The first episode of Crazy ex girlfriend opens with a depressed woman sitting on the bed watching a butter commercial that says “When was the last time you were truly happy?”. The woman goes to work, she’s sad and almost has a breakdown, she goes outside to get some hair and take her pills.
Suddenly, a series of a big arrow shaped sign falling and a very convenient ray of sunshine direct her focus to the street, where she sees her handsome ex boyfriend walking around. That’s when she remembers the last time she was truly happy.
That seems like a pretty cheesy, conventional romance comedy, right? Right? Wrong, this is Crazy ex girlfriend, probably the most “unconventional” show I’ve ever seen in my life.
When I first started watching it I was simply looking for a diversion, a stupid simple comedy that would make my Sunday afternoon pass faster. Instead I got hours of good TV that made me understand what’s wrong in the way the entertainment industry portrays relationships.
Rebecca Bunch, the protagonist, has decided to leave everything she has in New York to follow her ex boyfriend, Josh, to his hometown (West Covina, California). At first glance, she seems like the classic romantic comedy type of heroine, someone who’s perseverance in pursuing a romantic relationship is regarded as a quality and rewarded with a happy ending.
This doesn’t happen to Rebecca though, she does try to pursue a romantic relationship with Josh (and other men), but the closer she gets to him the more lonely and miserable she feels.
By “unconventional” I don’t mean that there are no TV shows or movies with a protagonist (woman or man) trying to get his/her ex back from the (usually terrible) current partner. There are actually way too many of those, if you ask me. What makes Crazy ex girlfriend different is the fact that it writes about real women learning how not-to-be romantic heroines.
Usually romantic stories either focus on the romance between two charcaters (Ross and Rachel in “Friends”), or the romance that the main character hopes to find when meeting “the one” (Ted and the mother in “How I met your mother”).
But in this show romance is not the mysterious force that solves all problems, it is the villain. The protagonist, Rebecca, has idolized the idea of romance for so long that she feels like her life won’t be complete without someone (or to be more precise “the one”) by her side.
Don’t we all feel that way? After all, in every movie the idea of happiness is to be married, have children, build a house and spend the rest of our lives with our families.
That’s what happens at the end of every fairy tale, romance novel or romantic movie. Hell, even in most action movies the romantic subplot ends with the guy getting the girl and settling down. But as I said before, Crazy ex girlfriend is more interested in the dark side of this subject. Romance can be good and bring happiness, but only if it is one of the building blocks of our life, not the only thing that makes it woth living.
Rebecca makes a lot of mistakes in her quest for true love, and along the way she needs to learn all the things that will make her a better person: friendship (through her relationship with her best friend Paula), respect (she cannot just use people and expect them to forgive her), self reflection (she realizes her mistakes by thinking of all the suffering she has caused Valencia, Josh’s girlfriend), acceptance (she needs to understand that she can’t just ignore her mental desease, she needs to face it).
That said, romance is not completely demonized, it’s just implied that Rebecca needs to earn it by becoming a better person rather than force herself into other people’s lives like a bulldozer.
The show also doesn’t shy away from teaching the audience about the importance of consequences. All the lies, the morally dubius actions, and the broken hearts Rebecca leaves along the way don’t disappear like in any other romantic comedy, they come back to haunt her.
West Covina may be full of songs and musical numbers, but this doesn’t mean that it is a fantasy world where Rebecca can do wathever she wants. Like in the real world, lies will only bring you so far.
The best example for this is in season 2 when one of the most beloved characters, Greg, leaves West Covina forever breaking up with Rebecca, because he has realized that she is dangerous for him. As he says in a song “We can’t undo, can’t make amends, disfunction is our Lingua Franca, we can’t unscrew each other’s friends”.
This is probably the most controversial topic of this show, but also the most grounded in reality: the fight against the “BS feminism”.
In most movies and shows women have two types of relationship: BFFs or mortal enemies. In one case the bond between two women is so strong that nothing can break it, in the other two women can’t stay in the same room together without spitting out the worst insults with a polite smile on their faces.The worst part is that many women seem to take pride in being part of this binary depition.
Crazy ex girlfriend makes things more complicated. The show doesn’t try to deny nor glamourize the “bitchy” side of its characters, backstabbing is not portrayed as “epic”, nor friendship is made indestructible. Relationships are not either “Bad Blood” or “Look what you made me do”, those part of the characters’ personalities are present, but they are not simplified.
For example: Valencia, who appears to be the most shallow character in the show, goes from Rebecca’s mortal enemy (as Josh’s current girlfriend) to one of her best friends. Not just that, she keeps challenging our prejudices throughout the rest of the show: in season 4 she goes from apparently profiting over Rebecca’s suicide attempt (to get more followers on social medias), to revealing that it was just a coping mechanism because she was terrified of losing her friend.
Another exemple is Paula, as Rebecca’s best friend she is afraid that the friendship with Valencia will exclude her, so she clings to her friend as hard as she can. Eventually both Paula and Rebecca learn how not to be so dependent on each other and respect the other’s space.
And there is even an hilarious song called “Let’s generalize about men” depicting how women sometimes go too far and blame everyone of the opposite sex for one man’s bad behaviour.
The men in Crazy ex girlfriend are not left behind, just like the women they are complex and lovable characters. How many romance movies portray men as perfect prizes for our heroines to win? They’re all handsome, smart, sensitive, perfect beings. Here this is not the case.
Since we see the events through Rebecca’s eyes, our first impression of the most important man in the show, Josh, is that he is an angel disguised as a human being, but with time that changes. He starts out as a playful guy who seems to be the image of perfection outside and inside, by season 3 he is unemployed he shows us the childish and irresponsable side of his personality. But still a lovable character full of resources and hopes for the future.
The same goes for his counterpart Greg, seemingly a loser with low self esteem who works at a bar and begs the girl he likes to go out with him; but when he leaves, Rebecca understands that he is a smart man who faced and defeated his alchoolism and has the courage to leave his hometown to find a better life.
Here as well there is a great song “Fit hot guys have problems too”, about how good looking men are objectified.
Crazy ex girlfriend in only 3 season became one of my favourite tv shows ever. It has taught me so much about female characters and made me reflect on how our gender is portrayed in the media. It is the greatest show… with the lowest ratings.
Yes people, “50 shades of Grey” gives us a girl who swoons whenever her abuser shows her basic human decency, it earns millions; Crazy ex girlfriend gives us a woman who tries to overcome mentall illness and learn how to live a meaningfull life, no one cares.
Yet this makes me think: is the entertainment industry giving us the wrong portayal of women and romance , or is it giving us the image of women we secretly want?