It’s the sort of premise that sounds, to a TV executive, great over a round of ten drinks, but then, the next morning, the reality of such a story’s palatability, or lack thereof, to mass audiences makes him (or even sometimes her) question why he would ever consider greenlighting such a project. That premise, in this case, is that of an obsessed, manic woman named Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) quitting her high-powered job in New York to follow a guy named Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) she dated for two months when she was sixteen to his hometown of West Covina. In other words, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Co-created with rom-com screenwriting heavyweight Aline Brosh McKenna (best known for penning the scripts to The Devil Wears Prada and 27 Dresses), the show stands alone in its stalker musical comedy genre, a pairing that would, one might assume, have no place in the current television landscape. And yet, something about Rebecca Bunch’s endearing fixation with Josh, who represents the last time in her life when she felt truly happy (a thought spurred on by the strangely existential butter ads spread throughout the city), is too believable to write off.
When her anxiety kicks in after being informed by a co-worker that she’s going to be offered the position of junior partner at her law firm, she insists her blood sugar is low and that she needs to take a break to get a smoothie. Instead, she questions her entire existence right at the moment a sign with an arrow on it drops down to point to Josh, who has been living in the city for the past eight months and decides it’s time to go back to the laid-back vibes of West Covina, which is also “just four hours from the beach, two if there’s no traffic.”
Thus, we’re introduced to the musicality of the show with its intro, which tidily summarizes, “I was working hard at a New York job, making dough but it made me blue/One day I was crying a lot and so I decided to move to West Covina, California/Brand new house and new career/It happens to be where Josh lives–but that’s not why I’m here.” When her new friends and co-workers chime in, “She’s the crazy ex-girlfriend,” Rebecca counters, “It’s a little more nuanced than that”–thus presenting Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as that new breed of show that manages to treat mental illness seriously but with a comedic tinge that somehow works.
Rebecca’s eccentric, high-strung nature works well for the musical comedy category of the modern era, highlighting such problems as getting ready before a date (“The Sexy Getting Ready Song”)–like waxing all of your body hair and stuffing yourself into shapewear–or having to see the object of your desire’s hotter than you girlfriend, Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz), teach a yoga class (“Good At Yoga”) as she gloats, “As the morning sun kisses the lotus/I kiss my own hoo-ha, can you do that?” In point of fact, there is probably no other show that could carry off a song about the fears a woman has not just over physical and emotional inadequacies, but also over casual sex. Rebecca covers this territory quite well with “Sex With A Stranger,” which features a Britney Spears-like pop song motif with lyrics that include, “Hey sexy stranger, come back to my place/I hope you’re not a murderer/Kiss me baby, all over the place/And please don’t be a murderer,” in addition to, “Have you been tested for STDs/Then waited for the three-month window–and then got tested again?/Just makin’ sure, most people don’t know about the window.”
While Bloom and McKenna keep the tone of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend light for the most part, the show goes to a darker place as it nears its mid-season finale, and Rebecca begins to feel the strain of having gone off her anti-anxiety/depression meds cold turkey. This subject is tenderly broached in the seventh episode, called “I’m So Happy That Josh Is So Happy!,” with the song “Sexy French Depression,” Rebecca’s way of coping with Josh’s seeming contentedness after having moved in with Valencia. Although sentiments like, “I black out with dessert wine, oui, je suis garbage,” are all too real, their delivery is infused with just the right amount of jocularity to be relatable even to those who haven’t ever stared down the barrel of a gun (you know, as in suicide).
Regardless of whether or not Rebecca ends up getting Josh to give her a chance as more than a friend when the series returns, it will be interesting to see where Bloom and McKenna go with the genre they have single (or is it double in this case?)-handedly created.