BRINGING YOU THE BEST IN ROMANCE FICTION
The television series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has a 96% critical score on Rotten Tomatoes and slightly lower 86% audience score. The show is lauded for being funny, original, and quirky. The breezy, candy-colored world of West Covina, California hosts a cast of flawed but intriguing characters who are saved from being cartoon-ish by occasionally becoming aware of their flaws and even working to correct them (with varying degrees of success).
There are a number of things that I appreciate about the approach of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. First, the show seems aware that the character has to walk a fine line. Rebecca is likable, smart, and successful in her own right, and she knows it isn’t okay to obsess about her summer camp ex-boyfriend, Josh. Does she obsess anyway? Absolutely, but she goes out of her way to lie to her friends and herself about what brought her to West Covina (Josh’s home town). She might even be partially right: she was unhappy in her old life.
The show takes her small romantic obsession and gives it substance. She isn’t just in love with an old boyfriend, she’s misses the feeling of joy she had when she saw him. She didn’t choose the life she’s living, her mother did, and she knows she shouldn’t need validation from a man… in fact Rebecca is so smart that she knows what she’s attempting (to steal another woman’s boyfriend) is unacceptable. Her brightness makes it possible for her to lie and connive, but the show keeps it sweet. When she really crosses a line, and she does on occasion there are consequences. People back off. They avoid her. They don’t trust her. And that’s vital to the show, or it seems like she can do whatever she wants in her quest to secure Josh.
Even so, I find aspects of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend unsettling. The name, of course, isn’t very nice and, as the theme song itself comments, is sexist. In the same theme song Rebecca complains, “It’s a little more nuanced than that.” and the show delivers on that premise. Still, watching her buddy up to Josh’s new girlfriend, invite herself to his family Thanksgiving, and brush off the guy she might “settle for” isn’t as much fun as you’d think. Comedies often go into uncomfortable territory — The Office often made me squirm as well — so it’s all a question of how deft you think the writing handles these tricky situations.
The premise of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is also rife with problematic themes and hints at deeper and more disturbing issues. By the end of the first season, the show addresses her charismatic captor and the bizarre situations in the bunker where she was kept imprisoned with exaggeration and absurdity.
And I suppose that’s the strength of comedy. It takes terrible situations and makes them addressable.
Rebecca, in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, is smart and pretty but she isn’t a cookie-cutter. Though she went to Harvard and Yale, she’s still dumb about some things. She can dress up and look fabulous, or look thrown-together in a night time raid of the corner shopping market. Sometimes her love for Josh is romantic and idealistic, based on first-love and hope. Other times, it’s manipulative and self-serving.
Overall, I’ll keep watching the show because it is clever and has earned my interest with deft writing. I hope the characters continue to grow and evolve.