Channel: The CW
Recurring Cast: Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, Santino Fontana, Donna Lynne Champlin, Pete Gardner, Gabrielle Ruiz, Vella Lovell
For the entirety of the first episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I was desperately trying to place where I had seen lead actress Rachel Bloom before. As a movie-lover, I think of myself as the authority when it comes to independent actors and placing faces from famous movies, but, while there was an undeniable sense of familiarity about Rachel Bloom, I was hard pressed to find any trace of her anywhere. In between episodes, I gave in and turned to Google and IMDB for help. I was surprised and pleased at the answer. I had come across the actress before, but from an online sketch show. The show was an extension of popular website at the time, Cracked.com, a place where sarcastic humour lived and breathed. Her side of the website was provided musical numbers poking fun at society’s opinion of sexuality and the public’s perceptions of women. They stood out for being higher production values than was usual for the site as well as a sense of humour that was somewhat elevated for the show. Apparently, someone noticed it too, because here we are with a successful TV show which puts Rachel Bloom on top acting and writing duties, showing a mainstream audience exactly what her comedy chops can do.
And this show is essentially an extension of her sketch show, sticking to the side of comedy she knows she can nail with ease. The premise is fairly straight-forward with Rachel Bloom casting herself as a successful lawyer, Rebecca Bunch, from a demanding family, who upon getting a massive promotion, suddenly realises how work-driven and shallow her life has become. Having a panic attack in the street, she bumps into a childhood ex-boyfriend, the insanely handsome and upbeat Josh Chan. They catch up, Josh announcing that he lives in the quiet town of West Covina. The next day, Rachel makes the crazy decision to move to West Covina in a bid to be happy, a lot of her decision based on the fact that there is a slim chance she can get back together with her ex. The series is essentially about Rachel madly pursuing a romance with Josh, while trying to hide her craziness from her new work colleagues and friends. While it is an oddball situation, and one that proves endless fun for Bloom, that is only half the pitch of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. In par with her old sketch show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is more than just a sitcom, but a series that is willing to burst into self-depreciating musical numbers at any given time. The first scene sees Rachel Bloom decide to chase Josh to West Covina and burst into a Broadway spectacle, complete with crowds of dancers and a giant pretzel in the sky. It would be tricky to justify Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as a straight musical, because in truth, there are only two songs in each episode. The better description of this show is a series that is willing to break its sense of realism to burst into a song every now and again. The songs are also not quite musical themed (unless a purposeful choice by Bloom), and more an excuse for the writer to mock the music industry. When she isn’t parodying pop star divas or music video clichés, she is trying her hand at a music genre, from boy band ensembles to rap battles. Rachel handles each one with ease and the real success of the show is how catchy and memorable some of the songs are. It gives this series a real rewatchability factor, as you have a craving to listen to a certain song, but also fancy the episode’s worth of build up before hitting the refrain. There are some fun tunes like the brilliant ‘Feeling Kinda Naughty’, ‘Sex With A Stranger’ and ‘I Gave You A UTI’ (don’t ask), but also some songs that get quite touching, unlocking characters with true emotion. Greg, the man who fancies Rebecca, but is ignored due to her obsession with Josh, has his own musical number ‘Settle For Me’, which earns chuckles but mostly hits home the poor man’s plight and while ‘Oh My God I Think I Like You’, is a laugh out loud piece of music from Rachel Bloom, it is also endearingly tragic. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend might be set on making you laugh, but that doesn’t mean it is little more than a bunch of jesters singing and dancing for the audience.
But while the songs are the easiest thing to recommend about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, it is also doing the cast and crew an injustice to say that the series is all about the music. In fact, one of the downsides of Season One is that there is a large sag in the middle where the music drops in quality, as if the songs are ticking mandatory boxes the first few episodes set up. This is only a small gripe however, because while the musical numbers are a gimmick, the quality of the writing stands up outside of the tracks with ease. By the time we have come to know the characters, they are able to make us laugh with their smaller quirks. Rachel Bloom is always the star of the show, a mess of obsessive, crazy romance. She is a rather tragic character, convinced that Josh, in a vaguely stable relationship with his long-term girlfriend, will end up with her. While her methods of getting Josh into her life can be unorthodox and, as the character eventually realises, downright villainous, her feelings are genuine. It is hard not to feel remorse or pity for Rebecca as she blindly stumbles into awkward situation after awkward situation, her declarations of love devoid of a filter. As the show progresses, we learn that she is not the only character who lets their emotions run away from them, sabotaging their own happiness. Josh lets fleeting emotions ruin the bigger picture. His girlfriend Valencia scuppers her own dreams by devious manipulation. Greg over-thinks any romantic entanglement. Darryl, Rebecca’s boss, is worried about what people think of him. The final episode is a tragic example of people’s own insecurities, as everyone becomes their own worst enemy, happiness crashing down around them. The moral of the story: love is tricky. We might as well sing about it.
Final Verdict: Rachel Bloom emerges from internet obscurity into a glorious explosion of comedy, romance and some fun musical numbers.