The crazy ex-girlfriend trope has survived for so long in romantic comedy media. The CW musical show with the same title is not about perpetuating this belittling label, it’s about deconstructing it.
This deconstruction involves taking a hard look at how people desperately try to fit into a narrow role that society expects of them in order to achieve that picture perfect love story. The need to fulfill the romantic narrative can be so strong that people completely ignore glaring red flags.
Rebecca, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s main character played by the show’s co-creator and writer Rachel Bloom, experiences an existential crisis after being promoted to partner at her prestigious law firm. She runs out into New York’s bustling streets repeating in mantra form: “This is what happy feels like,” when she comes across her ex-boyfriend Josh (from seventh grade summer camp). Within this exchange, his repetition of the word happy proves to her that in order to be happy, she must follow Josh to West Covina to win him over.
The show sometimes teeters on being condescending, teasing West Covina’s unglamorous, strip-mall character. But the community Rebecca forms at her workplace and among Josh’s friends is heart warming, caring and enticingly quirky.
I couldn’t think of another TV show or movie in which a hot-shot lawyer moves across the country for a laid-back “bro.” It’s silly but also refreshing to see these two worlds collide. Rebecca, who has made all decisions in her life trying to satisfy the ambitious demands of her unsatisfiable mother, needs to learn to relax. Josh does help her find calm and Boba tea takes the place of coffee.
Josh is also the replacement for Rebecca’s mom; she wants to win his approval so badly, she’s willing to throw her whole life away for him. Why are people driven “crazy” over love? Some time in their development, through pop music or parents, they’ve learned loving, and winning someone over is the ultimate panacea.
People who cannot stand the exaggerated campiness of musicals might find it hard to sit through the three, on average, musical numbers per episode. But serious topics, when paired with a certain genre of music, bring the perfect amount of levity. For example, when Rebecca’s (second-choice) love interest Greg jumps into a song about his alcoholism, it’s to the tune of a classic Irish jig, which traditionally handles instances of drunkenness with a merry tongue-in-cheek kind of tone. Greg exclaims, “Gather ye round and I’ll tell you a tale of all the great times I’ve had with an ale… I puke on my cat! My cat! I puke on my cat! / I fall through the doorway and puke on my cat!” Disorders like alcoholism destroy people’s lives, but a fundamental step to healing is laughing at the absurdity.
What makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend different from most shows, is instead of rooting for the main character to be ‘shipped with Josh or Greg or her boss in season 3, Nathaniel, the audience starts to see that Rebecca’s involvement with relationships is just a way of putting off confronting her own problems. “The relationship that we ‘ship is Rebecca and her own mental health, really,” Brosh McKenna, one of the show’s writers, told The Ringer. By the end of the second season, Rebecca is finally making a breakthrough in therapy, and when Josh barges through the door, I know I screamed at the screen, “Go Away!”
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is such a refreshing, enlightening take on the stereotypes perpetuated in romantic comedies. I’d give it a 4.5/5 stars. It’s worth the binge.
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