Television Tuesdays: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I came to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend late. The first time I saw an episode I had heard some positive buzz from critics but it was my father that convinced me to watch an episode. He showed me 1×03, “I Hope Josh Comes to My Party!” It was… odd. One thing that immediately became apparent is that for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, context is very much necessary. If you don’t know the premise, the depth of character, the love and care that goes into the satire, then the show seems off-puttlingly bright and manic. But when I looked at CEG holistically, everything slotted together and I couldn’t help but respect, and like, what this small show is doing.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend just wrapped its sophomore season on the CW. Both seasons are available on Netflix.

Overview

When I gave Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a second chance I had just moved to California. I’m not saying that my relocation to the same area as main character Rebecca Bunch had that much of an effect on my perception of the show except, yeah, it probably did.

Rebecca Bunch was an up-and-coming lawyer in New York City, poised to make partner by the time she was 28. But when she ran into her high school crush / summer camp boyfriend Josh Chan wandering around the city, looking so happy and content about his decision to relocate back to the West Coast, she couldn’t help but think: maybe that’s what happiness is. Maybe the West Coast represented everything her life had lost – happiness, relaxation, sunlight. Sure, seeing Josh Chan sparked a reminder of her giddy teenage feelings for him, but he represented so much more. Seeing Josh again was hope.

Rebecca quits her lucrative job and moves across country on a whim. She arrives in California tense, and terrified, and so, so hopeful. The show cleverly uses dramatic irony as we, the audience, know that Rebecca is Not Okay. We watch her do some mental gymnastics to justify her move and lifestyle change. When you combine her forced optimism with her mentally performed musical numbers, things start to slot into place. This girl is barely holding it together. But you cheer for her regardless. That manic optimism is almost endearing, even as she makes some cringe-worthy decisions. You can forgive Rebecca lying to every new person that she meets, because you can’t help but be painfully aware that she’s also lying to herself.

The first season unpacks Rebecca’s decision to move to California and drastically change her life. She chases and idolizes Josh Chan, ingratiating herself into his circle of friends and attempting to befriend his girlfriend. She dates his best friend, even as she fixates on Josh. To Rebecca, the key to becoming as simplistically happy as Josh Chan is to be with Josh Chan. The second season delves further into Rebecca’s supposition that Josh is the key to her problems and also the strains that ‘true love’ can put on friendships.

Musical Numbers

Because the musical numbers of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend take place in the minds of the characters, they have the freedom to be ambitious and outlandish. Generally not more than two to an episode, the songs, like in all musicals, work to further the plot. They do double-duty, giving key insight to the characters while also providing scathing commentary or parody.

Some songs are better than others, which is only natural, but the ones that are good are amazing. “West Covina” gets stuck in my head regularly, and my roommate and I will sing it to one another. “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” flits through my head when I’m putting on make-up for a night out. And every time I think of the “Sexy French Depression” song I marvel at how well it nails perceived depression versus the reality. I’m constantly amazed by how thoughtful, creative, and stuffed with social commentary these songs manage to be.

Representation

The show has a fairly diverse cast and, at times it’s easy to let this fade into the background (which, in many cases, is how diversity should be implemented. Reflecting reality to the point that it’s odd when that reality of diversity isn’t represented) but the depth and richness of characters represented is worth talking about.

In season two we’re introduced to a new character at Rebecca’s law firm (played by Scott Michael Foster aka Cappie from Greek). In a meta song, “Who’s the New Guy?”, the characters ask, “Why should we root for someone male, straight, and white?”:

Rebecca, the heroine, is Jewish and the show explores her culture in different ways. Her love interest, Josh Chan, is Phillipino. It goes on and on. Daryl, Rebecca’s boss, has a wonderful storyline in which he comes out as bisexual (his song, “Gettin’ Bi,” is annoyingly catchy). In an interview, creator Rachel Bloom said that she cast Josh Chan purposefully as an Asian bro, instead of his race being the byproduct of blind casting. Why? Because she grew up in SoCal surrounded by fratty Asian bros. It was her reality growing up and, to her, it was strange to not see that represented on screen.

At every turn, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend dismantles the trope of the crazy ex-girlfriend and puts out some scathing social commentary. Rebecca can be annoying and hard to root for, but she’s interesting, smart, and fun to watch. It’s not a perfect show, but it’s a good one, all while being a musical and a very funny comedy.