Television

TV: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 1)

November 7, 2016

crazyexgirlfriend_s1It took some convincing for me to watch the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but after plying me with hilarious YouTube videos, Jenn eventually wooed me over to watching this one. And now I feel like a fool for resisting, because it’s pretty wonderful. Stupid masculine conditioning!

Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom, in a performance as fearless as it is virtuosic) is a high-powered attorney in the New York City rat race. She’s successful, but also miserable and neurotic, and when her dreamy ex from summer camp Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) appears on the street out of nowhere, the brief encounter finally causes her to crack. Blowing up her life, she spontaneously moves to Josh’s home town of West Covina, California, takes a job at a third-rate law firm run by Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner), and begins concocting elaborate schemes to win Josh back — often with the help of her new best friend, Paula (the wildly talented Donna Lynne Champlin), who gets drawn into the vicarious thrill of Rebecca’s love life. But Rebecca’s unselfaware pursuit of romantic destiny starts to lay waste to the web of relationships surrounding Josh, particularly for Josh’s cynical pal Greg (Santino Fontana) and his snarly girlfriend Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz). Rebecca is convinced that winning back Josh will solve all her problems, but her efforts to do so lead her down a reckless path of deluded antiheroism.

At first blush, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend looks like a twee rom-com with an unappealing, politically incorrect premise, but once you get past that false impression, there’s a smart, satisfying, and wickedly funny show waiting, that leverages the cheery tropes of musicals and romantic comedy to cynical and hilarious effect. The songs and dance routines range from amusing to fall-over funny, and it resurrects the musical as a viable TV genre, mastering and sustaining the inventiveness and sense of humor that made Buffy’s “Once More with Feeling” and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog successful. At the heart of it all is Bloom, who is marvelous in a juicy, showy antihero part. She’s the Walter White or Vic Mackey of the musical comedy genre, walking that tricky line of relatable and appalling that keeps you rooting both for and against her as she wreaks havoc. Bloom is a massive talent, and the cast surrounding her — especially Champlin and Fontana — are just as talented and funny. And while there are some early, punching-down missteps in its messaging, it’s mostly a very progressive and thoughtful show in terms of its thematic subtexts. I view it as kind of cagey, dark flip side to Jane the Virgin, which it resembles in perky tone and stylistic approach. It has the same zippy antics and rib-jabbing metahumor, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is nastier, edgier, and flat out funnier, even as it stirs in just enough hope and goodness to keep the viewer invested. Plus, it has madcap musical numbers that propel the narrative and add another layer of inventiveness. Hopefully more viewers will push through its off-putting surface to find their way to this show, because it deserves to stick around for a while.

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