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“Put Yourself First” & Why You Should Watch Rachel Bloom’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

At the end of her recent appearance on Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas’ podcast How Did This Get Made?, Rachel Bloom (who was there to help them mock the 1984 rock n’ roll fable Streets of Fire) took a moment to plug her Golden Globe and Critics Choice-award winning CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: “I’ve been told to say this, but also it’s true, you can binge watch all the episodes for free on Hulu and catch-up and buy the music on iTunes. It’s really good, and I’m proud of it. It’s a musical, and it’s not this [Streets of Fire], it’s better.  You know, just…” at which point she paused to adopt a somewhat affected (I wanna say) Midwestern accent, “Please guys, I work very hard. Just watch it. We work so hard. Just watch my little show. We won a Golden Globe, you know.”

It was in that moment I realized I was doing this woman a disservice. I binge-watched Crazy Ex-Girlfriend over the holidays, falling in love with it almost instantly, but I have yet to mention it on the site. That changes today.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend falls into that peculiar Jane the Virgin category of “weird, goofy, sounds-like-it-shouldn’t-work-but-totally-does,” turning a seemingly detestable premise (a New York lawyer named Rebecca Bunch suffers a breakdown and moves to California to be close to an old flame from her teen summer camp days) into an oddly delightful contemplation of mental health and modern gender roles. Rebecca even objects to being called a “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” calling it a sexist term while a cartoon choir serenades her over the show’s theme song, cheerfully chanting, “She’s the crazy ex-girlfriend/She’s the crazy ex-girlfriend/She’s so broken inside.”

Wait, did I forget to mention that there are songs in this show? Well, there are, not as many as you might expect, and they’re almost always perfectly integrated into the show. Many of the songs are so catchy and insightful that you could imagine them fitting nicely into an episode of Inside Amy Schumer. A guest-starring Dr. Phil did argue in an earlier episode that all of the singing might have something to do with Rebecca throwing away all of her depression pills once she moved back to California meaning the songs could just be in her imagination.  You don’t really need an explanation, though. Plus, that doesn’t explain why everyone else in the cast (most of whom seem plucked from Broadway) has now had at least one song which didn’t involve Rebecca.

But now back to the whole “crazy ex-girlfriend” part of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend...

Many of the schemes Rebecca concocts to get closer to her beloved Josh, who is rather inconveniently already dating a gorgeous yoga instructor, do seem rather crazy, though also surprisingly relatable. As Bloom told PEOPLE, “Rebecca is an exaggeration of what we have all been through when we’ve been under the spell of love.” Because Josh is nowhere near as emotionally aware as Rebecca he has no idea she’s so hopelessly devoted; he’s just happy to have his old friend back.

In last night’s episode, “I’m Back at Camp with Josh!”, Rebecca learned that Josh volunteers at a camp for at-risk teens. So, of course she then donated enough money to the camp that they had to let her join as a special counselor, specializing in teaching young women how to be empowered. Why not, right? She is a highly educated, remarkably successful lawyer with Type A tendencies of accomplishing whatever task she sets her mind on. Teach those girls how to be more like her. However, it’s actually all part of her big plan to hopefully recreate the camp experience which originally brought her and Josh together so many years ago.

In her imagination, if she could simply get him alone at the camp and innocently mention that she happens to still have a love letter she wrote for him back when they were teenagers he would definitely want to hear it and be reminded of why he used to love her. To reach that point, she first receives a black eye for her efforts with the mean girls in camp, and ends up in the medical bay after suffering a horrible allergic reaction and the body-wide rash to go with it. However, she perseveres and manufactures her dream scenario only to have her soul crushed as Josh openly laughs at the overwrought and flowery prose in her old teen love letter. He thought the whole point was to simply laugh at how goofy they both used to be.

large_500_days_of_summer_blu-ray11It’s sort of like the “Expectations Vs. Reality” (500) Days of Summer sequence all over again but from the female point of view this time.

When a barely-holding-it-together Rebecca marches to deliver her speech about female empowerment to the camp girls, who are only in attendance because it’s mandatory, she is heckled and even has a tampon thrown at her, causing her to finally break into tears. After meekly begging the girls to simply leave her alone, she sobs out loud, “Why doesn’t he love me?” As they all stop and marvel at the hot mess before them, she apologizes through her tears, joking that who’s she to teach them about empowerment when she’s the one who really needs to be empowered.

That is such a tricky comedy set-up to pull off. The general idea is that this loud and proud proponent of feminism just can’t stop thinking about the guy she loves and who does not love her back, and it makes her feel both ashamed and heartbroken. Because teenage girls are so stereo-typically boy crazy that type of nakedly emotional display on Rebecca’s part connects with them. She’s supposed to teach them about feminism, but they end up teaching her about boys. The way it’s done, though, is hilarious and vulnerable, and the way it’s resolved is smartly observed.

When Rebecca tells the girls earlier in the episode about the need to break through the glass ceiling, they throw stuff at her head and yell out, “I bet you wish you had that glass ceiling right now.” However, when she admits how much it kills her that Josh won’t love her back they come to her immediate aid, telling her that what she needs to do is to “put herself first.”  What exactly that means, though, is brilliantly explored in a nearly 2-minute song which undercuts the cliche of happiness-through-make-over by exploring how much a female’s self-worth is shaped by society’s male gaze. It’s the type of commentary Crazy Ex-Girlfriend excels at, and it’s but one of the many reasons more people should be watching this show.

There are other, less “crazy ex-girlfriend”-centric elements to this show. For example, the B-plot in “I’m Back at Camp with Josh!” revolves around an incredibly sad PPV-watching party being thrown by Rebecca’s boss and Josh’s friends, one of whom just might be gay while another (played by Frozen‘s Santino Fontana) is slowly coming to terms with being phobic about commitment. Past episodes have delivered hilarious songs about the vagaries of female friendship and the discomfort from listening to a dad discuss how much he loves his young daughter. It’s almost always brilliant and hilarious.

As Rachel Bloom said, “Please guys, I work very hard. Just watch it. We work so hard. Just watch my little show. We won a Golden Globe, you know.”

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend airs on The CW on Monday nights, and you can catch up with it on Hulu and the CW app.


    1. I get that. In the era of peak TV, in order to survive you have to adopt some kind of filtering system and accept that you are simply not going to be able to watch all of the good TV shows, no matter how many times the internet or friends tell you, “No, this one is really, really good” (Yeah, but so are so like 30 other TV shows that everyone else is already telling me to watch). I deal with all the time. All I can say is that I was similarly put off by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend by its premise, and as it turned into Jane the Virgin all over again (i.e., once it premieres all the critics swear, “It’s so much better than you’d guess based on its premise”) I dropped in on the pilot and second episode and couldn’t behind it. When I came back to it over the holidays and caught up with it I was amazed at how quickly it founds its footing. What pulled me in was Rachel Bloom’s perfromance. What intrigued me were the many clever songs. What hooked me was when it started exploring its supporting cast more, e.g., devoting an entire episode to the sort of sad reason that Rebecca’s new bestie and personal cheerleader is so wrapped up in her quest to get with Josh. But even as I’m telling you that this show is amazing I’m telling myself to wrap it up because I still need to watch You’re the Worst, Master of None, Unreal, Fargo and so so so many other supposedly awesome shows. So, I get it.

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