A Letter of Love and Farewell to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
I have a hard time getting into TV shows. This is why, when I left Europe in 2017 to work in the United States for three months, I planned something special to watch on the plane: the entire first season of a show I had been intrigued by for some time but had never actually gotten around to watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
I’m glad I started it that way because, to be honest, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was not an easy show for me to get into. First, there was that title. The "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" only evoked that meme that was going around a few years ago – an easy concept created to make sexist jokes. Then, there was the premise: Rebecca Nora Bunch, a very successful but terribly unhappy real estate lawyer, runs into Josh Chan, a guy she once dated at summer camp. Alas, Josh Chan does not live in New York like her, but, instead, in California and, more precisely, in West Covina – a place that is theoretically two hours from the beach, but really more like four hours if there’s traffic (a running gag on the show). Because she believes that it’s fate that brought Josh and her together once again, Rebecca does the cheesiest, craziest, ultimate grand gesture to reunite with him: she leaves New York to move to West Covina.
I really hate humor based on the embarrassment of the main character. I get physically uncomfortable when it happens on screen, to the point that I will either cover my eyes, fast-forward, or leave the room if it goes too far. This almost kept me from watching Parks and Recreation (another show I wholeheartedly recommend, if you haven’t got around it yet) because the first season was so hard on its main character. If you’re anything like me, beware: the first few episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend rely heavily on that type of humor. At the end of the first episode, I almost decided to give up, but three things kept me going: first, the hilarious after credit scene featuring the late Nipsey Hussle, where the rapper, realizing the double standards between men and women in the entertainment industry, calls his dancers one by one to apologize about any unfair treatment on his part ("Call me back. I'd love to discuss The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, which I've just read" is a sentence that will never not make me laugh); second, the fact that I was in a metal box flying across the Atlantic ocean and had nothing better to do; and third, the fact that Ex-Girlfriend is a musical show and I love musical shows (now that I had to say goodbye to this one, if you know any, I’d appreciate any recommendations in the comments!).
I am so, so glad I did, because if I had not, how could I have realized what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend really was? It’s not a TV show. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a religion. I don’t know anyone who watches Crazy Ex-Girlfriend without it being a very special feature in their life. The end of the show two weeks ago truly felt like the end of an era. But let’s go back to the plot for a moment.
Once she’s reunited with her One True Pairing (yes, among its other great qualities, this show explains the notion of an OTP to a larger audience) Rebecca will finally be happy, right? It’s going to take four seasons, sixty-one episodes, a diverse ensemble of amazing supporting characters, and at least three serious love interests for Rebecca to find out that she’s wrong.
Throughout its four seasons, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend takes the time to introduce and develop some of the most memorable TV characters you’ll find out there. Rebecca Alter, in a piece for Vulture, wrote that the strength of the show was that no character felt like a secondary character, and I entirely agree. We get to meet Darryl, her new boss, who's just gettin' bi; Josh, her dream guy (I really dare you to not be completely in awe of Vincent Rodriguez III's talent after seeing him perform as every member of a classic boy band at once); “White Josh” and Hector, his two best friends along with the snarky, alcoholic and utterly charming Greg Serrano (yes, I’m now ready to sell my soul to see Santino Fontana perform live), Heather and Valencia, proud members of her best friends' squad; Nate, who I was more than ready to hate before he stole my heart with an amazing Ed Sheeran-inspired ballad…
But because my love letter to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is also a farewell letter, I’d like to linger a bit longer on my favorite character, the one that made a deeper impact on me than possibly any other TV character before: Paula, played by the incredible Donna Lynne Champlin. Married with two kids, Twilight enthusiast, legal assistant in the firm where Rebecca works when the show begins, Paula was both a woman I felt like I knew in real life, and someone unlike any character I had ever seen before on TV. There was something so honest, so raw and so real about her everyday struggles and the complexity of her relationship to motherhood and married life, that I regularly had to go back to some episodes to watch her scenes alone. Throughout the show, Paula goes through an admirable professional and personal journey, always with her head high. She made me root for her like I had never rooted for another character before. She made me realize, as corny as it sounds, that it's never too late to face your fears and realize your dream. I, quite simply, want to be Paula when I grow up.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend somehow managed to be a brilliant musical blending feminism and insightful commentary on mental illness and its perception by society at large. Where else can you find a show that sings about period sex, urinary tract infections, or the struggles of heavy boobs, as well as about the relief of finally getting a diagnosis after struggling alone for so long, or even the stigma surrounding antidepressants?
Beyond its narrative, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend also proposed a new model of showrunning in an area that’s generally male-dominated. It’s not a coincidence that its co-creator Rachel Bloom wrote the song "Ladyboss" for Vanity Fair, or that Slate podcast Women in Charge featured Aline Brosh McKenna, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s co-showrunner, in its first episode. By constantly adapting to writers’ needs (beginning the day early, so that they could take care of their children in the evening instead of working till midnight to wrap up an episode, etc.), while keeping highly professional standards, this TV show paved the way for future female showrunner and hopefully set a model for their male peers to follow.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not a perfect TV show. Its highly original concept meant that, even though it was critically acclaimed, its viewership was not as big as it deserved, and the show seemed to be on the verge of cancellation with each season. That, in part, explains why the rhythm of the show sometimes drags, or rushes. But what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does well, it does better than any other TV show you’ll find out there.
So this is my personal guide to watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: watch the first episode. If you’re not convinced, listen to the songs, and if they intrigue you, give the show another chance. Work your way through it at your own rhythm: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a not really a show that you binge, but instead a show you take the time to know and appreciate. The first two seasons are amazing, but in the third it takes a wider, darker, more profound dimension, and easily becomes one of the most memorable, and, let's say it, best show of the 2010’s.
You think it’s crazy to invest so much time in a show that, most like its main character, is not as easy to love as others, in the age of peak TV? Well, they say love makes you crazy, so I guess when you call me crazy, you’re just calling me in love.
Milena Le Fouillé is an art historian based in Paris, France, with a specialty in nineteenth and twentieth century art and a strong taste for mythology, fairy tales and legends. She's probably hiding in a museum's cafeteria right now, reading a novel when she really should be working.