Okay but, really. Why have more people not seen this show? Read this then immediately go and watch it. The first two seasons are on Netflix and if you don’t have Netflix 1) you’re a liar and 2) borrow your friend’s/flatmates/use your ex’s because we both know you still know the password.
The first thing I want to say about this show is give it a chance. Look past the chic-flick title and premise and just, like, give it a chance dude. I know that ‘Quirky but smart woman quits her high-paying law job to move across the country to be with her two-months-at-a-summer-camp-when-they-were-sixteen ex-boyfriend’ sounds like the sort of 2 and a half star film you’d put on when you’ve got no plans on a Friday night but it is so much more than that! Here’s just a FEW reasons why this show is fantastic because I could literally write an essay per episode on why it’s important and no one wants to see that.
It’s pretty woke.
From the title and content, you might think the opposite, but for a show in which almost the entire first season runs off of a love triangle between Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), her ex, Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) and Josh’s sarky bartender best friend Greg (Santino Fontana), it manages to remain feminist. Mainly down to Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s fantastic writing, Rebecca is obsessed with romantic love with men in many ways, but this is never shown to devalue her as a woman, or a person. Female friendships, especially between Rebecca and best friend/partner-in-crime Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), are just as important to the show as the romantic relationships. By the end of the second season, I’d argue that they are more so. All the women in this show are painted as complicated, compassionate and intelligent, but most of all, they feel real. It’s kind of concerning how much I related to a lot of these women in a lot of ways.
In addition to gender discussions, the show has several LGBT+ characters, including an openly bi character. And by openly I don’t mean the ‘likes both genders but doesn’t like labels’ kind of open that tends to get written in TV nowadays, but having a song called ‘Gettin’ Bi’ and playing sax in front of a giant bi flag open. It also shows Darryl (Pete Gardner) and White Josh (David Hull) to be in a secure, committed relationship to contrast with the outright terribleness of some of the straight ones in the show. It’s a genuinely refreshing thing to see, which is sad in the grand scheme of things, but a real success in the show.
Finally, it has a fantastically diverse cast. In the seven leads there are three POC characters, including the main love interest of Josh Chan, and countless more amongst the recurring cast. Alongside the aforementioned LGBT+ representation, Rebecca’s Jewish heritage and Josh’s Christian beliefs are explored deeply as factors of their characters, rather than just throwaway features. Family set-ups range from the American ideal to families going through divorce and infidelity to single mothers with absent fathers to broken ones undergoing repair. It shows women who desperately want to get married, who feel stuck in married life and who are just doing their own thing. Rebecca has a lot of sex but is never shamed or looked down upon because of it. Rebecca is a powerhouse career gal, Valencia feels lost but eventually finds her calling, Heather is an 8-year-long community college student and Paula chooses to follow her career dreams alongside being a mother. The same goes for the men in the show. Greg got into Emory business school but was forced to stay in West Covina for his sick father, Josh tried to make it in New York but couldn’t hack it and returned to his family and girlfriend of 15 years that he can’t quite commit to, Darryl fights for sole custody of his daughter and Hector still lives with his mom. All of the characters in this show are written in such a way that you understand exactly why they do everything they do and why they are the way they are. Each character is afforded this complexity and the result is something so engaging and fresh that you can’t help but care for each and every one of them.
This sounds like a low bar for a comedy show but you’d be surprised. Since I first saw Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I’ve become super critical of American comedy shows for being funny through being offensive or cheap in their humour. My example would be The Big Bang Theory which, despite being super successful, I find hard to see past the fact that it’s basically just based around making fun of an autistic man. Shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Community broke that trend for me and since then I’ve been super wary of comedy shows on TV. There’s also probably the problem of me being a British person with a very British sense of humour but whatever. Even that part of me gets satisfied by Greg’s Office-style reactions (it was English first, dammit). The reason I think Crazy Ex-Girlfriend nails humour is because oftentimes the joke is not at the expense of the flawed person, but rather made by the flawed person to the ignorant one. It ridicules not being broken but not being compassionate. The funny moments also function as a kind of in-joke between the viewer and the characters, specifically I think for Rebecca and Greg. This is often achieved in the musical numbers. In ‘I Could If I Wanted To’, we laugh at Greg because he is trying to kid himself that he could get grades if he cared, but he doesn’t care so it’s, you know, whatever.
In ‘You Stupid Bitch’, Rebecca is inviting criticism of herself in such a melodramatic way it’s hard not to find funny. However, these songs do a really clever thing. Due to the fantastic writing and acting, we connect so wholly with these characters that when we see into their heads during these songs, it’s hard not to relate in some way. Greg and Rebecca are super sympathetic characters, so when they sing these songs, we laugh at them so we can recognise the flaws in ourselves to laugh at. A combination of sad and funny on the surface, the humour this show brings also functions as a kind of catharsis for the viewer.
This show really doesn’t shy away from stuff. It’s pretty ballsy for a prime-time cable show, dealing with all the things I mentioned before. The best and most brilliant way it does that is through Rebecca. She is the main character, we’re with her most of the time, we see the world through her musical lens. But she’s crazy. That’s just the thing. At the start of the pilot we see her heavily medicated, something we don’t see fully why until the end of the second season. We know she has a whole range of issues which she sometimes admits to, sometimes doesn’t.
She isn’t consistent. She isn’t reliable. She makes HORRIBLE choices over and over. She lies and she cheats and she wallows and self-medicates. She is morally corrupt a lot of the time. But we never hate her. We never dislike her because the shows sets her up in such a way that we get it, we get exactly why she does everything she does and we even feel for her because of it. The same goes for all of the characters. When it comes to mental health, it is on the nose. Rebecca needs therapy, which she goes to but doesn’t pay attention to a lot of the time. She has breakdowns, anxiety attacks and dissociative episodes. We see why Greg ends up where he does at the start of the second season as it has been fed in throughout the first. Even Josh Chan, smiley, sunny Josh Chan, doesn’t want to be alone with his thoughts and has his own form of self-medication in running into the arms of the closest pretty girl.
All of the characters in this show are so, SO flawed and that’s why they’re fantastic. Honestly, every single character is so well constructed and explored in three dimensions. I’m gonna stop this section here because I’ve gotten ranty but it just makes me laugh how easily they do it. Other shows, most shows, have their 2-D characters that have no other function than to further the plot, or fill a diversity quota, or be a villain for villain’s sake. But that’s lazy! And Crazy Ex-Girlfriend shows how easy it is to just… like… write well. It also shows that you don’t have to shy away from the ugly things to create a character you can root for. In all honesty, I think it makes you root for them more if you see why they suck as people sometimes. It also calls itself, its characters and the viewer out on an underlying prejudices and makes it super clear that some of that shit is not okay.
It’s a musical.
The first 2 seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are available on Netflix. Season 3 airs in October 2017.