“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is intersectionality in action—seamless, wacky storytelling that happens to bring in feminism, ethnic diversity, LGBTQ representation, and the tackling of mental illness without ever feeling bogged down.”
Title: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Episodes Reviewed: Seasons 1-2
Creators: Rachel Bloom 👩🏼🇺🇸 and Aline Brosh McKenna 👩🏼🇺🇸🇫🇷
Writers: Rachel Bloom 👩🏼🇺🇸 (44 eps), Aline Brosh McKenna 👩🏼🇺🇸🇫🇷 (44 eps), Sono Patel 👩🏽🇺🇸 (30 eps), Rene Gube 👨🏻🇺🇸 (18 eps), and various (5 women, 5 men)
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
With two Emmys and a Golden Globe under its belt, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend deserves its hardware. Unlike anything on TV right now, it’s manic and surreal with hilarious musical numbers reminiscent of HBO’s culture-making Flight of the Conchords. Unfortunately, the first two seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend suffer from uneven pacing, particularly the latter half of Season 1 which relies too heavily on Rachel Bloom’s character, Rebecca Bunch, to carry the show through her Manic Pixie Dream Girl energy which begins ironically but eventually just gets tired.
In a smart move, the CW trims the following season by by nearly a third of the episodes, from 18 to 13, doing wonders for the momentum. Halfway through Season 2, the introduction of a fresh cast member injects Red Bull into the show’s pacing, prompting some serious binge-watching.
Fingers crossed Season 3 continues to do what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does best—have Rebecca share the limelight with all the zany support characters of West Covina, CA, as they poke fun at modern culture through Too Real musical numbers and break barriers through various devices we’ll look at next.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend slays on the gender front. Three things they do exceptionally well:
The Lead: The main character of this show is an anti-hero. As creator Bloom puts it herself, Rebecca Bunch is “like a sunny Walter White.” And I’m thankful for it; it’s damned refreshing to see a female lead so flawed, yet so three-dimensional. Rebecca barrels through life, making mistakes and hurting people everywhere she goes. In a world where women are socialized not to be selfish—to always set aside their own desires in favor of nurturing men and children—her single-minded pursuit of happiness can be exhilarating to watch.
It’s this same attribute that could make Crazy Ex-Girlfriend unwatchable, were it to fall into the same trap that Netflix’s Girlboss does of creating an irredeemable human being and serving her up as a “bad-ass” when in actuality, she’s just a horrible person. Luckily, Bloom and Brosh McKenna do a great job of letting us in on the joke. We watch alongside the others characters of West Covina, collectively enjoying the hot mess that is Rebecca Bunch and recognizing her overt satire, thus dispelling with the tiresome need to actually like her.
The Support: Rebecca isn’t the only progressive female character; she’s surrounded by a diverse group of women, all of whom are affectionately depicted with warts and all. Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz) is a gorgeous Type-A jerk, but we wind up sympathizing with her as we watch her relationship with Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) fall apart. Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) is a mom of two teenage boys, grumpy and unfulfilled but who admirably struggles against obligations to find time for her own passions. Then there’s Heather (Vella Lovella), the sardonic voice of reason who acts as proxy for the audience. The list goes on; in fact, I can’t think of any flat or problematic characters at all, male or female. A rare thing indeed.
The (Lack of) Feminine Mystique: Perhaps the most revolutionary move by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the triumphant de-veiling of the feminine mystique. With TMI titles such as “Period Sex”, “Heavy Boobs”, or “I Gave You a UTI”, the musical numbers challenge traditional media portrayals of women, which like to box us in as either delicate creatures made of purity and goodness, or as evil she-demons. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend exposes us for who we really are—a little bit of both.
Little fanfare has been made of the ethnic diversity and interracial relationships in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Part of me is glad; perhaps minority characters are becoming normalized, especially on younger-skewing networks like the CW, which has a strong track record of diverse casts (e.g. Riverdale and Jane the Virgin). But the other part of me wants more fanfare! I’m excited about seeing an Asian-American actor playing a romantic lead (Rodriguez is of Filipino, Latino, and Chinese descent). Writer and actor Rene Gube, who plays Father Brah on the show, brings an understated authenticity to the various Filipino characters and their social frameworks—family, church, or the boba milk tea shop aka local watering hole—effortlessly broadcasting what so many of us already know: that immigrant and American cultures are irrevocably intertwined.
Not only does Crazy Ex-Girlfriend leap over the “you can only have one Asian” rule by having Filipino support characters in addition to the Filipino male lead, the rest of the cast is rounded out by a healthy number of non-white characters. Vella Lovell who plays Heather is a mix of black and white among other ethnicities; Valencia, Hector, and Mrs. Hernandez are Latinx; and Darryl looks white but his Native American heritage is a huge point of pride for him (even as the show pokes fun at how over-the-top he is about it, with his office decked out with dreamcatchers and eagle statues.) And while we might not get to enjoy any black characters besides those in minor roles, it’s realistic from a demographic perspective. Actual racial makeup for West Covina, CA is as follows: 15.3% Non-Hispanic White, 53.2% Hispanic or Latino (with a share of that also identifying as White), 25.8% Asian, 4.5% black, 4.4% multiracial, 1% Native American, and 21.3% Other.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does a great job reflecting that diversity. To illustrate, let’s take a quick look at primary characters, with a focus on those with romantic storylines:
Not only is this a healthy, diverse cast, Bloom and Brosh McKenna deepen their non-white characters by giving them their own story arcs and relationships:
In short, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend nails ethnic diversity like landing a triple axel combination before gliding away as if it ain’t no thang. It gives me hope that nuanced characters will become more commonplace in the future, where people of color can be love interests or have comedic roles without having to feature their ethnicities as the punchline or sole characterizations.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is beloved by the LGBTQ community. It’s easy to see why:
The lead male actor, Vincent Rodriguez III who plays Josh Chan, is gay and happily married (ugh they are TOO CUTE). Who says an out actor can’t play straight? Nico Lang delves a bit deeper on Salon:
“While Portia de Rossi and Neil Patrick Harris have portrayed heterosexual characters on “Arrested Development” and “How I Met Your Mother,” there’s an element of camp in their performances…[meanwhile,] “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” plays it straight — asking us to truly believe that Rebecca could fall for this man without even the faintest hint of irony.”
The primary LGBTQ couple—Darryl and Josh—is stable and gently unorthodox, exploring bisexuality, age gaps, and masculinity. The audience discovers Darryl's bisexuality at the same time he does, who goes from denial at the beginning of an episode to acceptance via laugh-out-loud number, “Getting Bi”. To prevent problematic missteps, Bloom and Brosh McKenna reached out to GLAAD to make sure they were accurately depicting his coming out, and as a result we get a very healthy look at a great couple—Darryl is an older man, divorced with a young daughter, and only just coming to grips with not being straight. Meanwhile, Josh (dubbed “White Josh” to differentiate from the lead, Josh Chan) plays a masculine bro who is effortlessly comfortable with his own sexuality and casually guides Darryl through their new relationship.
One area the show does gloss over an LGBTQ character is with Maya—a minor character who works at the law firm along with Rebecca, Darryl, and others. She pops up in the episode where Darryl realizes he’s bisexual and states that she’s bi as well. Beyond that, she only shows up in Season 2 a few more times, so overall I appreciate the inclusion of an LGBTQ female but she’s largely a throwaway character.
Bonus for Disability: +0.50
This show has been lauded for tackling issues of mental health. Evette Dionne gives a great overview for Revelist and sums it up well:
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has shown a wholly unlikable, self-centered heroine who is grappling with her mental illness in a way that's all too relatable…[she] resembles the bulk of people with mental illnesses: she's pushing through, even at the expense of her own health.”
In addition to a realistic examination of anxiety and depression, we also see one of Rebecca’s love interests, Greg, go through the process of acknowledging that he has a drinking problem. Like so many of the heavy issues tackled in this bright and whimsical comedy, we get an ironic musical number, “Greg’s Drinking Song,” which runs through all the awful mistakes he’s made due to alcohol (and cheekily sung to the tune of an Irish drinking song).
Mediaversity Grade: A 4.75/5
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is intersectionality in action—seamless, wacky storytelling that takes center focus but also happens to bring in feminism, ethnic diversity, and LGBTQ representation.
The driving impetus behind Crazy Ex-Girlfriend seems to be the embracing of imperfection in all human beings, and it’s so cathartic to watch. Along with other younger-skewing series, such as Teen Wolf or Riverdale, I feel like I’ve entered the future when I watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—a landscape where tick-the-box diversity is the lowest hurdle and instead we’re exploring better representations and subverting media norms, compelling audiences (and the film industry) to steer towards more complex media representations. Lord knows this is the time to recognize our human commonalities and flaws, and to find some empathy in between the labels.
Catch up on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix, then keep an eye out for the CW season premiere on October 13, 2017.