How 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' smartly steered into that off-putting name and premise
Back in the fall, I said that while I admired individual components of the CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — particularly the musical parody numbers — the show needed to pull a Cougar Town and start distancing itself from its premise and title before it could truly get good.
Instead, the situation has turned out to be, to quote the show's theme song (which got a delightful spoken word treatment a few episodes back), a lot more nuanced than that. If anything, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has doubled down on the crazy ex of it all in its portrayal of sad lawyer Rebecca Bunch (star and co-creator Rachel Bloom) and her fixation on summer camp ex Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) — and it's become a richer, more confident, and more entertaining show than it was at the start.
Some of this is that Bloom and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna have, as all smart producers of young shows do, really developed their supporting characters, so that Josh is more than just Rebecca's fantasy man, Rebecca's best friend Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) has problems of her own, goofy boss Darryl (Pete Gardner) is exploring his sexuality, etc. Rebecca is frequently delusional and narcissistic, but the show around her is very much aware that these people aren't just puppets in her own personal drama. That's allowed the other regulars to satisfyingly call her out on her worst behavior, which ironically gives the series more license to let her keep doing it. A Crazy Ex where Rebecca just bulldozes a bunch of oblivious small town yokels would be insufferable; the rapidly-shifting power dynamics of late are a lot more fun, and have also painted Rebecca in a more sympathetic light even when she's at her most Josh-obsessed.
And where weekly TV musicals featuring original songs can start to run on empty after a while — McKenna and Bloom have pointed to Flight of the Conchords as one of their inspirations, and that's a show where the stars ran out of songs after two seasons, after starting with a back catalog of material that Crazy Ex wishes it had — the music pastiche has only gotten more elaborate and funny as the season has moved along. The show tries not to repeat musical genres, and in a cast where everybody can sing and dance, Bloom is particularly adept at trying on different styles.
Last week alone featured her first playing Shakira in a lament about a date that devolved into a group hang,
and then had Rebecca — pursuing a class action suit against Josh's landlord entirely as a pretext to spend more time with him — channeling Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man as she preached about the evils of cold showers:
No style of music is too weird to be included, and no topic too small to be the subject of a song. (One of my favorites was an '80s hair metal song called "Textmergency," which spent much of its time with the singers arguing over whether it should instead be called "Textastrophe.") Tonight's episode continues the class action story arc, and has both a rap battle between Rebecca and her childhood nemesis and a rousing Les Miserables soundalike about the different communities of the San Gabriel Valley.
Crazy Ex has turned out to be a great, if low-rated, companion for Jane the Virgin on Monday nights; I hope the CW can keep that pairing together for a good long while. The title's always going to be a turn-off for some, but it's also not unrepresentative of the show's story, even if it doesn't capture the smarts or the tone of it. When it started, I wanted it to be about almost anything other than what it was. Instead, it's turned into a terrific example of the old Ebert axiom that what a story's about is always much less important than how it's about that.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org