I first heard of the CW show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend when I saw an advertisement for it at the subway station nearest my apartment. The poster featured a woman in a pink dress holding a heart-shaped balloon, the show’s title beside her in the boldest typeface possible: CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND.Beneath that, a rogue feminist had pasted a sticker, one I’ve seen plastered to many different subway displays — usually plastic surgery ads with language implying that if you have boobs, they probably aren’t big enough. The sticker says: This insults women. I looked at the ad for a few moments more, thought, ‘huh, I guess that’s true,’ and continued on my way.
It wasn’t until a few months later that I listened to an episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour — one of my most trusted sources for recommendations — and learned, to my surprise, that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not an insult to women at all. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite.
It’s been more than a year since then, and with its third season premiering later this month, Rachel Bloom’s absurdist musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has wormed its way into the hearts of many, myself (and Emmy voters) included. However, despite the show’s critical acclaim, there are still quite a few people who haven’t watched it and don’t plan to anytime soon, either because they have preconceived notions about it based on the title (like I used to), or because there is, quite frankly, a shitload of good television to catch up on, and the CW doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to “peak TV.”
So, if you’re one of those people who has yet to give Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a chance, I am writing this for YOU — to convince you that if you aren’t watching it yet, you really, really should be. You can find my top five reasons after the cut.
1. Satire & subversion of the 'crazy ex-girlfriend' stereotype.
One of my favorite things about this show is the way it plays with stereotypes. After all, it’s right there in the name of the show: our main character, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is the titular 'crazy ex-girlfriend,' a stereotype which perpetuates the notion that when it comes to relationships, women are often hysterical, jealous, possessive, obsessive, and certifiably “insane” — especially once you break up with them. I think it’s really interesting that this show doesn’t back away from the stereotype, but instead leans into it so far that it becomes satirical.
In the first episode, Rebecca leaves her six-figure job in New York City to move cross-country to the painfully small town in California where her ex-boyfriend Josh lives (all this after she happens to run into him in Manhattan and takes it as a ‘sign’ that they’re meant to be together, even though they actually only dated for a few months during summer camp when they were teenagers).
Here we have this character who embodies all of the qualities of the ‘crazy ex-girlfriend,’ but as the show chugs along and we learn more and more about the way Rebecca’s mind works, we understand that even someone who at first seems like a walking, talking stereotype is actually a real person, one with unique characteristics, flaws, and desires, just like everyone else. The characterization of Rebecca is a combination of satire and realism that really subverts this stereotype in a way I’ve never quite seen in pop culture, and for that reason alone I think this show is something special.
2. Honest portrayals of mental illness.
We’ve talked a lot on the blog and on the podcast about representations of mental illness in pop culture (I feel like I point this out every time I write a blog post), and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a show that deals with these issues head-on.
The show’s overall tone is quite light-hearted, and yet the content swerves in surprisingly dark directions. Throughout two seasons, Rebecca goes through episodes of both depression and mania, and because the show has varying perspectives, we get to see how she feels about herself in these moments versus how she seems in the eyes of the people who care about her. She is entirely self destructive in a painfully familiar way, and the show does not shy away from the self neglect and denial that often comes with mental illness. We see Rebecca opt out of taking her medication, blow off therapy appointments, lie compulsively to loved ones, and sabotage herself every time she comes close to a breakthrough.
There is a similar through line in the character of Greg Serrano (Santino Fontana), one of Rebecca’s love interests who, over the course of a season and a half, is forced to come to terms with the fact that he’s an alcoholic. I appreciate the way Greg’s addiction is handled, because it’s not something that gets one central episode and then disappears; it’s something we come to know about him and something we watch him struggle with before he can even see it himself, and when he finally does acknowledge it, there is an understanding that the road to recovery is often a road with no end.
Both Rebecca and Greg’s trajectories are uncomfortable to watch, but for a show as downright silly as this one sometimes gets, the depiction of their struggles is refreshingly true-to-life.
3. Diversity in casting.
Something that I’m always looking for in television shows is representation, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has a pretty good track record when it comes to inclusivity. One of the best choices Crazy Ex-Girlfriend makes in terms of casting is that the show’s romantic lead, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), is Filipino.
Asian men have been historically underrepresented as love interests on TV and film, often employed as stereotypically nerdy minor characters with very few opportunities to display any kind of sexuality at all. What’s so great about Josh Chan is that he’s not just in a role Asian men rarely get to fill, but he’s also an outright subversion of many of the stereotypes about Asian men that pop culture tends to perpetuate. Josh presents as sexy, confident, and widely desired by the show’s female population, and he couldn't be any less nerdy, instead taking on the role of lovable doofus.
4. Sex positive in all the ways!
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is an extremely sex positive show, and it’s also very frank when it comes to certain aspects of sex that a lot of television shows tend to gloss over. The show covers everything from period sex to urinary tract infections; in fact, there is an entire musical number entitled “I Gave You a UTI,” in which the tragically misinformed Greg thinks that giving a women a UTI means he must have a really great dick.
The show also has a particularly endearing side plot involving the bisexuality of Rebecca’s boss, Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner), and his relationship with a much younger man. On television, when we do get bisexual storylines (which is rare in and of itself), they’re usually between women. For some reason, there is a popular misconception that men are either gay or straight — never bisexual. Daryl addresses this idea multiple times throughout the series, always proclaiming it false; after all, he was happily married to a woman for years. Despite his ongoing relationship with a man, he continues to present as a person who is truly interested in both men and women.
5. The musical element.
Did I mention that this show is also a musical? If nothing else I’ve said here convinced you to watch it, please let this little number do the rest of the work for me.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend returns on October 13. You have two weeks, people. Commence bingeing.