Just because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of the better shows, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be criticised.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has won legions of fans for its incredible portrayals of mental health. It’s a show that has earned that respect, in the main. Few shows depict the ‘ugly side’ of mental health conditions, or go beyond portraying anxiety and depression.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend though has been committed in its approach for raising awareness of different mental health conditions. It’s shown Rebecca’s struggle with suicidal ideation, how she was misdiagnosed (which is something many people with mental health conditions experience) and her struggle to accept that she has borderline personality disorder – a condition that rarely gets any kind of mainstream attention.
The show is breaking down barriers and bringing awareness to a condition regularly stigmatised, and flat-out ignored in the media. Rebecca’s struggles aren’t dressed up either. Her symptoms are fully explored – but the content around that is starting to jar.
For one thing, during an absolutely fantastic episode that explored Rebecca’s suicial ideation there was no content note or trigger warning given – despite the fact that much of the audience tunes in specifically because of its mental health portrayals, and so may have mental health conditions themselves.
Additionally, that episode also showed Rebecca looking at various ways to end her life. In the UK, discussions around suicide are supposed to be incredibly careful about what is shown as people can be prone to copying. The law in the US is less stringent, but given the show’s content it would have been wise for the creators to have approached this specific scene with more care. They should not have shown the methods Rebecca was flicking through.
The show, however, also continues to be problematic with anything that isn’t specifically Rebecca’s story. We almost never get to see the impact of Rebecca’s decisions on other people. Rebecca regularly crosses boundaries and harms her friends, and while some of her behaviour should absolutely be shown as caused by her condition, there should also be an exploration of the impact of these actions, and how friends can work through such situations.
“The show, however, also continues to be problematic with anything that isn’t specifically Rebecca’s story.”
Yet, the story focuses only on Rebecca’s needs. For instance, Heather is just shown to accept that Rebecca committed a gross violation by using her sex toy without any form of consent (Rebecca didn’t even clean it). Rebecca has also been routinely harmful to Paula, but largely Paula has accepted it or brushed aside recurring issues – instead of the audience being shown how they can be addressed in a productive way for both people. This means that the same patterns of emotionally abusive behaviour continue, and that we rarely ever see positive changes in Rebecca’s relationships. Unless, of course, they are romantic.
The show heavily relies upon romance. It’s the one area that it tries to focus positively on. While, Rebecca is absolutely destructive. What we see is Rebecca trying to empower herself and ultimately, her success with moving on from Greg, Josh and taking control of things with Nathaniel. If only platonic relationships were valued and respected half as much.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend should focus on Rebecca, and humanise her. She’s certainly not evil for her conditions (and that stereotype needs breaking down). But it feels ham-fisted, and as though nothing is ever really shown. There is representation that has never been done before, but to what end? Is it simply for views, or is it really to tackle stigma and show how relationships can be workable? It presents the reality of mental health for Rebecca, but does it truly address what it means to manage it?
A lot of other topics are treated as frivolous too. Greg’s alcoholism was barely explored before he left so it looked like a cheap plot just to throw in a song that made jokes about Irish people. While that may have been meant to poke fun at a ridiculous stereotype, because the storyline itself wasn’t treated with any real commitment, it just looked like it was there for the sake of it.
There are also regular whorephobic jokes throughout the show. Additionally, while it may be amazing for the number of bi characters – it recently made several punchlines out of bi identities. The first was Rebecca making light of the Kinsey scale, which risked implying anyone could be bi. The second was much more insidious. White Josh criticised hens for being in queer spaces risked verging on biphobia. Bi and pan people are regularly policed for their relationships and are deemed not queer enough. White Josh was also a complete fool – the queer community fought for marriage rights. Sorry dude, but lesbians, bi, pan and trans women can be hens. Stop using misogyny and your own desire to turn queer spaces solely into pulling spaces as an excuse for thinly veiled queerphobia towards identities you don’t have.
Maybe a musical format isn’t the best realm for giving the complexity needed for certain topics. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend deserves applause. But it doesn’t deserve an absence of criticism. The show can still do better by a lot of people – and that includes Rebecca.
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