The musical dramedy “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is back for its fourth and final season. The show’s protagonist Rebecca Bunch (played by Rachel Bloom) has been through a number of steamy flings, intense obsessions and acute heartbreaks. Will we see our mercurial heroine in a healthy romantic relationship?
“I’m not gonna tell you that — you’re just gonna have to tune in to find out!” Aline Brosh McKenna says with a laugh in a recent interview. Ahead of the season premiere (airing Friday at 9 p.m. on the CW), co-creator McKenna — who also wrote “The Devil Wears Prada,” “27 Dresses” and “We Bought a Zoo” — chats with Solo-ish about carefully crafting a character’s return, navigating LGBT relationships onscreen and prioritizing the representation of middle-aged moms. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Solo-ish: How does it feel to be wrapping the series?
Aline Brosh McKenna: We’ve basically been the same writer’s room for all four years, so it’s our senior year. This is an incredibly smart, gifted, sensitive, hilarious, insightful group of people. We’ve been through so much together: One of our writers just got engaged, and we’ve had people get married, have children, have parents pass away. And it’s just an enormous honor to have shared this chapter of my writing life with these folks. If I talk about it too long, I weep.
Solo-ish: This series has explicitly discussed mental health and suicidal thoughts, slut-shaming and toxic masculinity. What’s the strategy to incorporating important issues into entertaining storytelling?
McKenna: From the beginning, our idea was always to get underneath stereotypes. All of the characters are tropes, in a way: Rebecca is a "crazy ex-girlfriend”; Josh is a hometown hero; Nathaniel is a preppy asshole; and Greg is that friend who gets over-loved. So everybody is a little bit of a cliche, and the fun for us is to try to find a surprising way to portray that character that’s been stereotyped in the past.
Solo-ish: What can we expect from these last 18 episodes?
McKenna: This season basically deals with Rebecca trying to find an ethical way to take responsibility for the things that she’s done. She confronts her privilege a bit; she’s always been a little blinded about that. And she now has a diagnosis, so she’s working on herself, but she’s not perfect. It’s not like she’s all of a sudden magically healed; she’s always in process. With her, it’s always a bit of a step forward, two steps back. But whether that’s with a partner or not, we certainly think that she needs and deserves love and happiness.
Solo-ish: We'll also see the return of Rebecca's ex Greg, now played by a different actor: Skylar Astin. How did that come about?
McKenna: We felt like we wrapped up that character pretty neatly, and so we felt like we would need to have a good reason to bring him back. Then it occurred to us that he’s been gone for a long time, and if there was some opportunity for her to run into an ex, when they’ve both changed a lot and they seem different to each other. And he, in particular, seems so different to her that he even looks different. So we’re able to bring him back and explore what they seem like to each other. That’s one of the great things about television: Time has elapsed in real life and in the world of the show.
Solo-ish: Who has been your favorite character?
McKenna: I think everybody in some ways can relate to the one who is most demographically like them. So I have a special attachment to the character of Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) because she, like me, is a woman of a certain age. I don’t think that middle-aged women have been portrayed very realistically, or much at all on television, and it’s actually a very interesting time in a person’s life. We’ve seen a lot of stories about young love, but not as many stories about middle-aged moms and how they deal with the different stages of their life. I’m close to Champlin, so really exploring some of the issues of middle age with her, and with her character, has been so fun.
I love her relationship [with her husband], and this season we explore her relationship with her sons. Paula is gonna go through something that I went through this year: Her son is leaving home. There was a fair amount of crying while working on this, and the song that Jack [Dolgen], Adam [Schlesinger] and Rachel wrote for her is beautiful.
Solo-ish: This show has been wide in its portrayal of bisexuality, via two very different characters. How did that come about?
McKenna: We always knew Darryl was bisexual, and we built a slower on-ramp into that. But with Valencia, at some point we wanted her to fall in love, and one of the writers said, “Well, it could just as easily be with a woman as a man.” That seemed really right to us. Really, [Valencia’s partner Beth] is a person who sees Valencia as the ambitious, whole person that she is, so that’s been rather joyful to write. I think that you can see that Valencia is very comfortable and accepted and supported in that relationship. Also, something I’ve experienced quite often in my life is women who fell in love with women and hadn’t expected to, or it hadn’t occurred to them until they met the right person. I felt like that was a real thing to reflect.
Everybody approaches those things differently, and it's all completely valid. Valencia is a little different from Darryl in that having bisexual love and relationships is not kind of a cornerstone of her identity; she's more in the camp of, she loves the person that's in front of her, and doesn't think so much about what kind of label that puts on her. Whereas Darryl is a person to whom labels are very important as a sense of identity.
Solo-ish: You’ve written some of Hollywood’s major romantic comedies. What do you make of the genre’s recent renaissance?
McKenna: There is an enormous hunger for those stories and, for reasons I don’t think can be explained, Hollywood turned their back on them, so it’s great that they’re coming back. And kudos to Netflix: They have data that shows that people love these movies, so I’m very glad that they’re making them. I don’t see romantic love as an end in and of itself, so I’m less attracted to any movie where that’s the central preoccupation. I know I’ve written some that are considered romantic comedies, but for me, they’re really portraits of people searching for happiness.
Solo-ish: Your new pilot ‘Arranged’ is about two best friends who end up in a marriage of convenience. What can you tell us about it?
McKenna: I wrote it with ["Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" alum] Sono Patel, and we wanted to write about about being a young woman of a color in the comedy world, as well as being the daughter of an immigrant and the pressure that’s put on you to behave a certain way. The pilot came out great, and I particularly love all the performers in it, but it’s not going forward at Pop so we’re trying to set it up elsewhere.