Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always been one of the sharpest and funniest series on TV, delivering multiple catchy, one-of-a-kind musical numbers within each hourlong episode, and making each one a theatrical treasure.
Season 3, which is only three episodes in, has already delivered on fans' high expectations with numbers like an '80s-inspired song on the topic of generalizing men, and a Les Misérables-style number about a man who couldn't give his wife an orgasm. But the best is yet to come in Friday's all-new episode "Josh Is a Liar," in which fans are treated to a hip-hop number about one character's deep love for the zoo. Yes, the zoo.
Recently promoted series regular Scott Michael Foster, who plays Nathaniel, Rebecca's (Rachel Bloom) boss and love interest, follows up last season's "Let's Have Intercourse" with the equally hilarious "I Go to the Zoo." The song, which includes lines like, "I look at the monkeys; their eyes look like my eyes," not only establishes the dominance of San Diego Zoo (OK, the "zoo in San Diego" for legal reasons) as the alpha of zoos, but it also reveals a deep look into Nathaniel's current emotional state. Basically, it's everything that makes The CW comedy one of our favorite shows week after week.
Since we've been unable to get it out of our heads for days — and because now we also want to go to the zoo — TV Guide caught up with co-creator and star Rachel Bloom, co-creator and showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna, and supervising producer and songwriter Jack Dolgen to chat about crafting the addictive number, which, despite first impressions, is not a Drake parody, but was actually inspired by a number of hip-hop songs, including Frank Ocean's "Super Rich Kids."
"We use musical genres to set up the emotional and comedic point of view for our songs. We try and pull from a genre or vibe rather than from an existing song," Dolgen tells TV Guide. "From there we create an original music and lyric composition that works for the character within the context of that particular story. Ideally the song makes sense if you're watching it online, outside of the context of the episode."
"It's interesting, because this song actually lifts out of the plot of the show rather nicely but was 100 percent inspired by an emotional low point of a character," adds Bloom.
This summer, in a departure from the production process of the show's first two seasons, McKenna and Bloom got together two weeks before the rest of the writers' room convened for Season 3 to lay out the themes and story arcs of the season. This allowed Bloom, Dolgen and Adam Schlesinger, the show's executive music producer and one of the show's songwriters, more time to brainstorm and get out ahead of the whirlwind production.
The idea for the song, which is about Nathaniel seeking comfort at the zoo after being stood up, came during that brainstorming period. "We were talking about Nathaniel's character and how he might process hurt and [being] upset, and I lamely sang out, 'I go to the zooooo!' That's the entirety of my contribution and one of the few times when something I said went directly into a song," McKenna says.
"I Go to the Zoo" is only Foster's second solo since joining the series last season as Rebecca's new boss, and he took his preparation for the song seriously. When Bloom told him he was going to sing a hip-hop song about a deep love for zoos, he started watching "a ton of different videos for research." (Whether they were hip-hop videos or zoo videos remains unknown at this point. Let's imagine they were a mix of both.)
But writing the songs and actors preparing for them are only two parts of the complex Crazy Ex-Girlfriend musical puzzle. Creating the look for each production — in this case, finding the right stand in for the zoo — is incredibly important. The team managed to find a winning combination with the show's soundstage and a local arboretum.
"We specifically needed it to look like a real zoo for the joke of the song and the arboretum was a great fit," explains Bloom. "If the zoo didn't look real, then the song would have had two conflicting ideas in it — one about him going to the zoo for comfort and then the zoo being some sort of abstract or dinky imagining of a zoo."
The finished product is the perfect example of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's complexity. On the surface the song is about a grown ass man who genuinely and wholeheartedly loves the zoo. A deep love for the zoo is nothing to be ashamed of (Bloom notes she likes the elephants the best), but Nathaniel's love of the zoo also reveals him to be a complicated, stunted man who's not in control and is seeking comfort. "What I love about Nathaniel is that he has this tremendous dignity which is a bit fake. Inside, he's frightened and confused and tries very hard to hide it," says McKenna.
"The song begins with typical displays of (somewhat) toxic masculinity," adds Bloom, "and the turn is that, when none of that actually helps Nathaniel feel better, he reverts to being a child."
To get a sneak peek of the song before the episode airs, watch the clip above and be sure to tune into Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Friday at 8/7c on The CW. Hopefully we'll find out just what exactly those zebras did to Nathaniel to make him hate them so much.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS, one of The CW's parent companies.)