Why Women (Yes, Even Feminists!) Should Be Watching “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
Ladies, we all despise being judged on our bodies instead of our brains. Think about how much that pisses you off and then give the TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” a shot. Yes, the title is off-putting (and, shockingly, was not coined by a bunch of tone-deaf men in suits who had to be talked out of calling it “Psycho Bitch”). And sure, the posters with star/cocreator/writer/comic genius Rachel Bloom swathed in pink with pink lipstick and a pink balloon are gag-worthy. But once you get past its potentially alienating exterior, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has a strong, complicated and engagingly fucked-up woman at its core, whose neuroses and fantasies play out in brilliant, “Flight of the Conchords”-quality parody songs.
I actually have my husband to thank for turning me on to the show, though I still have no idea why my NBA/WWE/”Walking Dead”-loving/musical-hating spouse decided to pick it from the On Demand menu. It’s not like I was clamoring for it. But the minute I heard the Broadway-style theme song (below), which pokes fun at its awful name (“She’s the crazy ex-girlfriend!” “That’s a sexist term. The situation’s a lot more nuanced than that!”), I stopped playing Solitaire on my smartphone (because that’s how you watch TV together 10 years into marriage) and actually paid attention. As Rebecca Bunch, an awkward Jewish twentysomething who’s intellectually smart but stupid at life, Bloom is a hilarious mess. And while she’s no feminist poster child, she’s not the pathetic stalker the title implies either.
In the pilot, after running into her long-lost teenage summer camp fling Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), the Harvard Law School grad impulsively turns down a high-level promotion at her firm and relocates to his hometown of West Covina, a SoCal suburban sprawl that’s “two hours from the beach … well, four in traffic.” This is the kind of place people flee, not move to, and yet for Rebecca it’s an escape. When we see her all powerful and superficially successful in NYC, she’s also depressed and disconnected. Encountering Josh sparks an epiphany: that was the last time she was truly happy. So she follows her dream — she may think she’s chasing Josh (even though she vehemently denies it), but really, she’s trying to battle the blues and build a satisfying life, even if it means rebelling against her overbearing Jewish mother (a mostly unseen Tovah Feldshuh, whose strident phone messages should come with a trigger warning).
Once she arrives in West Covina with a production number worthy of the Arthur Freed Unit at MGM (Google it!), her messy adventure of self-discovery begins. While the action is inspired by Josh, he doesn’t define her. She’s not just a loser in unrequited love. She’s a chick who’s capable of cutting big real estate and divorce deals, but ludicrously thinks the way to her crush’s heart is through his hot yoga-instructor girlfriend and, when that turns into an epic fail, his parents (do yourself a favor and listen to the NSFW version of this song below — it’s funnier).
Bloom built her reputation on penning and performing satirical songs — it’s what landed her the TV deal. So it’s no surprise that the musical numbers are always a highlight, especially since the cast includes Broadway vets like Donna Lynne Champlin (as her unhappily married coworker/BFF, who lives vicariously through her) and Santino Fontana (Josh’s bud who, against his better judgment, has a thing for Rachel).
But what makes “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” special is that it’s a rom-com experienced through an authentically female point of view, not a man’s idea of what an obsessed woman looks like. Yes, Rebecca is a deeply flawed herione whose terrible decisions make you want to bash her should-be-smarter brain into a wall. Yet she knows she’s making unhealthy choices but feels powerless to change. That may be politically dicey, but her pain is palpable and relatable and real. She’s not a clichéd clueless cutie who dates the bad boy and then turns around and realizes that the friend-zone bestie is the one she should have been shtupping all along. Actually, the show subverts that trope by making Josh a good guy. He even admits to being attracted to her (and not just her boobs! He likes her brains, too), but he remains faithful to his girlfriend because, well, he’s a good guy. Meanwhile Rebecca has “a Sam and Diane thing going on, except it’s unpleasant and unsexy” with Josh’s bud Greg (dreamy dork Fontana), who’s also a nice guy with a habit of being stepped on. In fact, most of the people Rebecca meets in West Covina (which is impressively multicultural) are smiley, happy and nice — all things she’s often not, but aspires to be. She’s evolving, and her presence is shaking things up and making the characters around her grow too. As she sings in the opening, “the situation is a lot more nuanced” than you might think.
What isn’t nuanced is the show’s dire situation: its ratings are downright abysmal. Even though the CW recently ordered five more episodes, unless its numbers rise it’s sure to be killed. And that would be a shanda, as Rebecca’s Jewish mama might say. If my deep, obsessive love for this series hasn’t convinced you to try it, I implore you to find three minutes to watch “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” (below). If every single smart woman (self-declared feminist or not) who’s ever worn a push-up bra/douched/shaved her ass before going on an ill-advised date watched this show, we could make it the long-running hit it deserves to be, not a canceled cult favorite.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on The CW.