Crazy Ex Girlfriend & Why More Shows Need To Be Brutally Honest About Love
THIS ARTICLE HAS TINY SPOILERS PLEASE BE AWARE
The new CW flick, Crazy Ex Girlfriend, just officially announced that the 3rd season is coming back in about a month. I remember viewing this show kind of late through Netflix. I had gone into the show completely blind, not knowing what the premise or the deeper storylines are. When I first started this show, I honestly didn’t know how I would relate to it at all. First I thought the title was insulting, then I thought the beginning plot line was ridiculous. Then I was confused. But then I fell in love with the way the show used its comedy, acting and yes--cheesy musical numbers, to call out the ridiculousness of traditional rom-coms. The premise of the story is that our main character, Rebecca Bunch (played by co-creator of show Rachel Bloom), has a break down while working as a big-time lawyer in New York, and makes the spontaneous decision to move to cozy West Covina, California. The hilarious and cringe-worthy twist is that the reason she was motivated to move in the first place, is because she ran into her old flame from summer camp, Josh Chan (played by Vincent Rodriguez III) who happened to run into her in NYC. Yeah, I felt completely angry at the main character already. But that's what pulled me in as well. And the lyrics for the title credits made me more curious,
Chorus: She's the crazy ex-girlfriend
Rebecca: What, no I'm not!?
Chorus: She's the crazy-ex-girlfriend
Rebecca: That's a sexist term!
Chorus: She's the crazy-ex girlfriend...
Rebecca: Can you guys stop singing for just a second?
Chorus: She's so broken inside...
Rebecca: The situation is a lot more nuanced than that
Then I realized, maybe there's a little more to this show. So I got hooked.
I’ve never seen a show take a multitude of stereotypes, whether it’s through it’s characters, songs, and even certain plot lines--and make something totally unique . The main way it did this was with complex characters--who have different sides and angles to them.
The Girl In Love
The main character, Rebecca is surprisingly dynamic, but the catch is that you don't see it at first. The show straight up pissed me off within the first couple of minutes. Rebecca--who's a strong career woman, has a well paying job, absolutely kills at her career and is very determined and educated. Usually when you have a female character like this in film or TV, they’re also a woman who dates a lot of guys, is in total control of her sex life and isn’t afraid to break a couple hearts-- this is the recent developing “strong female character” that a lot of writers and directors are trying to portray. It’s “in” now to have strong female characters, so that’s what they’re trying to mold. In this case, the protagonist, Rebecca is the heartbroken one. She sensitive, emotional, raw--and the show celebrates it.
Even when the character at times comes into conflict and people ridicule her for being “crazy” about a guy, there’s almost always other characters who are defending her and standing by her side. And even if the audience completely doesn’t approve of her behavior--going wild for a guy--we still continue to respect her, and begin to care for her. Why does she love him so much? What is her past? What trauma has she gone through that has caused her to be like this? Despite these underlying issues, the audience just comes to know Rebecca as a raw person--a person in love.
The second season does a flip, starting with the opening title song:
“I’m just a girl in love, I can’t be held responsible for my actions.
I have no underlying issues to address, I’m certifiably cute and adorably obsessed.
They say love makes you crazy, therefore you can’t call her crazy.
Because when you call her crazy, you’re just calling her in love”
It seems like the second season has a slightly different message it wants to come across. We now know Rebecca more, we’ve seen her go through a relationship or two and we’ve seen her love and crush develop. We’ve also seen her mental wellness go up and down as well. We are now becoming critical of her--as we should, with any well-written character. Yes, love seems to make her “crazy”, and there’s this portrayal in a lot of cliche romantic comedies that you can do anything crazy, anything at all, as long as it’s in the name of love. The part where they sing, "they say love makes you crazy, therefore you can't call her crazy," just gets me every time. CEG hilariously calls out every rom-com ever created through these couple of boppity lyrics. It makes you think--well yeah, love can make you crazy. Love can make you actually, literally, crazy--and we learn this in a shocking way through Rebecca's character.
Especially for female characters, it’s always been traditionally their role to be the crazy-in-love ones and do wild things. You’ve seen this pattern in a lot of older movies like Legally Blonde--where Elle goes through the long process of getting into Harvard to get her ex-boyfriend back, or My Best Friend’s Wedding, where (SPOILER) Julia Roberts’ character does the crazy act of going after her best friend who’s she’s been in love with--who’s about to get married.
There's also some very important moments where Rebecca gets a chance to self-reflect on her own wrong doings. When she's going after her crush, Josh, he's still in a committed relationship with another woman, Valencia. A good number of episodes are just different ways that Rebecca tries to either break them up or push herself in-between. All the while, her friend, Paula Procter (played by Donna Lynn Champlin) supporting her, because it's "in the name of true love". CEG makes sure to call out this kind of toxic and unhealthy behavior through songs like I'm the Villain of My own story where Rebecca realizes that her romanticized view of herself is actually false. In reality, she is the one trying to break up a happy couple for her own selfish needs. I think this point that the show makes is very unique and important, because in most romance films and movies, you see this kind of behavior totally normalized because...well...it's looooove.
In CEG, the show actually starts to reflect on itself, and brings you with it. And obviously, it does this with humor. It’s almost like the second season you’re looking back on the first one and asking deeper questions about Rebecca and who she is. The show seems to become aware of itself and actually points out that we haven’t been paying attention to Rebecca’s mental state, but more so just brushing it off and paying attention to the love story. Just like in so many romantic films--the deepness and inner psyche of the woman and why she is so in love is never truly analyzed, never truly revealed. It’s all oversimplified: she’s in love. That’s all there is to it. Is it though?
I won’t give it away but the end of season too really takes a shocking turn, and makes my point. The show becomes multi-dimensional by having a lot of stereotypical tropes that many romantic comedies do, while also calling out the stereotypes, whether it be through the character’s development, and definitely the songs. Some characters in the show call her “crazy”, yet they don’t help her. On the other hand there’s other people in her life who just think she’s “in love” and that her behavior is okay, but then that’s not really helping her either. Naturally enough, the one person that is giving her the most sound sound advice is her therapist, who never manages to get through to Rebecca what she needs to do.
Female Empowerment + Addressing Sexism
long with being real about relationship, the show also gives a refreshing portrayal on female friendships and empowerment between women. Rebecca and other characters proudly talk about female-empowerment, but it’s discussed like it’s a normal part of life, and not exactly to make a statement. One of my personal favorites songs is The Sexy Getting Ready Song, at one point a rapper comes out, and begins rapping a crude line that begins to objectify a woman, but then he turns to Rebecca’s sink in the bathroom, filled with various beauty products strewn on the floor as if it's a post-war zone. His reaction--well, you just have to see it. It's too funny to give away. And that’s probably the best part about the show in general. It’s honestly impressive that through the comedy, the over-the-top characters and the music score, the story develops and the people in the story develop like a pretty deep show.
It also talks about just all the general B.S. women have to deal with when engaging in the dating scene. The show even talks about how confusing the nature of casual dating and hooking up has become as well, such as in the song "Sex with a stranger".
Rebecca may be a lot of things, but in the end she always made peace with the women she was quarreling with, and she never meant to actually hurt anyone, despite her own issues. The show even manages to celebrate female friendship, of all things, in a storyline where Rebecca actually acts pretty horrible to some of the other women. The important part, is that the show takes the time for Rebecca to make amends when she needs to.
The over-Romanticization of Relationships
In the second season, the song It Was a Shit Show, definitely is one of the most clever to me. The lyrics reflect Rebecca’s and Greg’s relationship--which was full of heat, passion , as well as dysfunction. Usually, in most love stories, the story would just continue to push these two characters together, through the pain and suffering. Stories like the Notebook showcase couples that go through hellish fights and terrible dysfunction but they still always end up together. Now, I'm not saying the couples in some of these stories shouldn't have ended up together, but I honestly don't think this is how all relationships should be in real life. You shouldn't have to push through despite huge amounts of complications. If it feels wrong, you can't just ignore it. That's why the break up between Rebecca and Greg is so honest. Because that's real. Sometimes a relationship might feel so good, and we’ve been taught by delusional romance films that “love” will save everything. It won't. Nothing says this better than the lyrics to "It Was a Shit Show".
“We have chemistry of course--but that’s a formula for divorce."
“But what the hell, let’s get a hotel. Because we’re both not getting any younger,” Greg sings. This is a pivotal point when you think this will all turn around. This always happens in romance films, right? This is the part where he comes back--despite all the complications, messiness and awfulness, they will end up together. He continues, “But after sex, what happens next? I mean, in the long run, not just fatigue and hunger…” IN this way, the show completely knocks us out of that dream world of the happily-ever-after-couple. It shatters our hopes and our cannons and we're upset and uncomfortable. But the lyrics that Greg sings and the things he says make almost too much sense. In essence, Rebecca's and his relationship was toxic and unhealthy. And he had to make the choice to move away and work on himself as a person. We don't see this in rom-coms, but do you know where we do? In real life. These are real issues that real-life couples deal with every day. Relationships take hard work and a lot of honesty. And what's more honest than admitting that despite the great love and great sex, your relationship is actually a shit show.
But it isn't just this relationship that the show gets real about. The second season brings the relationship of Rebecca and (SPOILER ALERT) Josh Chan. Yep. The guy she flew across the country to be with. This climax of the first season is corny and sweet and overly-predictable, but the dynamic of their relationship that follows is quite surprising. At first, their relationship is perfect and full of romance, sex and chemistry. We are meant to see them as the ideal couple that was meant to be all along, and they see it that way too. Josh expresses how he knows he'll be happy now with Rebecca, because he realizes it's always been her, despite his relationship with Valencia. Rebecca obviously has been wanting this since the beginning of the show, so she thinks this is it. But then they have their first fight which puts a gear into their romantic paradise. Eventually they resolve the fight and it ends up being okay again. But the couple seems to have a little bit of a disillusioned view of their current state. They think, surely since they survived this one fight, they'll never have to deal with any issues. This is definitely a very common "honey-moon phase" that so many couples go through in real life, and I've never seen a show or movie show it more accurately.
Nothing makes a better analysis of this than the 70's-esque, funky tune they sing, We'll Never Have Problems Again. Instead of facing their problems head on, they decide to just soul train until they forget about it. Sounds to me like they're calling a lot of us out.
We'll never have problems again. it's only smooth smooth sailing, from now on. We'll never have problems again. We used to have problems, but now they're gone.
They continue to sing, talking about how their relationship conflicts are a thing of the past. Even their friend, Heather, tries to knock some sense into them by bringing tot heir attention how derived from reality they are. They ignore it.
"Well never have problems again, now everyone will know that our love is undying. We'll never have problems again. No more nights of randomly crying.
We'll never worry about paying the bills, the only money we'll need is sunsets. We don't need gasoline, our car will run on love.
Goofy, Crazy but Real Characters
In short, the show is a total goofball. But the parts where it gets surprisingly real in ways that the audience can not only enjoy, but also be surprisingly refreshed by with its honesty.
Rachel Bloom, the co-creator and star of the show helped write the script and songs with a lot of these things in mind. In an interview with Elle, she said "When we're watching rom-coms, or anything about two people falling in love, it plays into this natural desire of pursuing a mate, of getting together with that mate," Bloom says. "A lot of stories end with the big kiss, the big marriage—and we don't see what's after that." (Full interview here)
In another interview with NPR, Bloom talks about how depression and anxiety is talked about in the show in a meaningful way,
"We always wanted the show to confront her mental illness head-on. The premise of the show is just a romantic comedy where it's like: Oh, a woman's unhappy; she's a lawyer and she moves to try to win back the man she loves. But if you look at the realism in that, it's like, OK, if someone actually did that, they would be a tremendously unhappy person. That is a not good thing to do. And so inherent in the premise of the show was Rebecca's depression and anxiety. And the whole show is about her learning to pursue her own happiness as opposed to trying to make other people happy."
This very premise of "do whatever it takes to get your true love" is completely called out in CEG, by us seeing how harmful Rebecca is being to herself. (Full NPR interview here)
Crazy Ex Girlfriend breaks the traditional love story narrative by using humor and cheesiness to face it head on. And as we're laughing to the absurd situations and singing a long to the songs, it gives us a smack of truth. It brings to light the delusional, silly ways that we've been spoon-fed what love and relationships should and shouldn't be from romance films. It also calls out the stereotype of so many women in TV shows/movies: the woman in love. The woman who's main motivation is to get the boy, because she wants love and that's it. This is the storyline we're so used to, but Crazy Ex Girlfriend flips it on its nose by over-exaggerating this character to the point where we see how silly and even toxic she is actually being to herself and others. And then, we see that there is much more to this girl than just the fact that she's in love. The show forces us to see her flaws, her mistakes, and the deeper, darker reasons behind it.
For being a comedy, it's quite amazing how well the series manages to not oversimplify characters and their motivations. It's a fun show, with a lot of catchy songs that successfully get some important messages across. The acting is hilarious, the developing relationships will not keep you bored, and overall--it's a refreshing romance comedy that doesn't try to feed you a fake narrative about what love is really about. And this is certainly not the only show that has successfully gotten real about relationships in their own ways. Other shows such as Jane The Virgin (CW), Master of None (Netflix) and others, are helping create new, unique love stories that we can better relate to and enjoy. And I'm very excited to see us keep going in this direction.
Without spoiling anything else, I already have a feeling the show is going to take an even wilder turn in the 3rd season. We'll see what Rebecca Bunch has in store next.