Another season of the darkly brilliant series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has come to an end, and now, as has happened twice before, it falls to me the doughty task of sorting its original songs — 25 of them, this year — into a clear-eyed, dispassionate, purely objective, precision-engineered ranking that gleams with the cold light of surgical steel.
Said ranking, moreover, is based on a scientific application of the Rules of Musical Comedy Efficiency And Excellence, which are totally real, verifiable things and not something I just made up, but don't bother to check on that because their real verifiable thingness is known only to a select inner circle of us big-time professional-type critics.
As always, you may disagree with this ranking, in whole or in part. If you do, you would be well-advised to just sort of steep there in your arrant wrongness, which is great and terrible to behold, and also eminently provable, because, as I believe I have mentioned, science.
Once again, the usual caveats apply: We are evaluating each number's effectiveness as a standalone song, apart from the show's visuals. More importantly: NO REPRISES ARE ELIGIBLE FOR CONSIDERATION, because — sing along with me — reprises make the data noisy. That means Rebecca's fierce wedding-aisle redux of "After Everything You Made Me Do (That I Didn't Ask For);" the winkingly meta — make that muggingly meta — "He's the New Guy;" that wrenchingly sad second bite of the "Face Your Fears" apple; and Trent's note-perfect "I'm Just a Boy in Love," didn't make the cut.
This season, as always, the show's commitment to squeezing the writing, scoring, rehearsing, recording, choreographing and performing of this many full-bore, pull-out-the-stops musical numbers into a rushed television production schedule is nothing short of remarkable, and should be lauded (and rewarded with a fourth season). Even those numbers languishing near the bottom of this ranking represent distinct feats of musical logistics. It's just that some songs manage to hurl themselves higher up the chart, for reasons we'll get into below.
Let's get started.
25. "Get Your Ass Out of My House"
The secret to a song securing a high berth in this ranking is for it to end up in a different place than it started, by growing beyond its premise: to invert its genre trappings, to innovate, interrogate — to surprise. It can do so with a lyrical insight, an arresting musical phrase or a clever metafictional flourish. Here, Lourdes (Amy Hill) offers a song of frustrated exasperation to her layabout son Josh (Victor Rodriguez III), in true home-karaoke fashion (dig that 80's synth-pop ... "instrumentation." You can practically see the horses running down the beach). But the premise of its first verse is simply — very simply — iterated in subsequent ones. It's sweet, and gratifyingly mean, but its ambitious are modest.
24. "Back In Action"
The guitar licks are lickable enough, fittingly, for this 80s buddy-cop-movie-theme pastiche, but without the visuals (Donna Lynne Champlin's Paula dragging her feet, her whole body, her very bone-weary soul through Rebecca's Bad Boys II-ish shenanigans) this does what it needs to, and little more.
23. "Scary Scary Sexy Lady"
Once again, the joke of the number is simple, and primarily visual: The opening credits of a cheesy erotic thriller created entirely in Rebecca's (deeply narcissistic) mind. Nice shout-outs to the sundry cliches of such endeavors, including the casually misogynistic fear of emasculation that tends to hang over them ("She's gonna cut your pe-nis off"), but this thing is really about selling those visuals.
22. "My Friend's Dad"
Languishing down here in the high teens and twenties we find the Land of Book Numbers — songs that advance the plot. Here There Be Plenty Of Retro Pastiches That Are Never Going To Become Breakaway Pop Hits. And that's fine! Necessary even! And this bit, featuring the song "stylings" of the great Eddie Pepitone, is bright and perky and funny ("It's nothing but platonic!/His bigotry's ironic!") in an old-school, vaudeville-by-way-of-Tin-Pan-Alley way.
21. "Where's Rebecca Bunch?"
This one's a real by-the-book book number. The very bookiest. Bookier than the Library of Congress, inevitably and understandably so, because it's the song tasked with updating the audience on everything that's gone on since the close of season two. Leans — hard -- into the theatricality of its musical-theatricality, down to a locution ("Oif oi wuz 'er, oid keel mesoilf!") so cringeworthy it would make Dick Van Dyke's Bert the Chimney Sweep go "Oo crikey!" Features a nice crescendo at the end, though. That big finish kicked it up the rankings a couple notches.
20. "Horny Angry Tango"
A solid example of the form, albeit one that simply reiterates the love/hate stasis that the characters of Rebecca and Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster) have been locked in from the jump. We get it: Their relationship is a passionate but highly formalized dance — precise movement imposing a strict decorum that effectively channels how hot they are for one another. Well-orchestrated and performed, solidly constructed, and engineered to deliver the tango goods, which it does. Lyrically solid, but in the end, unexceptional.
19. "I've Got My Head in the Clouds"
After three seasons it's patently self-evident that this show can pull off an old-school Hollywood musical pastiche in its sleep. This song, Josh's blithely naive expression of his own personal, thick-headed theology, is only the latest example. Rodriguez is in fine voice here, and the Holy Ghost joke — which only really lands if you see the number — is just dumb enough to be charming. Which is to say, it perfectly encapsulates Josh's character. Or lack of same.
18. "I Feel Like This Isn't About Me"
This very short samba ditty, sung by Cornelia (Bayne Gibby), Rebecca's temporary replacement at the law firm, doesn't overstay its welcome, but it does some nice characterizing work along the way, before taking a sharp left to quite literally sing the praises of meat-on-a-stick. (Meat-on-a-stick reference = +2 ranking points.) (Science.)
17. "My Sperm Is Healthy"
Here, for the first time on the list, two versions of this song are available — the broadcast, and the explicit. Always, always opt for the explicit. True for this show, true as a basic tenet of a fully lived life. I wasn't in love with the direction Darryl (Pete Gardner) went this season, but it did give him a chance to get his Meghan Trainor on, so that's a thing. Gardner's always great, even if this particular song doesn't ask as much of him as his previous solos did. He'd be better served by a number that would let him take us along on his way to a moment of revelation, be it joyous ("Gettin' Bi") or horrified ("I Love My Daughter").
16. "This Session Is Going to be Different"
If this song was even just a little longer, it would have clawed its way higher up the list, despite the simplicity of its Chicago-tinged arrangement, for two reasons: Michael. Hyatt.
That's ... that's one reason, I suppose. Never mind! Point is! Her Dr. Akopian is always welcome, particularly when she gets to bust out those golden pipes as she does here, offering a song of resolve, and hope, and self-confidence, and not-taking-insurance.
15. "This Is My Movement"
No, yeah, sure, it's just one looooong dookie joke, but it's delivered with agreeable gusto by Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz), and you just have to admire the dogged determination of the show's songwriters to double down on the double-entendre. ("It's my doody/To spread it all over the world.") You go, show. Do your nasty thing. Homonyms are fun.
14. "The Buzzing from the Bathroom"
This one's all about the delivery. Tim (Michael McMillian), steps out of the Littlefeather Chorus for a solo — ironically enough, as it's all about his wife's habit of taking sexual matters into her own hands. That swooping melody is what would happen if Les Miz met Phantom in a cheap motel for a quickie, but listen to McMillian's plaintiveness, here. That yearning! That ache!
13. "Maybe She's Not Such a Heinous Bitch After All"
This, right here, marks this ranking's inflection point. From this point on, the songs on this chart rank alongside the best the series has produced. Many tackle the darkness of season three's storylines head on. Case in point, this Motown number — a genre the show's had fun with before — but not with this much cheery, toe-tappin' bile ("She's being so nice/It fills my soul/For once I don't want her /To have a cancerous mole!"). This song is about something real, and decidedly unpretty, and still finds time to muse on the role of parental figures on our romantic destiny. Plus, again, that mole line. Yowza.
12. "Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too"
"When we exit a pool/We do it in slow motion!" Never let it be said this show doesn't give voice to the voiceless, power to the powerless, body fat to the body fatless. At last, a perennially downtrodden cohort of the populace gets a chance to be heard — the genetically and muscularly privileged male. Look, I've said it before, and hopefully I'll get a chance to say it again, next season: This show needs to give White Josh (David Hull) more to do, and shirtlessly. And while the visuals of this song are ... a sop to my own personal Cerberus, the utter cheesiness of the vocals ("This is our quiet personal time to reflect/Ect, ect, ect, ect") are really what puts this over.
11. "Nothing Is Ever Anyone's Fault"
This song wraps some very dark, and troubling, and just really no-good sentiments inside a lovely and (very deliberately) conventional Broadway melody — like a delicious but poisonous show-tune burrito! — then stands back and lets us bask in the discomfiting cognitive dissonance. In other words, it's the Platonic example of this show's mission statement. Also? Not for nothing? Listen to how perfectly, and smartly, it expresses Nathaniel's characteristic, rationalizing, blame-shifting narcissism. If you find yourself singing along to "It wasn't technically Hitler's fault!/(It wasn't technically Hitler's fauuuuuult!)/Hitler's brother died/And that made him super sad!" in the car, try not to do it when stopped at a traffic light. Trust me.
10. "Miracle of Birth"
I'm always here for a Donna Lynne Champlin spotlight number, and this steers into her particular gifts with verve and aplomb. Who else could express all that anatomical detail, and despair, in such a sweet, pure voice, and not have it come off like a cheap gag? Nobody but DLC, is who. Whom.
9. "Without Love You Can Save the World"
This song starts off as a pleasant enough hippie-dippie consciousness-raising opposite-of-love-fest ("Love's a real time-suck/It really get's your mind stuck/On things that, later on/You'll be like, "why?"/Like "When's he gonna text?"/Or "When will I see him next?"). But then we arrive at the heart of what it's really about: Rebecca's artisanal blend of self-loathing and narcissism ("And suddenly the lakes have all run dry/AND IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!").
8. "I Go to the Zoo"
Last season's "Man Nap" covered a lot of this same, toxic-masculinity-poorly-conceals-a-wounded-infantilism ground, but Nathaniel's would-be club banger is a funnier, more accomplished endeavor all around, because of the details: He loves bottle-feeding panda cubs and identifying with monkeys ("Their eyes look like MY eyes!")! Again, the explicit version is worth it. Those f-bombs really drive home his odd but fiercely held opinions on Kingdom Animalia ("I ain't f***ing with no ZEBRAS!")
7. "A F***ton of Cats"
NOTE: The broadcast version is called "Buttload of Cats," and I trust I don't need to tell how much less satisfying that noise is. What could be a broad, Avenue Q-ish swipe at loneliness transcends its parameters the way the best Crazy Ex-Girlfriend songs do, by loading up on well-observed details like the cat-chorus's introspective musing on their image. And also lines like "Yes, we saw that article in The Atlantic/... And then we peed on The Atlantic." Also: Cat stores! Not a thing!
6. "Life Doesn't Make Narrative Sense (The End of the Movie)"
No, look, a lot of the charge this song carries comes from the visual — the Josh Groban reveal, coming as it does so late. But the deliberate hackiness of repeating the last word in the previous line gets a lot of fun play here — I could listen to Groban sink his teeth into the very, very stupid line, "Role-oh-ole-oh-OLE" all damn day. But this song is legit smart about the distinction between lives tidily shaped by narrative conventions, and our actual, much messier, lived lives. That's not something you expect to get handed to you on The CW at 8:00 on a Friday night. No-oh-oh-oh-OH.
5. "A Diagnosis"
Everything works, here. The 80's power-ballad buildup. The desperation evident in the rhyme scheme ("With a diagnoooooosis/I'm ready to bloooooow this/Joint, and by joint I mean my innner sense/Of confusion"). The desperation you can hear in Rebecca's voice. This song is emblematic of the needle this show's been threading all season long — respecting how fraught and complicated a prospect it is to turn the travails of mental illness into blistering one-liners and catchy ditties ... and then doing it anyway. This is another song about something real, and defiantly unpretty, and rarely discussed, much less sung about — our collective search for answers, our need to belong, our belief that a medical diagnosis represents the magical end of suffering, not the beginning of a long process of managing it.
4. "Strip Away My Conscience"
It was only a matter of time before this show went all-out Fosse, and this number doesn't disappoint. Turns out, the corollary to the "We'll Never Have Problems Again" Hand-Clap Rule (i.e., No songs with hand-claps are bad songs) is the "Strip Away My Conscience" Finger-Snap Rule. Those horns sound great, and the lyrics get a point boost for high degree of difficulty: "So tell me 'bout your sins/And shock me with their luridness/Let me be your pupil/Let me choke on your cocksuredness/INN-U-EN-DO!"
3. "The First Penis I Saw"
It may seem surprising to see this light n'frothy bit of business hold such a high perch on this ranking. Haven't I said below that it's the songs that engage with season three's darkness that earn high positions? Well, yeah, sure. Generally. But I mean ... have you listened to this charming thing? This stuff is golden. Abba golden, in point of fact. The brightness of the arrangement! The keyboard! Those strings! The supreme confidence of a line like "It really made me drop my jaw"!
2. "Let's Generalize About Men"
Admit it. You thought this would be number one. You did, I can tell. But that's the difference between you, cookie, and me, a professional big-time critic-type-person. Granted, this I-Love-the-80's/Pointer Sisters pastiche is the song I've gone back to the most this season, for several reasons. (Leave aside, if you can, the visuals, which are so chillingly spot-on. The hair! The earrings! The shoulderpads and skirts and hose and shoes! Also the neon! And that glitter spray thingy!)
No, this song is all about its combined lyrical effect. The spin Ruiz's Valencia puts on the last word in the line, "All men only want to have say-ux!," for example. And the fact that the observations made about men are so hack, so basic, so An Evening at the Improv. That's exactly the point — these women aren't arriving at breathtaking new insights, they're getting drunk and voicing strongly held beliefs — "a bunch of blanket statements"-- in an environment of mutual support.
1. "The Moment Is Me"
Those of you surprised to see this cheese-tastic, psuedo-inspirational, goth-girl-goes-theater-kid anthem perched atop this chart just haven't been paying attention. It's not the idea of the thing that got it here — let's face it, as forms go, Skeptical Person Involuntarily Gives In To Big Musical Number enjoyed its cultural apotheosis with Buffy's Once More With Feeling.
But here, the execution is what sells it. Vella Lovell's Heather has been overdue for big moment like this one from her very first eye-roll back in season one. She's got to sell the transition between Heather's baseline bored reluctance and the demands of a splashy "I Want" song. That's the challenge, and she nails it.
Crucially, wonderfully, she doesn't sell out the character once that transition kicks in. She lets us hear Heather's deadpan disgust throughout, allowing the musical arrangement do all the jazz-handy work. I mean, listen to the beautiful, understated work going in the opening seconds, the seamless shift: "Do I have to sing an inspirational musical-theater song right now 'cause I just can'tWHAT DOES THE FUUU-TURE HOLD"
Every pained grunt, every murmured aside ("Like, so on the nose") is fresh and funny and manages to surprise, no matter how many times you hear it. And that, people, is why "The Moment is Me" has earned its spot here, as King of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season Three Mountain.
There. Another year, another Herculean feat of Musical Theater Science painstakingly accomplished. You may now commence your caviling and quibbling. In the meantime, kindly forward any and all Peabodys, Pulitzers and/or Nobels to my NPR address.