6:00pm PT by Michael O'Connell
'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend': Rachel Bloom, Aline Brosh McKenna Talk Through Freeing Series Finale
[This story contains spoilers from the series finale of the CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.]
Broadcast TV lost a little bit of edge on Friday night. After four seasons on the CW, the offbeat, honest and often heart-breaking funny Crazy Ex-Girlfriend signed off with one final song.
"I'm In Love" was an unconventional episode, even by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend standards. Skipping the elaborate fantasy of the show's music videos for just one stripped down number, the series finale was told entirely from the perspective of Rachel Bloom's Rebecca Bunch — no longer defined by either of her titular labels and embracing an unknown future as a (single) songwriter.
Viewers who tuned in anticipating a happy ending that involved Rebecca pairing up with one of her three off-and-on suitors (Vincent Rodriguez III, Scott Michael Foster, Skylar Astin) did not get what they anticipated. But, if that's what they expected, they might not have been paying close enough attention. Co-creators Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, who always had a four-season arc in mind for the series, say that it was always about getting to a place where their insecure heroine was finally comfortable in her own skin. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter about the series' end, the duo spoke about the decisions that went into the final episode, translating their series into a stage show and why they opted to leave things open-ended.
Was there any point, in the planned journey for this show, where Rebecca ended up with one of the guys?
Rachel Bloom The show is about finding what makes you really happy. And that doesn't have anything to do with romantic love. We debated, "Well, could she have done this while dating someone?" You could have seen her on the open mic stage and, oh, by the way, she's dating Nathaniel. But it didn't really make sense. The intention here was having her take charge of her own fate.
Brosh McKenna It's refreshing making a romantic comedy where that wasn't really the focus of the conversation. It was about getting Rebecca to a place where she knew who she was. She accepted herself and what her fantasies had been and how to bring that into the real world. We made all three of the guys seem as viable as possible so that you could see she might be happy with any one of them. There are a number of relationships that could work for Rebecca. We keep telling people that you're going to find a key to your lock, a lock to your key. We sell people on that magical thinking. That last shot with all of the guys, that makes us laugh, because there's probably more than one guy on the show who she could end up with. We have to stop telling people that there's just one person for them.
Similar question: did you ever consider ending with one final song at the open mic instead of cutting to black?
Bloom It's kind of an unanswerable question. The knee-jerk reaction was that the first song she sings is "West Covina." But that doesn't make sense. "West Covina" is a song rooted in delusion. She wouldn't come back around to sing a song that's completely rooted in delusion because she's in an enlightened place now. The show is kind of a prequel. She's just born in that moment. It's a mystery to even us. What does she sound like when she's not trying to be someone she's not?
McKenna The end of the show is the beginning of her journey in a way, so we never talked about ending on a song.
How important was it for you to have Rebecca accept that she needs medication to get on the right path?
McKenna She's on such a good path before we get there. There's a full season and a half before she goes on medication. BPD [Borderline Personality Disorder] is somewhat treated with medication but it's largely treated with therapy. That's the missing piece for her. We did so much work to show the on-ramp to mental health she's been on. That's why we took a season off from intense rom-com stuff, so you could see her getting on her feet and not rushing into a serious relationship.
Realistically it's a long timetable.
McKenna Yes, the finale is not about, "Here's how you become a writer." It's about how you become the best version of yourself, whatever that dream is. For everyone on the show, it's something different. For Greg, it's an Italian restaurant. For Paula, it's the law. For Darrell, it's a family. Everybody has something different. This isn't, "Hey everybody! Buy a pretzel stand and become a songwriter" — which they're more than welcome to do.
What was the most difficult musical production you had to pull off over the course of the series?
Bloom The last one was really hard. We were in the thick of "Love Is Not a Game," which is the biggest group number we've ever done, at the same time. The song also kept changing because we knew the eventual point we wanted to make... the question was, "How do we get there?" It really affected what "11 O'clock" became. It's not a pastiche of anything. Sure, it's an 11 o'clock number, but it's not trying to be a particular song. The day of filming, it was kind of flying by the seat of our pants. I do think four years of doing music videos that were meticulously planned out and had clear jokes and genres prepared us for that day.
McKenna We do these episodes in seven days. We shot that turntable number in nine hours. We were late when we got into that space, so we did not have one second over the nine hours. That's insane. Music videos take days to shoot and we do ours in less than a day. That's the reason we made the doc, so people could understand the production.
Bloom I was also quite sick the entire time we were filming the finale. I took antibiotics the morning of the music video because I wasn't getting better, and I legitimately shit my pants.
What’s the most gratifying feedback you’ve gotten from a viewer?
Bloom That they went into therapy because of the show. Our show is not therapy. All we can do is show someone who is trying to get better. Someone saying they went to therapy and are trying to get better, that's really fucking cool.
Do you think we’ll ever see a Rebecca Bunch statue erected in the city of West Covina?
McKenna That's a really great idea. Can you get on that?
Processing the end now, how surprised are you both that you were able to really tell this story as you wanted for as long as you intended?
McKenna Getting here is a tribute to Mark Pedowitz. Despite some pretty abysmal ratings, they were just really committed to the show. We told them from the beginning that four seasons was what we wanted, and they were always on board.
From what you see in the documentary and from the little I visited, you have a very unique set. Was that an intention you set from the beginning?
McKenna I think it was a fun place to work, and a lot of that came from Rachel having a good time. It's a very female-forward work place, and i think less hierarchical for that reason. We're both collaborative and it was always about listing to the voices around us. I mean, we all got into this business to have fun. There are times when it's brutal, but we did try to make it as an enjoyable as we could.
Bloom There are certain things that are valuable in hierarchy, and we had people who made the final say. It wasn't completely communist. But when people are comfortable, that's when the best ideas come out. If you have any sort of culture of fear, you don't get the best work. That's not how the human brain works. Creativity is fostered when you feel relaxed.
Care to talk about a future collaborations?
McKenna We are free as little birds. We're always talking about doing something. And we will someday have a conversation about a Crazy Ex musical and we will do other things. That's one of the reasons I haven't been crazy sad, because I know I'll see Rachel all of the time.
Bloom It's a weird non-ending because we have the Radio City shows coming up. Aline and I will both be making our Radio City debuts with the rest of the cast.
McKenna What team are you?
I think I'm team Rebecca... but also a little Team Josh.
McKenna I think you can make an argument for all three.
Bloom There's a world where all three work. I think there's a world where she ends up with one of them, and there's a world where she moves to Paris for two years because she's fallen in love with accordion. What's really freeing is that Aline and I have been talking about this woman non-stop for six years. It feels like she exists. We've been these mini gods who have come into her life and blown shit up for the sake of plot. Now, for the first time, she's in control. We've given her free will, like god to Adam and Eve. [laughs] She's free.
McKenna Freeing her is what we were trying to do, freeing her from patriarchal and societal narratives.