By Meghan Shaffer, Culture Editor
On paper, CW musical comedy “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” doesn’t seem all that exciting, or even all that funny. The show follows twenty-something, stressed-out lawyer Rebecca Bunch, played by an outstanding Rachel Bloom. After getting a prestigious promotion at her fancy New York law firm, Rebecca finds herself staving off a mental breakdown on a street corner. Something needs to change in her life, and she just needs to figure out what that change will be. Enter Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), her summer camp boyfriend who unceremoniously broke up with her at the end of their summer fling. Rebecca, thinking this is the change she needs, immediately propositions him to meet for dinner, but to her dismay finds out that he is moving back home to West Covina, California, after giving New York a try for a few months. Rebecca and Josh say goodbye, and as he walks away from her she realizes that for the first time in a long time she feels “warm inside, like glitter is exploding.” So she marches back up to her office, turns down the promotion, and decides to pack up and move to California—West Covina, California, to be exact. The show then follows Rebecca as she settles into life in West Covina and tries to convince everyone around her, including herself, that she did not move there for Josh Chan, because that would be crazy.
One of the best parts of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is the musical numbers which play throughout the episode. Usually a chance for characters to express their inner thoughts and truths, they take a typically uncomfortable narrative and remind us that this is indeed a comedy. Each song is usually a parody of some well-known theatre or film moment, but instead of sugarcoating reality as musicals tend to do, they comment on the harsh dirty truths which people are usually uncomfortable talking about. Some examples include “The Sexy Getting Ready Song,” where Rebecca shows all the effort and pain women go through to get ready for a night out, “Settle For Me,” a tap dance number where Greg (Santino Fontana), Josh’s best friend, tries to convince Rebecca that they should date, and in the most recent season, “Let’s Generalize About Men,” an 80s pop number where the women of the show complain that all men are terrible.
Part of what makes “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” so successful is its truly outstanding cast. The characters are diverse and just a little too ridiculous, meaning you fully believe it when they turn typical tropes upside down. Some standouts are Donna Lynne Champlin as Paula, Rebecca’s coworker turned best friend, Gabriella Ruiz as Valencia, Josh’s stunning yet insecure high school sweetheart, and Vella Marie as Heather, Rebecca’s snarky neighbor who constantly reminds Rebecca when she’s being insane. But Bloom is the true star of the show, as she should be. She portrays Rebecca with a fearlessness that is truly breathtaking to watch, especially once it becomes clear that Rebecca’s struggle with mental illness is much deeper than we originally realize. There are very few episodes that pass where Rebecca doesn’t make some colossal mistake, which is something we don’t often see in television. Main characters tend to be portrayed as these perfect people surrounded by others who are making mistakes they have to fix. Though ideal, this makes them difficult to relate to, and Rebecca Bunch is nothing if not relatable. As her character develops, we see that everything she does is seated in a deep terror that the people she cares about will leave her if they find out the truth, that she really is a “crazy ex-girlfriend.” The most moving parts of the show are when Rebecca lets down her guard and admits that she is scared of being alone, and that she is willing to go incredibly far to make sure that doesn’t happen. Does that make her crazy, or just afraid? And should we hold her accountable for that fear?
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” airs on Fridays on the CW, and seasons 1 and 2 are now streaming on Netflix.