TV Review: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is still so a big deal

Rachel Bloom, creator and star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, won her first Emmy last week at the 2019 awards for “Antipressants Are So Not a Big Deal”, a riff on La La Land that’s about – well, the title’s pretty clear.

Almost every media article is talking about the fact Rachel Bloom announced she was pregnant at the Emmy’s. I’m not going to. I’m going to talk about the show.

Note the La La Land esque costumes

For those who haven’t watched the show, a basic summary: New York lawyer Rebecca Bunch moves to West Covina (just a short three hours from the beach!) to chase Josh, a boy she briefly dated in summer camp when she was twelve. Shockingly, it’s not really about the boy. Rebecca just might have some other issues going on… 

I know people who were put off watching by the title. Let me tell you now that none of the stereotypes of the show, including the titular one, stay as stereotypes by the end.

To appreciate Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, you have to appreciate how crazy the ambition for this show was from the start. For me the first season, aired in 2015, was such a surprising delight, and still, four years later, is incredibly distinctive.

Why? There’s the obvious elements that make this show: the feminism, the hilarious musical numbers, the awesomeness of Paula and Greg. But let’s narrow in.

Rebecca Bunch: She has friends

In an early episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, our heroine Rebecca begins singing in a childlike voice alongside her younger self. “We have friends,” Rebecca and her school-age self insist together in the obstinately cheerful chorus. “We definitely have friends”. Increasingly distant acquaintances (“The janitor!” “The grocery clerk!” “A friend of a friend from law school?”) are shoved in front of the camera as evidence of these totally stable and numerous friendships.

Naturally, we start to worry. We start to see a legacy of loneliness in Rebecca, from high school to present day. We realise how pervasive the need to appear to have friends is. All in a happy little tune. It is one of the show’s simplest songs, without engaging pop or country melodies, but within it we can see the season as a whole.

Because the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend revolves around denial.

Rebecca Bunch: She’s a good person

Take the song “I’m a Good Person”. In it, Rebecca insists she’s a good person and inadvertently that reminds us of all the ways she’s not:

“I’m a good person, yes it’s true

I’m a good person, so much better than you

(and you)

(and you and you and you).”

“I’m a Good Person”, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

The song kicks up a notch as Rebecca threatens a woman in the bar, her voice descended to a gravelly pitch: “Say it / Say it or I’ll gut your husband with a knife.” And then back to the cheerful ditty of “I’m a good person.” Oh, Rebecca. Yes, she’s crazy, but she highlights so many of the lies we tell ourselves. Ethics are not a competition. The stories told in rom-coms and Disney movies aren’t real. Rebecca doesn’t, really, have many friends.

And for all the denial, there is no moment of denying that this is what the show is about. An anti-hero. A woman struggling. An at-times terrible person, who does cruel things to people she believes she loves. 

Rebecca Bunch: She’s crazy

In the fifth episode, a minor character Rebecca has wronged in her frantic quest to prove that she is a good person asks her: “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Off the top of my head,” Rebecca replies, “I’d say low self-esteem, a lack of maternal affection and a genetic predisposition for anxiety and depression.”

That’s the type of show this is. It’s hilarious, but so much of that humour comes from darkness. From all the ways Rebecca realises and doesn’t realise how she’s falling apart. 

The first season is the lightest of the four: all these issues remain in the denial phase. We have the vicious self-hate of “Stupid Bitch”, a contender for the best song of the show, but not the bleakness of the second and third season, when Rebecca spirals further and further downwards.

The first season is also my favourite. In the darkest parts of the show’s later seasons I no longer cared about Rebecca’s drama-of-the-week shenanigans, I just wanted her to get help. The show needed, and earned, that bleakness. But in the opening season Rebecca is at a delightful precipice where we can half-live in her fantasies, half the reality. We can deny to ourselves how serious her problems are, and laugh along. 

Then the show turns and laughs at us, because doesn’t that denial make us just like her? What makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend work is how it reminds us how similar we are to its anti-heroine. And that, my internet friends, is a big deal.

The three songs picked here were the best for my argument, but definitely not the best of the show. Looking for the top 10 songs from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Find my thoughts on it here.

And if you enjoyed this post, why not follow Steeped in Fiction?

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