We are immersed Peak TV, we all know it. There’s so many shows to watch. Westworld? Haven’t touched it. Atlanta? Not yet, dying to see it. Walking Dead? I’m 2 seasons behind and refuse to say I don’t watch it. Mr. Robot and Better Call Saul? Piled up on my PVR.
I get it. It would be ridiculous of me to say you have to watch a TV show. But I’m doing it anyway: you have to watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
To give you an idea of how much I love this show, let me start by saying I don’t like musicals. People randomly breaking into song makes me want to hide. When I started the show, I thought that would ruin it for me. I was wrong. The music is DELIGHTFUL. I find myself thinking about the songs for days, laughing to myself, googling “I Give Good Parent.” The lyrics are inspired and sometimes riotous. But they are also the clearest, most distinct keys to the characters. When Rebecca’s mom busts into a harping rendition of “Where’s the Bathroom?” you know exactly who this woman is. She is the mom who walks into your new apartment armed with insults and a full bladder.
And while I don’t want to understate how crucial music is to this show, there is so much more. If you are like me and don’t like musicals, don’t let that scare you away. If you do like musicals, you are probably calling me an idiot and that’s OK, too.
The plot is simple: unhappy with her life in New York, Rebecca Bunch randomly bumps into her her teenage flame, Josh Chan, and covertly follows him back to his hometown of West Covina, a generic California town. Once there, she gets a job at a small law firm and works to infiltrate his life with the help of her new friend, Paula.
Rebecca, played by Rachel Bloom, is what people would describe as crazy in the way that contradictory women are often reduced to that word. She’s hyper, sometimes dishonest, delusional, raw, whip-smart, self-loathing, optimistic, self-sabotaging, and infuriating. She’s a feminist and works terms like gender-normative into her everyday conversations while actively trying to break-up a long-term relationship.
Rebecca is the friend who impulsively becomes a vegan at lunch or starts a new diet every Monday. She’s also intensely sympathetic and likable, even when she’s breaking into Josh’s apartment to erase a text she accidentally sent him. (Because isn’t that the modern-day nightmare?) She is all of our crazy relationship behaviours laid bare in the light of day.
Rebecca is also a ball of conditioned wants, someone who has bought into the idea of fairytales. She is acting out in a way that would be celebrated in a rom-com movie montage but is kind of scary in real life. All those planned run-ins with Josh? It’s technically not lying. It’s romantic serendipity on steroids.
After landing in town she’s taken under the wing of Paula, who I sometimes hope is the Tyler Durden of this story -- a figment of Rebecca’s overactive imagination. She incessantly meddles in Rebecca’s life and is extremely invested in Rebecca’s happiness (or the things she thinks will make her happy).
But why does Paula believe in her new friend’s fantasy world? She is lonely, bored and unstimulated in her marriage and her home life. She controls Rebecca’s life to make up for a lack of interest in her own. It’s rare to find a TV parent, particularly a mom, who is so utterly disinterested in her children. Paula is angry and pessimistic and in Rebecca she finds hope. That hope hinges on manipulating Josh and pushing his long-term girlfriend Valencia over a (figurative) cliff, but none of that is keeping Paula up at night. (Also, she might be Rebecca’s very own “crazy ex-girlfriend.”)
And Valencia – what’s a love story without an obstacle to overcome? She’s the mean and super hot girlfriend (because the barrier to true love is always hot and mean). I thought we weren’t supposed to care about her. For a long time, I didn’t. But watching her try to drag Josh into adulthood made her into a real person. In Rebecca and Valencia, you see two women in their late 20s who are shining in their careers and straining to find someone to share their life with. They are both working toward that magical “all” in having it all, and both think they’ve found it in Josh.
Oh Joshy. Rachel Bloom wrote a fictional casting call for Josh and called him “Tom Cruise.” He is handsome and nice, the quintessential “good guy.” Josh is a vessel – a goofy, well-intentioned vessel – who Rebecca pours all her hopes and dreams and needs into. He is kind and supportive but he’s also indecisive and simple. Do you hear the way Rebecca strains to laugh at his jokes? Is that someone who can keep her interest for… forever?
And what about Greg? He’s pretty funny, in a sarcastic asshole way. Here’s the thing with Greg: he is his own worst enemy in the way that we are supposed to think Rebecca is (but she’s not). He is impotent in his life, both by choice and by design. He dislikes West Covina but has never left. He dicked deadpan Heather (who I love) around while he immaturely pined for Rebecca. He wants to change so badly and is in awe, but a little resentful and suspicious, of the way Rebecca will burn sh-t to the ground to get what she wants.
“I Could If I Wanted To” (a song in episode 16) sums it up. He could… if he wanted to. So is Rebecca supposed to wait around for him to “want to?” The worst thing about Greg is that he’s shown that when he’s feeling doubtful and insecure, he will turn that out towards Rebecca. Does she want to spend her life being the brunt of Greg’s frustration? Even if Greg got over his latent rage, it’s hard to see how their neurosis could blend into a healthy relationship.
You know how else I know these guys don’t measure up? They are kind of lazy. This is something that isn’t often explored on TV shows, but Josh and Greg are seriously lacking in ambition. Greg half-asses business school and his bartending job because he thinks most things are beneath him; Josh needs Rebecca’s help to fill out an application for Aloha Tech Center. This actually rings true: a 28-year-old woman with a flourishing career and nice apartment is normal. A 28-year-old guy with a couch is considered a catch.
That Rebecca and Valencia have expectations of the men in their lives isn’t crazy. (Rebecca booking a ticket to Hawaii to surprise Josh on his boys’ trip: a little crazy.) The craziness comes from the Disney idea of transformative love – Valencia can’t convince Josh to propose, and Rebecca can’t force Josh to acknowledge his feelings. But does trying make them crazy? Or is Josh crazy for being with someone for 15 years and needing “time.” Is Greg crazy for taking his date to a wedding, only to get so drunk he has to be carried out?
I know I’m making this sound like the worst love story ever, but that’s because it’s not a love story in the traditional way. Rebecca is the one we are supposed to be rooting for. Not Rebecca + Josh or Greg. And Valencia is not the enemy. That point is not implied, it is outright stated in one of the later episodes -- Rebecca is the heroine and the villain of her own story. (Valencia is either Kate Hudson or a princess).
Rebecca jumping between Greg and Josh isn’t any crazier than Josh jumping between Valencia and Rebecca. Or Greg jumping between Heather and Rebecca. Confused yet? So are they. But where the men are considered sensitive (Josh) or tortured (Greg), she’s considered nuts. She’s just really enthusiastic!
Are you with me yet? Can we make room for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? It’s funny as hell. And unlike some shows (ahem, UnREAL), I don’t think it will have a sophomore slump. Rebecca’s too much of an overachiever for that. She’s not Audra Levine.
Who’s Audra? Oh please.
Season two starts October 21 on CW, October 22 in Canada on Global online.
Attached - Rachel Bloom at an event in LA earlier this week.