Couch Potato

The Surprising Complexity of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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Not every piece of media is made for every person. That’s a pretty basic idea, but something that really seems to blow people’s minds when they get so up in arms about people not liking the things that they like. But it’s completely true, and something people just need to learn to accept. And when I first heard about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I assumed it was going to just be something not made for me. Clearly I didn’t learn what the show actually was, but when it first started airing I just seemed to gather enough information about it to gain a wrong impression. It’s first strike was that it was on the CW, which besides making some ridiculous superhero shows that I love to hate is typically a huge red flag for me. And really everything else I gathered about the show was that it seemed kind of mean-spirited. I thought that it was a show making fun of some woman who was stalking a man she once dated, and that it was going to be a cringe-worthy and sexist show that boiled down to “bitches be crazy.” But holy crap was I wrong. I started hearing about the show again when the second season began, and just about everyone whose opinion I trust online began beseeching people to check out the show, that they insisted was genius. So I figured I’d give it a shot and check out the first season, and it blew me away.

The show follows Rebecca Bunch, a successful but overworked lawyer in New York city who is about to have a nervous breakdown. Which is just when she runs into a guy named Josh Chan that she had a fling with at a summer camp when they were teenagers. And just like that, Rebecca decides that she should quit her stressful and unfulfilling life and follow Josh to the little California town of West Covina. Despite the fact that that is a completely insane thing to do. So Rebecca heads to California and starts a new life, working at a low-rent law firm with her eccentric boss Darryl and her pushy and loyal friend Paula. And once she has work figured out she begins doing everything she can to win the affections of Josh, which she thinks will fix her life. And this is easier said than done as she finds Josh is already in a committed relationship with an awful woman named Valencia. She also complicates things when she meets Josh’s sullen bartender friend Greg, who starts to develop and infatuation for Rebecca.

From there the series follows Rebecca’s obsession as she plots and schemes her way around West Covina, doing everything she can to convince Josh that he should leave his girlfriend and be with her. It follows several different sitcom tropes, with plots that don’t seem very ground-breaking, such as love-triangles and plenty of miscommunication. But sprinkled into the sitcom tropes is one of the most interesting aspects of the show. It’s a straight-up musical. Several times in every episode the plot take a break so that characters can break out into song and dance. And the songs are hilarious. They’re well-written, genuinely funny, and cover a multitude of different genres, all depending on what works best for the story that week. I’m not really sure why musicals have fallen out of favor in modern film-making, but this series really shows that there’s a lot of power and fun left in that genre.

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If the show was just a silly musical, I think I would still like it quite a bit. But I slowly came to realize that there was a lot more going on in this show that you would imagine based on the premise. Because, yes, the idea that Rebecca is insane and stalking some guy that she barely knew has a lot of room for comedy, and probably would have been pretty offensive in lesser hands. But the show ended up having a lot more to say than just being a silly comedy. The show ended up becoming a really thoughtful examination of the problems that go into being a young adult in this country. Every one of these characters are grappling with actually being adults and living on their own. They have stresses, anxiety, depression, and are just generally worried about the world and how they’re going to fit into it. Rebecca isn’t just “crazy” she’s having a legitimate mental-breakdown. She’s fixated her entire life on being perfect, and going down a certain path to be successful, while sacrificing happiness. She’d become over-medicated and obsessed with trying to find a source of happiness. And just when she thinks that her life can’t get any lower, she finds an out. True, it may not be the ‘responsible’ thing to do, but Rebecca leaves her unfulfilling and depressing life behind and starts trying to follow her bliss. She moves to a new city, make new friends, falls in love, gets heart-broken, and just generally starts living her life. She has ups and she has downs, but sometimes that’s better than the nothing that she was having in New York. She was going through the motions, just trying to get through life, but now she’s living life.

And it’s not just Rebecca. All of the characters end up dealing with some serious stuff during the course of the first season of the show. Greg has to learn about his self-worth and that he shouldn’t settle for being someone’s second choice. Josh learns to think for himself and get out from under his over-bearing girlfriend while also learning what actually makes him happy in life. Paula comes to terms with a failing marriage and realizes that it’s half her fault for not nurturing love. And just about everyone realizes that love is a whole lot harder than it’s portrayed in movies. The show continues to look at the idea of soul-mates and love at first sight, but time and time again it’s proven and to be an unreliable and ridiculous metric to base your life on. I wasn’t really expecting much from this show when I first checked it out, but I ended up walking away with a wonderful experience and a shockingly mature series that really examines happiness and the idea that you shouldn’t settle in life, which is something we could all stand to learn.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, 2015.

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