Rachel Bloom in ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ CW
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Why You Should Be Watching ‘Crazy Ex-Girfriend’

It’s nuanced, hilarious, musical, woman-centric, quirky, very Jewish, and pretty much the opposite of whatever you thought.

Marjorie Ingall
February 19, 2016
Rachel Bloom in 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' CW

When I first saw the ads for the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, featuring a pink-clad, open-mouthed, pink-lipsticked, manic-eyed girl ferociously clutching a pink balloon string, I thought, “This show is not for me.”

The relentlessly chirpy-looking image seemed to invite mockery of the title character. I misread the title as “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and assumed the plot would ask us to identify with some poor dude who’d once dated the titular clingy and/or vicious loon. In my head, this dude and his dude-friends and perhaps his upgraded, more “relatable” just-one-of-the-guys girlfriend would deal with the pink lipstick girl’s refusal to go away. Feh.

I was wrong.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as a terrific piece in the New York Times recently pointed out, is a nuanced, hilarious, woman-centric, weird-as-heck and very Jewish show. Its star, Rachel Bloom, unexpectedly won a Golden Globe last month as best actress in a TV comedy or musical. The show is a musical-comedy extravaganza with big production numbers, but it also has a lot to say about being a modern-day woman with a ton of ambivalence about work, romance, and friendships with other women.

The show’s about Rebecca Bunch, a high-powered NYC lawyer who is unhappy in her all-consuming job until she spots her old summer-camp hot slacker boyfriend Josh, who’s visiting the city from California. She spontaneously decides to move to Josh’s nowhere hometown, West Covina, to start anew. Yes, she wants to rekindle their romance, but she also wants to be fulfilled and satisfied with life, and has no idea how to fulfill her inchoate longings. (“The situation’s a lot more nuanced than that,” she protests in the opening theme song.)

Back in 2014, Tablet contributor Batya Ungar-Sargon profiled Bloom. The singer-actress seemed on the verge of stardom, a YouTube sensation who made very funny music videos about a historically accurate (and therefore Black-Death-ridden and Jew-hating) Disney Princess, and a boy who falls asleep in Hebrew School and has not-very-knowledgable-about-sex fantasies about his teacher (his dreams are interrupted by Golda Meir yelling “Jeffrey! This is Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel! You have brought shame on your family and the Jewish people!”). Bloom had just sold a comedy pilot to Showtime and everything seemed awesome.

But Showtime ultimately passed on the pilot and it wound up at the CW, which apparently wanted its own version of Girls and Broad City, two other hit shows helmed by funny, fearless young Jewish women. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s ad campaign, however, gives the impression that the CW doesn’t quite know how to sell something so quirky. (I didn’t even know it was a musical until a friend I trusted told me I had to check it out.) But Bloom is used to being the odd girl out; she told Ungar-Saron that in the Los Angeles suburbs where she’d grown up, “Everyone around me was super-cool and laid back and skinny and tan and volleyball-y, and I was just this neurotic kid who was singing ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’ ” She struggled with anxiety and depression, then wound up at NYU (of course), where she intended to do musical theater but wound up feeling more comfortable with the improv comedy crew than the jazz hands crowd. Her post-grad videos caught the attention of screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (who’d turned The Devil Wears Prada from a vapid, mean-spirited novel into a comic tour-de-force for Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci) and the two co-created Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

For me, the great strength of the show is the musical numbers, which come in a variety of genres (country, Astaire and Rogers, ‘80s hair band, Billy Joel, Marshall-Crenshaw-esque power pop, girl group, Bollywood). Predictably, my absolute fave is “Where’s the Bathroom,” a Yiddish-inflected triumph for Tovah Feldshuh, who plays Rebecca’s mother. Feldshuh’s character, visiting her daughter in West Covina for the first time, unleashes a stream-of-consciousness torrent of loving criticism of Rebecca’s body, home, and life choices.

You call that a bathroom?
That’s what passes for a bathroom?
There were no bowls of rocks or any decorative soaps!
You don’t even have a bathmat!
Who doesn’t have a bathmat?
If you need a bathmat I can – oh! Did you hear?
A bishop in Wisconsin said something anti-Semitic
So the temple has decided to boycott cheddar cheese.

I watch the show with my kids (some of the sexual subtleties fly over 11-year-old Maxie’s head), and the minute Feldshuh started singing, Maxie breathed, “That’s Nana.” Indeed.

Vocally, the show’s secret weapon is Santino Fontana, who played Hans the Evil Prince (oops, spoiler alert) in Frozen and is a Broadway stalwart. Fontana’s character Greg wants to be with Rebecca even though she’s hung up on Josh, and he’s self-hating enough to recognize that he’d be second best…and he’s OK with that.

I was blown away by a song in which teenage girls advise Rebecca to get a makeover (“just for yourself”). But their “do it for you” message is actually that familiar co-opted, bastardized version of feminism that frames man-pleasing as empowerment.

Push them boobs up
Just for yourself.
Wear six-inch heels
Just for yourself.

REBECCA: If it’s just for myself, shouldn’t I be comfortable?

No! Put yourself first in a sexy way!

Don’t think about it too hard
Too, too hard.
Don’t think about it too hard
Too, too hard.

It’s a wormhole,
It’s a Mobius strip,
It’s snake-eats-tail,
It’s the infinity sign.
Get a tattoo of the infinity sign,
On your lower back
Just for yourself.

REBECCA: But I can’t see my lower back.

The show is also deliciously diverse: Josh is a muscle-y Asian guy; Josh’s current girlfriend Valencia (Rebecca’s nemesis) is a foxy Latina yoga instructor; Rebecca’s closest friend Paula is a middle-aged, not-skinny paralegal who the show never body-shames or snickers at. This is how casting should work. Plus Paula gets to deliver both a glamorous torch song and a hilarious Whitney-Houston-esque ballad full of terrible life advice that includes a montage of children running with scissors.

You need to watch this show. Do it or we can’t be friends anymore. There are seven more episodes this season, so binge-watch the first ten this weekend, then watch the new one on Monday with me. Just for yourself.

Marjorie Ingall is the author of Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children.