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As much as I love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I somewhat understand its low ratings — it's difficult to watch. The early seasons are perhaps intentionally frustrating; the humor can be crude and relies on Cringe Comedy, and the characters are jerks who make terrible decisions and often backslide into destructive behavior. But as the show reminds us, life doesn't make narrative sense, and the flipside of this is that the characters feel like real people who often struggle to change neatly. As terrible as they can be, they are largely well-meaning and very compellingly acted. Rachel Bloom's Rebecca is one of television's best-written women and anchors the show solidly, and the other main and supporting members round it out well. And of course, the music and performances are brilliant. The show is a Deconstructive Parody of both romantic comedies and musicals, skewering both through its songs to portray how our media-warped views on romance and relationships don't often line up with real life.
And does this struggle pay off? Absolutely. Midway through season three, a crucial event changes the tone of the show and all the mess starts moving in a coherent direction: good mental health. This is not to say it gets less frustrating — indeed, CEG portrays recovery from mental illness very solidly, warts and all — but Rebecca's slow improvement finally has an end in sight. This is also not to say that the show is perfectly written, either — some plotlines (the baby storyline in season 3, for one) feel rushed and not fully-developed. But by the final season, it's startling to see how far the characters have come. While the romantic drama is always at the forefront and in fact comes full circle in the ending, they are all better people by now, and the happy endings feel earned.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a sane show about mental illness.
I confess to not understanding the previous review. It ignores the crucial Season 1 episodes 9-11, in which the show very much explored 'the sadder aspects of Becky's life' (incidentally, nobody in the show calls the main character Becky, so I don't know where that came from.) The nadir of her self-esteem is the Episode 11 song 'You Stupid Bitch', one of the most self-lacerating moments in TV comedy.
There is a difference between seeing a show from a character's POV, and being invited to sympathise with that character. Rebecca is the main character in season 1, but we aren't meant to agree with her, as becomes more and more evident in season 2, where her selfishness and self-delusion are more evident because we see them more from outside. (This was evident as late as S1 E14's 'I'm the Villain In My Own Story', but being Rebecca, she ignored her own epiphany.)
I suspect that one of the reasons why people do not admire the show as much as it deserves to be admired is that it has a female protagonist, and that that therefore means that it's automatically about more silly and trivial things than a show with a male protagonist. As the show goes on, however, it becomes increasingly clear that it's a show about a main character who wrongly thinks that she is in a romantic comedy. 'Breezy comedy', it is not.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend should feel suspiciously familiar to any one who's seen Disney's Enchanted. It's a show in which the saccharine joy of fantasy gets t-boned by the cynicism and banality of real life. Specifically, its about Becky, a promising lawyer who tosses away her medication and career to move to a podunk town three thousand miles away, all in an effort to find a childhood sweetheart who never particularly liked her in the first place.
Though that could very easily be the premise to a stalker thriller movie, here it is the vehicle for a breezy comedy series. Becky, now lacking the inhibitions from a steady drug regimen, sees the world as a colourful place where people break into joyful song at the drop of a hat. Though being based in reality, those songs tend to be about urinary tract infections, broken showers and period sex.
The title itself is somewhat provocative, the humour comes from a really dark place, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend approaches the delicate issue of depicting mental health problems with all the subtlety of a blitzkrieg. The writers seem to know exactly what they are getting into though, and as far as I can tell, the comedy is audacious enough to get away with it.
If there is any criticism to be had with the writing, it is that the quality is very inconsistent between songs. Some are brilliantly clever and funny, whereas some are so lazily put together they don't even rhyme, let alone tell a joke. You get two or three tunes per episode and one is guaranteed to be a dud. It's a real shame, though perhaps its to be expected when someone undertakes the mammoth task of writing dozens of original songs for a tv comedy.
Ultimately, Ex-Girlfriend never gets as dark as its subject first suggests. The show doesn't dwell too much on the sadder aspects of Becky's life, and the destructive consequences of her actions are often laughed off or easily resolved. Becky isn't any more crazy than the standard romantic comedy protagonist (who have a free pass to be as big a stalker/sociopath as they like), so we can not only forgive a lot of her behaviour as a comedy conceit, but relate to her a lot as well. Rachel Bloom plays Becky as this wide-eyed, expressive, charismatic hero and like the rest of the characters, the audience find themselves on her side.
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