January 23, 2016

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: How a quirky, irreverent, musical comedy became my favorite new show of the year

Back when the new fall shows were premiering, I wrote about Supergirl. Since that first episode, though, I've had to catch Kara online later in the week. That's because on Monday nights at 8, my rabbit ears have been tuned to the CW, to take a trip to West Covina, California with a crazy character named Rebecca Bunch.

Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) sings the praises of West Covina, California on the CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Source: cwtv.com
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a critically acclaimed little gem, but it hasn't gained the ratings it deserves. The first episode left me wondering where Rachel Bloom has been hiding. (Apparently, the answer is YouTube.) Bloom has created one of the most original shows to hit network TV in a long time. It's unfair to simplify this show to a one sentence summary, but here goes: Successful lawyer Rebecca Bunch gives up her career in New York City to move to West Covina, California, the hometown of her one-time summer-camp-boyfriend, for, she will assure you, completely unrelated reasons.

If you haven't seen the show, and you hear that it's a network TV musical, you probably have an idea in your head. Throw that idea out. This show is not Glee. It's not Smash. It's not Nashville. Particularly in its musical numbers, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend delivers perfectly timed - and timely - satire. Yes, it's irreverent and explicit. But it's also colorful and weird. Even better though, it's smart. And it expects its viewer to be smart, too. The show doesn't explain its jokes, and it won't give you extra time to get them before it's on to the next bit. 

In an few interviews, Bloom has said that the theme of the first season is "The lies we tell ourselves." Yes, the characters are a little delusional. Perhaps that's why there's not really a villain. There doesn't need to be. After all, we are our own worst enemy.  There's a moment in the pilot where you think that Paula is out to get Rebecca; turns out she's just a really stalkerish sidekick, brilliantly portrayed by Donna Lynne Champlin.

But of course, that doesn't mean the characters are shallow. Quite the opposite. With the exception of Rebecca's ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend Valencia, West Covina is populated with multi-dimensional people who are, sadly, relatable. These characters may be lying to themselves, but if we're being unreservedly honest, their flaws are just exaggerations of ours. They make all the worst mistakes we've ever entertained.

Greg is as close as this show gets to a comedic straight man. He's played by Santino Fontana, who voiced Hans in Disney's Frozen, which isn't often publicized, I imagine, because there isn't a demographic crossover in viewership. (Give it a couple years, though.) Anyway, Greg's musical numbers have been my favorite so far, and the season's best moment was undoubtedly his song and dance duet with Rebecca, "Settle for Me."

When I first started watching the show, I told friends that even if Crazy Ex-Girlfriend gets cancelled, I'd rather have a few episodes of this gem of a show than none at all. After a spring episode order, and a win for Bloom at the Golden Globes, it looks like I have little to worry about. Mark Pedowitz, president of the network, recently heaped praise upon Crazy Ex, and suggested it might be one of those shows that defies the odds. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, with the knowledge that the Cancel Bear isn't always right, and that there was once another oddball show that the CW gave a shot, and because of that, two comedy actresses from the network earned Globes. Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend have started a trend that I can only hope continues: smart, innovative shows being given a chance on the only channel that seems to value quality over popularity: The CW.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is BACK this Monday night at 8 PM. 

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