Critic's Notebook: 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,' 'You're the Worst' and 'Broad City' Stick Their Landings

The recent series finales of 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,' 'Broad City' and 'You're the Worst' soared because, unlike the upcoming 'Game of Thrones' finale, they didn't have a narrative checklist to work through.
Byron Cohen/FXX
'You're the Worst'

Brace yourself for six weeks of relentless itemizing as HBO's Game of Thrones chugs its way toward what will be the mother of all checklist finales. Not since ABC's Lost have fans headed into the last season of a show with quite so many questions they need answered and resolutions they need imposed.

A checklist finale will always face incredible scrutiny from viewers, but at least it allows showrunners to eye a rhetorical finish line. If you take a show without questions as a show without required answers, you can also take a show without required answers as a show without a clear destination, which sounds scary, yet opened the door for a trio of wonderful shows to end in the past two weeks on their own terms. Just because Broad City, You're the Worst and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend didn't have mysteries they needed to resolve doesn't mean that each show's planned finale — kudos to Comedy Central, FX and The CW for giving their respective creators the opportunity to chart their preferred course home — arrived without accompanying emotional pressure, as opposed to narrative pressure.

The gap between satisfying on emotional terms versus satisfying on narrative terms is probably a whole different column. I think, for example, that the Lost finale is gloriously satisfying on emotional terms, and yet some fans still hate it because it wasn't the narrative ending they wanted. The finale to AMC's Breaking Bad feels so right in narrative terms that it's easy to look past how emotionally reductive it is compared to nearly every other episode of that season.

The issue of forcing or not forcing closure on stories not built for closure must have hovered over the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, You're the Worst and Broad City teams and despite that, all three did a thoroughly admirable job of looking past where various arcs seemed to be going to recognize where their shows always were.

I have no doubt that a few fans of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend were ticked off by the April 5 finale. The show's characters were so deeply invested in the Rebecca/Josh/Greg/Nathaniel love quadrangle that they were placing bets on who Rebecca would end up with — and if you weren't paying attention, you might have gotten the impression that the investment of the diegetic characters represented the investment of creators Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna. I tuned in for last Friday's finale vaguely terrified that Rebecca really was going to make a choice and that I, as a viewer, would have to find that choice satisfactory or not.

In that respect, I was a fool. If anybody knows Rebecca, it's the two women who have shepherded her the entire journey, and Rebecca's ultimate choice to choose herself and to do so in the context of choosing to embrace the literal and figurative song of her heart was the only decision the show could have made. This was one of the frequent frustrations I felt throughout the entire series: that Rebecca was too internally flawed for any of the relationships she was presented. Greg and Josh and Nathaniel each offered Rebecca something of value. None of them offered her something of greater value than the self-care and self-determination she owed herself.

There were aspects of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend finale that I didn't love. I've never thought the non-musical parts of the show were on the same level as the musical numbers, and the finale was a little frustrating in its paucity of songs. It was really only "Eleven O'Clock," wasn't it? And that was primarily a medley? I can justify the lack of songs. The finale is a transition point between those internal songs and Rebecca's ability to externalize them. But still, I wanted more songs.

I can also justify that the finale, like its main character's choice, was all about Rebecca. Still, the marginalization of all of the show's supporting characters was a disappointment. Other than Paula (stealth series MVP Donna Lynne Champlin), the supporting characters were talked to and told their futures and their destinations, without having anything at all to do in the finale. The finale was nearly one step from the twist I'd thought might be coming at several points in the series, a revelation that all of the supporting characters in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend were just manifestations of Rebecca Bunch's troubled psyche, none of them real at all.

If you view Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as exclusively the story of Rebecca Bunch, the finale was perfect. If you view it as the story of a small world of West Covina residents, each worthy of celebrating as individuals, well, that's what the post-finale filmed concert was there for (also for my complaint about the finale's lack of songs). You got Rebecca making the right choice for herself and one last rendition of "Period Sex." What more could you possibly want?

Rebecca narrating at each of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend supporting characters was an implication that they were less important to the story than she was, but she lacked the self-awareness to just come out and tell them that, pointing to the ongoing journey she still has to take.

The contrast I'd offer is Ilana in Broad City's March 28 finale, who invited many of the series' beloved supporting characters to a rooftop farewell party for Abbi and then, one by one, told them to go away. Rebecca Bunch wouldn't want to tell her friends and loved ones that they were secondary. Ilana Wexler wouldn't care. The Broad City finale was a celebration of the show's two-headed solipsism, that in the most vibrant city in the world — the show's perspective, not necessarily mine — things always only revolved around Ilana and Abbi. Yet the final season found the two characters questioning that for the first time.

It was one of the head-scratching parts of Broad City for me for a long time, that the series never quite seemed to know how old Abbi and Ilana were compared to how old creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer were and whether that mattered. The fifth and final season saw both characters pondering maturity meaningfully maybe for the first time. Whether it was Ilana pondering her relationship with Lincoln and, more importantly, deciding not just on grad school but on grad school in a discipline that would require her to see other people, or Abbi recognizing the need to commit to her art and expanding her sexual horizons, this was a season of the Broad City women making choices they never could have made in earlier seasons. From the opening madcap adventure in search of a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich to the lovely and contemplative scene with the toilet on the Brooklyn Bridge, it was an emotional finale of near perfection and the last shot, a pull-back to reveal New York City as a sea of Abbis and Ilanas, was perfect.

It was, in general, a great final season for Broad City, and I had no regrets and only joy in catching up on it basically all in one afternoon. What? I was busy! Also, that's how people watch TV now. Apparently. Oh, and as much as I hate our current reboot culture in which even the most carefully crafted finale can be only temporary, I'm here for a post-apocalyptic Broad City sequel series set in St. Louis. Just give me a few years, OK?

The last of the three recent series finales was maybe the best and maybe the one that left me the most conflicted.

On the most primary level, the You're the Worst finale on April 3 is a great piece of television, pointing to how confident creator Stephen Falk has become as a writer-director over the run of the series. The finale pushed the story of Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) around in time in a way that resolved all of the mysteries of the seasons' flash-forward structure and gave us two separate waves of satisfying conclusions, both the wedding that the season had been building to all season and a second wedding that allowed us the illusion of several happy endings.

Like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, You're the Worst set itself up in a way that we were supposed to be worried that it was heading toward a conclusion that would be artificially conclusive. Rebecca Bunch never should have ended up with any of the three guys in her life, even if the final season teased us into thinking she was about to choose, and Jimmy and Gretchen never should have ended up getting married, even if the final season teased us into thinking that was what was coming. And they didn't. They made exactly the appropriate non-resolved choice, each emanating from a failure to write their vows, since as Jimmy puts it, "This ceremony is a fiction. It's a false guarantee that protects us from exactly nothing," which isn't exactly Rebecca Bunch's realization that "Romantic love is not an ending, not for me or anyone else here," but in both cases it's an understanding of the fundamental hollowness of non-death closure in TV or in life. It's the reason countless fans of The Sopranos need to insist that Tony Soprano died on-camera in the finale even though he absolutely didn't. Finales have trained us to think of weddings or climactic kisses as closure, when we know better. Death is closure, even when we have to make it up ourselves.

The You're the Worst finale was beautifully directed — Falk's movement of the camera around the wedding party was graceful and captured the chaos and beauty of the occasion wonderfully — and Geere, Cash, Desmin Borges and Kether Donohue were, as ever, terrific. Borges' Edgar and Donohue's Lindsay were actually central figures in their show and central figures in the finale, rather than being rendered secondary.

My reservation and conflict come from the obviousness of how right Jimmy and Gretchen's choice was, like that it was the choice they could have made off of the pilot. It was the contrivance of the show that forced Jimmy and Gretchen into the aspiration to get married, not anything that felt organically believable for the characters to do, so it felt like the characters were only solving a mess created by the show and not living their fictional lives. Thankfully, they solved the mess correctly.

Our next non-checklist finale will be The CW's Jane the Virgin as the TV landscape is losing a brace of its best female-fronted shows this spring, which I'd view as cause for panic if we hadn't already added PEN15 and Shrill to our collective rotation and if Better Things wasn't currently continuing to cement itself as one of the medium's true gems. We'll miss the shows that have gone, but at least they're leaving us the right way.