By Sol Noya
In these strange times, I’m tempted to reach back for familiar things to help me navigate a situation that changes day by day–something comforting and ideally cheering. I get out my mixing bowls and bake my go-to cookies, I pick up books that I haven’t read in a while, and of course, I put my favourite shows at the front of my Netflix queue. As I have done countless times in the past year, I reach for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as the cure-all for any mood.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend might seem like a hard sell at first. The title suggests a tired trope, and TV musicals as an experiment had delivered decidedly mixed results. However, once a friend showed me a clip of The Sexy Getting Ready Song (stay with me), I was taken in. Humorous, feminist, and a musical with a bright colour palette and catchy songs? Sign me up.
The premise: Rebecca Bunch (played perfectly by Rebecca Bloom) is a Harvard/Yale graduate, a lawyer from New York who seems to have it all together– except she’s incredibly unhappy. A chance encounter with Josh, her ex-boyfriend from summer camp leads her to burst into song, drop everything and move to West Covina, California; not that she’ll admit to herself that she’s going because Josh lives there. Crazy ex-girlfriend indeed– though when the theme song accuses her of it, she fires back “That’s a sexist term! The situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.” Thankfully, she’s right. Rebecca is obsessed with Josh, but it’s a symptom of her search for the fix for all her problems rather than straight-up boy-craziness, and the show uses the move as a catalyst to thoroughly explore Rebecca’s mental health throughout the four seasons.
A risky premise, but it works, largely thanks to its well-developed characters. Bloom’s Rebecca is both intelligent and hyper-impulsive, damaged, and selfish but sweet, neither the ingenue nor the villain– in the words of the season 4 theme song, she’s “too hard to summarise” in one trope. The rest of the ensemble is similarly fleshed out– Josh is cheery and laid-back, but surprisingly soulful; Greg, Rebecca’s other love interest, is both charming and bitter; and Paula, Rebecca’s best friend, is both caring and blindly determined. The characters are all flawed, and they know it– but God are they loveable. Regardless of how much some of their actions may make me want to put my head through a wall every time I re-watch, I’m rooting for them to put in the work and pull through. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say this: each character’s arc by the time the show reaches its finale after four seasons is satisfying, making you feel genuinely proud of how far they have come.
Another big draw of the show for me is its unapologetic determination to go beyond stereotypes about women. Many shows, especially those in the rom-com genre, tend to swing wildly one way or the other when it comes to their flawed women: the scripts either never make them face consequences or they depict them as full-on villains. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend refuses to fall into that trap. Rebecca does some dreadful things–but she’s made to face them, without having to do so alone. The group of friends she builds is diverse and almost as three-dimensional as she is, and it’s lovely to watch women with conflicting love interests move beyond fighting to understanding and, finally, friendship. It’s also very refreshing that the show builds an ensemble of women without pretending that they all have the same willowy body– how many shows wholeheartedly embrace that the default woman is not a size four?
You can’t talk about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend without talking about the songs. Musical-theatre sceptics might be thrown off by the premise, but they shouldn’t be. The musical numbers parody a wide range of genres, from Sir Mix-A-Lot to Sondheim. Some of the songs are catchier than others, but they all showcase Rebecca’s (and the other character’s) wit and passion at their best. Why question why the characters are singing when they make you want to sing along so badly, and when we could all currently use a bit more reason to sing?
Image: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash