I’ve never seen anything like this programme before. Even the opening titles are unlike any other series I can think of. It’s one of those shows which, if you write down on paper what happens, it would sound bonkers. In fact it is bonkers. But there is something about it which draws you in, leading to compulsive viewing. If I was to sum it up as a pitch, I would describe it as Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar meets Singin’ in the Rain.
I’m putting this video in as a little glimpse of what it’s all about. Here, Rebecca Bunch’s past and present worlds collide, culminating in a Rap Battle with an old ‘frenemy’. It’s called JAP Rap (JAP stands for Jewish American Princess) Warning: this is the explicit version.
The series centres around Rebecca Bunch, played by Rachel Bloom. The first episode introduces Rebecca as a high-achieving, young lawyer in New York who is about to be made partner at her prestigious law firm. The day she is to be promoted to her (and her mother’s) dream job, she meets an old boyfriend, ‘Chinese’ Josh from summer camp. Despite absolutely no encouragement on his part, Rebecca makes the impulsive decision to follow Josh to his hometown of West Covina, California, convincing herself she will find happiness there. She wants to try and start a love affair with him, even though he is with someone else.
She resigns with immediate effect and gets a job working for Darryl Whitefeather, head of a much smaller and more suburban law firm called Whitefeather and Associates. Everyone there, including Paula Proctor (a middle-aged mother of feckless children with whom I massively identify) cannot understand why a Yale graduate would want to work for them.
Rebecca quickly tracks Josh down and, managing to enlist the help of Paula, establishes her plan to steal Josh from his girlfriend.
So far so Romantic Comedy, right? But this is not the case. As Brosh McKenna, co-creater of the show says in an interview, ‘We were both really interested in trying to take that apart because women, especially young women, are told that once you get that approval from your love object, there’s some completion. And for Rebecca, she’s still hurt, she still has the same pain and heartbreak, and no man is ever going to make that better. I think it’s the most unromantic romantic comedy possible.’
The opening theme tune of the first series, though jolly and light-hearted, contains the lyrics ‘she so broken inside!’ (sung by a sunglassed sun) to whom Rebecca replies with irritation, ‘The situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.’ When she arrives in West Covina we see Rebecca throwing away medication and there are hints of a past suicide attempt.
It isn’t long before you see Rebecca is a very damaged woman who is in deep trouble. The creators also manage to stretch and distort all the familiar tropes of Romantic Comedies to show how ridiculous they are and there is a strong attempt to challenge the idea that finding the right man will fix everything.
As with any series, the responsibility for a good programme lies with the characters. Bloom’s character is the mainstay but she and her team are intelligent enough to surround Rebecca Bunch with a very strong cast.
As a women reaching her prime (ie over 45) I am probably not the demographic for whom this show is intended. Of course, there are a number of young (ie under 40) characters, and the plots are often driven by ‘young’ concerns. However, the mainstay supporting characters of Paula Procter (mid 40’s) and Darryl Whitefeather (can’t find his age anywhere but he’s got to be in his 50’s), is what keeps me coming back for more.
They offset Rebecca’s craziness with their genuine concern, although they are capable of a bit of craziness themselves, and maturity. They feature heavily, getting involved in a many of the dance numbers – check out their moves in the JAP rap video above – which makes my tired little middle-aged heart very happy.
Rebecca Bunch is not actually a very likable character. Throughout the three seasons she is selfish, vain, self-obsessed, interfering, judgemental and obsessive. I had to think hard to work out why she is so watchable and sympathetic.
I think it’s because, despite the extreme nature of some of Rebecca’s behaviour, many woman can identify with her. I know a number of women who have regretted the time they spent obsessing about men, identifying themselves through their relationship with their partners. How many of us have literally and figuratively hung onto the legs of a man who was trying to leave us? Or phoned obsessively to see where they are. Or driven round to check they weren’t lying when they said they were having a ‘quiet night in?’ Just me? (😱)
The vulnerability and emotional honesty of her portrayal is what is so affecting and hats off to Bloom for achieving this and still managing to keep us laughing. She is also hugely talented at her job as a lawyer – quick thinking and perceptive – and can show tremendous loyalty and fierce protectiveness towards her friends with a passionate desire for everyone to be happy.
Like Lena Dunham, Bloom is unapologetic about her larger than size 6 figure. In fact she has the most luscious boobs, which she displays regularly, hypnotising her audience with some knock-out outfits. You will see Rebecca Bunch with no make-up, hair all over the place, skin greasy and pale, figure hidden in oversized sweats; other times she is as gorgeous as Rita Hayworth, pouting into the camera.
Many women love this chameleon like ability we have to play with our appearance. We don’t always have to dress up and pout like a 50’s movie star; we can hang around in saggy leggings and a smelly jumper, but we reserve the right to gloss up and knock it out of the park when we want to. Bloom has her character playing with roles such as ‘villain of my own narrative‘, ‘scary scary sexy lady‘, ‘the girl in love‘, ‘the stupid bitch‘ or ‘I’m in a sexy French Depression‘.
The point is, this series beautifully reflects and exposes women’s delight in playing with roles and performances. In the words of Caitlin Moran: ‘When a woman says, “I have nothing to wear!”, what she really means is, “There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.”‘
I’ll come to the songs later, but I must pause at this point to point you in the direction of one of my favourite songs from the show. Entitled, ‘Heavy Boobs’. Have a look…
In the very first episode, which blew me away, Rebecca prepares for her long awaited date with Josh. When preparing herself for this hotly anticipated night, she sings a song about getting ready. It is something I am sure a number of women will find very familiar. It’s called ‘The Sexy Getting Ready Song.’
Over the three seasons of the series, you cannot help but fall for Rebecca Bunch and you hope desperately that the further down she gets, ending in a very dark moment which I don’t want to spoil, the more triumphant her upward journey will be. She is a complex, vulnerable and tragic hero of our times. Her lack of self-awareness is reminiscent of King Lear at the height of his madness, but ultimately the writers are clever enough to give her the wit and warmth which will keep us rooting for her.
Darryl Whitefeather is the glue of the series. With all the madness flying around him, Darryl is the heart of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He plays a simple, down-to-earth character who, with his home-spun and suburban outlook would usually be a figure of fun. Well he is, a bit, but he carries on with utter confidence and gravitas which eventually means he wins the respect and approval of the characters around him.
He is generous, kind and means well, singing songs with the best of them. Here is one I am very fond of, a Country and Western take on how Darryl loves his daughter, ‘but not in a creepy way’.
In his story arc this stuffy, suburban, slightly needy lawyer, discovers he is bisexual (see Getting Bi) and falls in love with Josh – a 35 year old hunk. This relationship is portrayed with moving tenderness.
When Rebecca disappears he is distraught with worry: ‘Has she been Catfished by a drug smuggler? I saw this new show Catfished by a Drug Smuggler on the new Catfishing channel. Oh my God, it is so good.’
His most recent song about discovering his sperm is healthy, is wonderful.
Paula Proctor, played by Donna Lynne Champlin, is Rebecca’s best friend. As she is older than Rebecca it is natural she falls into a motherly role, but often in her encouragement of Rebecca’s insane plans she acts like a contemporary.
When the series opens Paula is having problems in her marriage, feeling the spark has gone out of the relationship with her husband. She has two sons, one of whom, she discovers, is a drug dealer (her response is to say how wonderful he is finally making a living.)
Lynne Champlin has the most expressive face, and a belter of a voice. She is rightfully given some absolute gifts to sing such as: ‘The First Penis I Saw‘ and ‘His Status is Preferred‘. She is also a gifted physical comedian.
One of my favourite Paula quotes: ‘I’m making pies for people I hate, which is mixed emotions for me because I love pie.’
In Season Two, Paula and Rebecca fall out and they are both miserable at the loss of the friendship. Here, they sing a brilliant rock ballad duet, inspired by 80’s hit ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ (with accompanying badly made shaggy wigs) about how they each want to make up and apologise, but, as they sing to each other, ‘You Go First.’
Oh God the songs. The SONGS! The show is filled with songs – 100 at the last count. This is why I describe Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as The Bell Jar meets Singin’ in the Rain.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a fan of musicals. Really. Can’t bear ’em. I hate it when you’re watching a movie and the actor gets that look in their eye and the music starts to swell…
For me, that’s usually a sign to go and put the kettle one. But what Rachel Bloom has done is taken a familiar, tired genre and turned it on its head.
First, and most important, they are good songs. Genres include rap, swing, rock, pop, funk, jazz and good old-fashioned music hall. What makes you snort with laughter is the topics: a jazzy sultry number entitled ‘Period Sex’ or a grinding strip-club-electronic-pop fest called Fit Hot Guys have Problems too. (‘There’s so much pressure when you’re a fit hot guy/So just let us ugly cry/ Let us ugly cry.’)
Here are my top three highlights from the past three seasons. It was difficult to narrow them down to just a few key choices, I hope you enjoy them.
I’m so Good at Yoga
EVERY woman can identify with this one. Josh’s girlfriend is super skinny, super stunning Valencia Perez (a bitch – beautifully played by Gabrielle Ruiz). In season 1 she is Rebecca’s mortal enemy. When Rachel goes along to one of Valencia’s Yoga Class to scope out the competition, Valencia makes it very clear she is top dog in this song.
We Tapped That Ass
This was one of those moments when within seconds of watching the song begin I was pausing it and running to find Rob so he could watch it with me. It never fails to make me laugh. In this song Josh and Greg, both Rebecca’s love interests at one time or another, sing and dance a number about where and when they have had sex with Rebecca.
It is a joyful, tap dancing, big band block buster which powerfully reminded me of the Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra sailors dance sequence in On The Town (1949). I love how the actors sing and dance which such tremendous energy and enthusiasm.
Here a sultry dressed-in-red (of course) Rebecca sings in a kind of Tina Turneresque style about the joys of sex during a period. Apparently CBS censored much of this song as it was considered ‘too dirty’. When the frick are we going to start recognising that women’s bodily functions are NOT DIRTY BUT PERFECTLY NORMAL? I’ve seen every possible emission from a man on mainstream TV but THIS is too dirty? Let me know what you think, personally I think it’s hilarious.
Right! That’s it, I need to stop now as I’ve gone on far too long. If you haven’t heard of this show I hope you look out for it and let me know what you think. You can find it on Netflix.