By its title alone, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Mondays at 8 p.m. on the CW and on Hulu), one of the new TV shows this season, sounds like standard misogynist crap: Crazy women stalking well-adjusted bros, ugh. So why are we so happy it just got renewed for a second season?
Simple — it’s actually a feminist deconstruction of romantic comedies written by women. Namely, Rachel Bloom (of “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury” and a writer on Robot Chicken) and Aline Brosh McKenna (screenwriter of The Devil Wears Prada and 27 Dresses).
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend follows Rebecca Bunch (Bloom), a successful, Harvard-educated lawyer who, by chance, meets Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), whom she dated as a teenager in summer camp. Though she hasn’t seen him in at least a decade, her crush still burns bright for him, and when Josh mentions that he’s leaving New York that day to move back home to West Covina, California (an LA Suburb), she decides then and there that she’s going to follow him across the country, and win him back.
Sounds like a cliché rom-com setup, right? It’s a bit darker than that: She sees Josh in the first place because she’s run away from the office after having a panic attack over making partner at her law firm. She tries to take some medication to help calm her down, but spills the pills all over the street. Her conversation with Josh lasts only two minutes and is full of awkward pauses and banal small talk — and this is what makes her immediately turn down the promotion (refusing over a half-million dollars a year) and move… and the next shot after the title card is Rebecca throwing the rest of her meds down the garbage disposal — illustrating how unreasonable and unhealthy these rom com clichés are. If someone really acted like a character in a romantic comedy, you wouldn’t cheer them on, you’d want them to get help.
That’s the first glimpse that the show might not be as straightforward as it seems. By the end of the first episode, though, you know something’s up. We start getting hints that Josh is kind of a douchebag; he’s an ex-fratboy who never grew up. Rebecca herself isn’t “fun, TV crazy”, but has psychotic delusions. And when Paula, her best friend at her new office (a small West Covina law firm), discovers Rebecca moved for “love” (really limerence, an obsessive version of the infatuation we feel at the beginning of a relationship), that she must do everything in her power to help Rebecca and Josh be together. In other words, Paula thinks she’s the best friend in a Nora Ephron movie, but in reality, she’s Rebecca’s enabler, helping cultivate Rebecca’s unhealthy obsession with a man she hardly knows.
Even Greg, who at first appears to be the one decent person in the show, isn’t what he seems. In a normal romantic comedy, he’d be the one Rebecca’s destined to be with and live happily ever after with. But in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Greg’s kind of a dick. Even though he’s got a crush on Rebecca (which already sets off red flags), he doesn’t treat her kindly, and keeps trying to manipulate her. When he sees Rebecca in her night clothes at a 24-hour grocery, he tells her to buy a bra — in other words “be more hot”. When a night out with Josh, Valencia (Josh’s fiancee — even though Josh lists himself as single on his Facebook!) and Greg turns out badly, as soon as Rebecca and Greg are alone, instead of providing comfort for what’s clearly a stressful night, Greg starts in on why it’s Rebecca’s fault (even though this time, she’s only partially at fault)… and then asks her out. The subtext is clear: You were punished for liking Josh, and if you liked me instead, you wouldn’t be in this mess, but I forgive you, so let’s get pancakes.
But ultimately, the most important thing about the show is whether it’s funny; it doesn’t matter if it’s a much-needed comment on an often toxic genre if it doesn’t make you laugh. Thankfully, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend reaches Broad City levels of hilarity. Rachel Bloom is hugely talented. In the second episode, there’s a scene where Rebecca has a night in. She watches a WWII documentary, and when the documentary’s narrator says “It was then the Führer decided upon… The Final Solution”, Rebecca looks at the TV in disappointed disbelief as she says “…what are you doin‘?”
And, of course, since it’s a Rachel Bloom project, each episode has at least two songs in it — it’d be a shame if they didn’t take advantage of her amazing singing voice and knack for musical comedy. The song “Feeling Kinda Naughty”, from the second episode, is both catchy as hell and darkly hilarious:
Likewise, the first episode’s “Sexy Getting Ready Song” features a cameo by Nipsey Hussle fighting the patriarchy:
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is, unfortunately, the lowest-rated of all this Fall’s new series. Hopefully, though, the CW will allow it to grow and find its audience. The show was originally developed for Showtime — and while it’s as brilliantly creative and well-written as any premium-cable television series, with luck the darkness and acidity of the comedy won’t turn network TV audiences off the show.
It’s been getting outstanding reviews, though, and if the CW sticks with the show, it could be a sleeper hit… or at least a prestige show the CW will keep around for critical credibility. Either way, to borrow a phrase from another low-rated critical darling, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend deserves six seasons and a movie.
(Originally published October 25, 2015)