Q&A: ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ show runner Aline Brosh McKenna on the real love story of the series

Share via

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” ended its first season Monday night with a facial expression to end all facial expressions.

The CW musical dramedy, about a young woman who ditches a coveted job at a law firm in Manhattan and moves to West Covina for love, delivered a fairy tale ending for Rebecca (Rachel Bloom). Except, of course, that it wasn’t.

OK, we can’t parse our words anymore. If you haven’t seen the finale, come back to this after you have.


We spoke to show runner Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “27 Dresses”) about the episode, getting through Season 1 (the show was originally developed for Showtime but ultimately dropped from the network’s plans) and plotting Season 2.

You have a season finale under your belt — the show that almost didn’t get made!

Yes! We’ve been done for a while, so its nice to finally catch our breath. It was an amazing season for us. We’re so grateful that we’ve been on the air, and we’re so grateful that we have a second season lined up. We were almost nowhere on no one’s air. We are so grateful every day.

Can we please discuss Paula’s epic song from the finale?

She’s so amazing. We were sort of building to this ultimate frustration for Paula. We always had in our head that it would build to this big, Broadway-type belting number. Donna Lynne Champlin [Paula] is a treasure. She can really do anything. To give her an opportunity where she could showcase that she can really do anything, but also explore this character who has been living vicariously through Becca. She has a strong connection to the love story, but also has just learned that she’s been lied to .… One thing that Donna astutely said to me once is that Paula is a very lonely person. And the fact that she allowed herself to get attached to someone and that person lied to her is a very deep betrayal for her. That’s the sort of Vesuvius of rage that powers that song.

It’s almost like she is who Becca would be had she stayed in New York.

Yeah, I think for Paula there are some dreams deferred, which we’ll learn more about in the second season. Both personally and professionally, Paula’s life didn’t quite turn out the way she wanted. She sees Rebecca as a way to sort of live out those dreams. But, also, one thing that Donna and I talked about as well is that, culturally speaking, middle-aged women are invisible. There’s sort of a cliff that your drop off. And, I think, not being a boss when she’s so much smarter than Darryl [Pete Gardner] and not having the access to the fun of being single that Rebecca has. I think she has a lot of personal frustration. That obviously has nothing to do with Rebecca and Josh — it’s all just manifest that way.


I loved that the “I love you” moment was between Becca and Paula.

Yes, 100%. They’re our love story. In the pilot, Paula is the first person to sing with her. Paula is fully on board with Becca, for better or worse. They’re both broken in their own ways. But underneath it all, they really do love each other and care for each other. We love showing that friendship. They are not of the same background, they are not the same age, they come from different places, they’re at different life stages. But they love each other. That’s always been very important for us.

Do you think the season would have played out differently had it ended up on Showtime? Do you think it would have taken the same trajectory?

Well, it would have had a lot of swearing and it would have had some naked butts, for sure. We had the whole show mapped out in our heads, already. So it would have been, narratively, kind of similar. But one of the things that we have been happy about is that tonally, the CW is a great fit. The show does have a lot of heart and a lot of genuine emotions and that was something that was very important to us. I think on Showtime we would have felt more pressure to be edgy and dark and to sort of push the darkness. And, also, having the longer format has allowed us to explore the auxiliary characters and that has been just tremendously fun. I don’t know if we would have had time to do the White Josh-Darryl story line, for instance, in a shorter format.

You wrote an essay for Refinery 29 where you talk about the infatuation aspect this series explores and how universal and easy it is to fall into.

One of the reasons we made Rebecca such a superpower, smart person was because — it can happen to anybody. Being irrationally infatuated can happen to anyone. We always felt like that was one of our more universal themes: that everyone has felt this way at one point in their lives. And that most people have either been a crazy ex or had a crazy ex — or both.


We’ve all had text-astrophies!

Everyone has been in that situation. Everyone knows that panic on her face. That’s one of my favorite moments. The guys who do our score are so great. There’s a great musical moment ... and there’s like this crash epiphany when she looks at the text and the sound plays out in her brain where she can’t even hear Paula. That’s one of my favorite music moments of the show.

When do you open the writer’s room for Season 2?

We open in May. Rachel and I are already hard at work on the episodes for Season 2. The cat is out of the bag: Rebecca has admitted why she moved to West Covina. So that’s going to be really fun to explore the ramifications of that reveal.

I really thought those last minutes, when she and Josh are making out, would turn out to be a dream.

The episode is really about Rebecca’s desire to live out this fantasy and to have things adhere to a fantasy narrative. And Greg [Santino Fontana] is a tough fit. Greg is not a prince charming. But Josh [Vincent Rodriguez III] is now longing for her and tells her she looks beautiful and had the letter in his pocket. He fits the bill and allows her to sort of collapse into that princess fantasy that she is longing for so badly. And that’s why when it happens, it makes her think this is what was meant to be all along.


And then the look on his face of “uh-oh.”

Not only is the poor guy realizing logistically what has happened, but there’s sort of nothing scarier you can say to a human being than “I knew you would solve all my problems.” That’s probably the scariest thing you can say to a person. He’s very scared. He is very scared.

I tweet about TV (and other things) here: @villarrealy