Empire] ironically anymore. Taraji is my everything.” Accurate, Heather.
  • I honestly worry about the dating habits of today’s teenagers. Youths!
  • For a show that mostly get its attention for its feminist themes, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does a remarkable job of adding depth and complexity to its “bro” characters.


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