Needless to say, I have been thinking a lot about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s season finale. As well, I’ve also been thinking about the first season finale of The Good Place. Both went to super dark places that with twists that were unexpected, but you could see the show laying the groundwork for beforehand. And the more I thought about the two shows, the more I realized how much they have in common.
First up: spoiler warning. This will spoil both the second season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and the first season of The Good Place, including the last episode twists.
Both shows appear, at first, to be completely dissimilar. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a deconstruction of romantic comedies and ultimately a celebration of female friendships, while The Good Place is a look at a very specific afterlife and how one woman who doesn’t belong there tries to make it so she does belong there.
The more you look at the shows, however, the more parallels you see, beginning with the main characters: Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) and Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell). Both are, to put things bluntly, terrible people. Eleanor is more comically terrible than Rebecca is, but Rebecca, especially in the first season, is terrible nonetheless. She is, as she realizes late into the first season, the villain of the story. She’s the “bitch in the corner of the poster,” while Eleanor is someone who almost obsessively doesn’t want to care about anyone except herself and so keeps others away.
For Eleanor, however, being in the Good Place challenges her to change the way she sees herself and other people. She has to re-contextualize her own way of living so that she is worthy of being in the Good Place. Rebecca, on the other hand, often finds that her own terribleness impedes her, so finds herself trying to change and be worthy of Josh/Greg/her father’s love, but failing to consider that she can only change herself and not others.
Both characters have pretty much the same reason for being terrible people: because they had garbage parents. Eleanor’s parents seemed to be completely uninterested in raising her, while Rebecca’s father didn’t care about her and her mother seemed to care only about controlling her life. This led to both of their issues — Eleanor’s being a refusal to connect with anybody and Rebecca’s being a pathological need for love and connection. Almost like they were two sides of the same coin.
In both shows, there is a last episode twist that changes the very nature of the show:
- In The Good Place, it is revealed that Eleanor and the others were never in the Good Place, that this was always the Bad Place, designed so they would specifically torment each other.
- In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca’s issues are shown to be recurring — she had become obsessed before with a Harvard professor named Robert — and the latest man leaving her (Josh) results in her declaring a need for his destruction.
In both cases, their character growth is almost offset by this twist: Eleanor’s growth meant nothing because she wasn’t in the Good Place in the first place — but, in fact, it did mean something, because her being “good” and revealing she wasn’t supposed to be there screwed up Michael’s plans. And Rebecca now no longer needs to get Josh’s affection — in fact, she told off her own father — but has replaced that need with what might be a darker and more dangerous need, the need for retribution.
Even the titles of the shows become twisted: The Good Place is now, in fact, a reference to the name of the specific Bad Place they were in, while these first two seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend were leading to a place where Rebecca was really the “crazy ex-girlfriend” that people often refer.
Ultimately, however, the comparison between the shows comes to this: both are about women who are trying to become better people for the wrong reasons. Both the image of Josh that Rebecca held and the Good Place itself were, in fact, shams. And yet both characters still grew with these false hopes. The only difference is that (being dead) Eleanor’s world is controlled by someone else, while Rebecca can control her own life. What both will do next, however, is a mystery.
(There are other weird similarities, too, like both have “Asian bro” characters that are Filipino, although Jason Mendoza is a lot more dumb than Josh Chan is, and both have what seem to be impossibly beautiful romantic rivals — Valencia and Tahani — who then become the main character’s best friend. But those are pretty superficial.)