Crazy Ex Girlfriend has been on air for two years now, but this unique show still doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Siarlot Lloyd looks at why you should watch it.
Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s screwball comedy returned to our screens this weekend for its third season and it’s off to a cracking start. Over the last two seasons, the show has played with the ‘Crazy Ex’ trope, but now looks to be brutally deconstructing it for real.
But despite my own fanatic love for this weird and wonderful show – as well as critical acclaim and Emmy nominations and wins, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is still woefully unknown by the masses.
For the uninitiated, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CExG) is a show about 27-year-old Rebecca Bunch (Bloom), a hotshot lawyer from New York – but it’s clear that she’s unhappy. After a chance meeting with her summer camp fling, Josh Chan, who has been trying to make it in New York but is set to return home to Southern California, Rebecca decides to make a change.
Seeing Josh has spurred Rebecca action. So, she decided to move to West Covina, California, brand new pals and new career – it happens to be where Josh lives, but that’s not why she’s here…
Okay, I’ll stop quoting the season one opener now.
So here’s why you should watch it
I’m going to level with you straight out – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a musical TV show, with most of the songs being someone’s (usually Rebecca’s) daydream of the actual events. And for some people, that might turn you off, fair play, I won’t judge. But you shouldn’t disregard the show just on its format. The hugely talented cast, including Santino Fontana (better known as Prince Hans from Frozen) as a cynical bartender, combined with some incredibly catchy tunes make for what is possibly a unique viewing experience – even if you occasionally have to explain to someone in earshot why you’re singing about ‘a dystopia based around friendship’, having ‘heavy boobs’ or some of the shows more …explicit songs. It also helps that a lot of the songs are pastiches, parodies and homages to everything from classic 1940s Hollywood, to Nicki Minaj, to Huey Lewis and the News.
Where to start? For one the show has an amazing female cast, thanks to Bloom, Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), Heather (Vella Lovell) and Valencia (Gabrielle Rodriguez). The cast overall is pretty diverse as well, with leading love interest Josh played by Filipino actor Vincent Rodriguez II, and that’s reflected in the show, with multiple other people of colour in the main cast. In fact for four episodes, the show had “no straight, white, male characters on the show at all,” and you know what? I didn’t even notice.
Which brings us on to Darryl Whitefeather and Josh Wilson, aka White Josh – so-called because he’s white and looks like Josh (also, his name is also Josh), is one of Josh Chan’s friends but he also has a key role in what I think is one of the shows biggest achievements. Actual. Fricking. Bi. Representation. Darryl is Rebecca’s boss, a recent divorcee with a young daughter. Where in some shows, bisexual characters are often hypersexualised, don’t like labels, or are filled with angst over their orientation, Darryl just isn’t Sure, he’s not perfect, but that’s the beauty of CExG. The characters are human, and they all have flaws. Also, Darryl’s coming out in song is fantastic and I think that it should be played in all Sex Ed classes on orientation in future, thank you. Words can’t do it justice, so here it is for your viewing pleasure (you’re welcome)
With the title it has, CExG can’t really avoid the topic of mental health, and it doesn’t.
For anyone raised with unhealthily high expectations, Rebecca’s struggle with self-esteem will resonate, and on the whole the matter of mental health is treated with far more sensitivity than most shows. Therapy forms a part of multiple episodes, thanks to the fabulous Michael Hyatt as Rebecca’s long suffering therapist Doctor Akopian. Most notably Doctor Akopian urges Rebecca to actually address her issues, rather than relying on the ‘band-aid’ of medication.
While Rebecca’s mental health has led to some of her less rational decisions, her mental health in of itself is never the punchline. Rebecca does occasionally go to therapy, and there we see the reasons and history that have made Rebecca who she is. And for anyone who has experienced depression or anxiety – a lot of Rebecca’s experiences will be all too relatable. Of course, it helps that Rachel Bloom, who co-writes the show as well as playing the main character
And while the show has so far dodged around giving Rebecca a specific diagnosis, Bloom and Brosh McKenna have said in interviews that Rebecca will get a mental health diagnosis this season. Which is why at the end of the day, my ship is Rebecca and being happy with herself.
Friendships – and solidarity
While they’re probably not the most talked about aspect of the show, the friendships that are shown are really important. There are so many to choose from as well. The almost mother-daughter relationship of Rebecca and her co-worker Paula is the relationship most examined by the show, in more ways than one. Paula gleefully jumps to play the role of quirky best friend in what she views as the rom com of Rebecca and Josh’s relationship, which often leads to some of the worst backlash in the show. There’s Rebecca’s relationships with initially bemused next-door neighbour Heather (Lovell), which I think is a revelation for Rebecca as, prior to the show it’s implied that she didn’t really have any friends, just her work and her mother’s expectations. Then there’s Rebecca’s on-off frenemy relationship with Valencia, (Rodriguez) Josh’s ridiculously hot yoga instructor girlfriend which in turn gets puts under a microscope and helps to deconstruct the idea of women drawn to be rivals because of man. Valencia also has, come to think of it, a fantastic song on the way that women are often forced into weirdly competitive relationships to succeed in life:
But the show doesn’t shy away from showing unequal friendships either. Darryl, for one is often desperate to be included in Rebecca and Paula’s shenanigans, and lashes out at intern (is Maya an intern) Maya for being, somewhat heartbreakingly, too much like Darryl himself. For me this hit pretty close to home, having been on both sides of an unequal friendship, particularly with regards to the initial dynamic between Darryl and Maya. And it’s just another thing that the show does so well, as unequal friendships are so rarely a feature of comedy except as a punchline.
Funnily enough, when I started writing this I wasn’t sure what exactly about the show was feminist – obviously it’s a show driven by women, and a few of the songs are very clearly underlining feminist issues – The Sexy Getting Ready Song and Put Yourself First (For Him) both poke fun at the male gaze, while Women Gotta Stick Together, as mentioned earlier, focuses on female friendships. But actually, so many of the songs touch on some element of feminism, that it’s hard to pick a definitive list of the best ones.
(Sexy Getting Ready Song is pretty great though)
Rebecca’s character also pays a role in the feminist theory of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – she’s intelligent, driven and in a high paying job. She also knows her stuff and some of the most heart-warming scenes of season two are Rebecca explaining the glass ceiling and other issues to the somewhat clueless Valencia. But at the same time, Rebecca still thinks she needs a man to sweep her off her feet and make her happy.
There are other aspects as well, such as an abortion that is dealt with quietly and without fuss (spoiler warning for the link), and the character is supported by her family. By not making an issue of such a controversial decision, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend makes its own stance clear.
Obviously the show isn’t perfect – the cast does come across as fairly middle class on the whole, with a few exceptions. While there is sexual diversity, it’s so far been limited explicitly to white cis men. But it’s still miles better than pretty much any other show out there right now, especially comedies, for challenging mainstream issues. And it even delivers its challenges with a song.
You can watch Crazy Ex Girlfriend on Netflix UK with a new episode every Saturday.