Destroying Our Hang-ups With the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

“That’s a sexist term,” animated Rebecca remarks in the theme song to the CW’s new series, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. That term she’s referring too? The series’ title, of course—“crazy ex-girlfriend”—a name main character, Rebecca Bunch, becomes all too familiar with as she’s repeatedly accused of being one. As right as she is to denounce the label, Rebecca has a tendency, as her new friend, Paula, kindly puts it, to be in denial when it comes to the motives behind her recent major life changes. The show, however, couldn’t be more blunt and it is that dedication to truth that has made creator/star Rachel Bloom’s musical romcom such a standout, while at the same time threatening to become too effective in its realness.

Like Freaks and Geeks did with high school, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend gives viewers an uncensored glimpse at the awkward obsessiveness behind the modern crush. That means all those uncomfortable things people pretend not to do in real life to keep tabs on a loved one? Those lies we tell ourselves? They’re coming back to confront us on the small screen, and, sometimes, they’re in song (“I Have Friends“).

The worst part is, if we’re going to question Rebecca’s sanity, than we’d better be ready to question our own first. As much as we try to distance ourselves with adamant declarations of “We don’t act that way. She’s an extreme case,” if there’s anything unsettling to find about the show’s premise—successful but miserable lawyer, Rebecca Bloom, has a chance encounter with her ex-boyfriend, Josh, and decides to quit her job to follow him across the country, in hopes of getting back together—it’s that we know how this can happen. We know how love can make us do the “crazy” and, if it weren’t for pesky responsibilities and fears getting in the way, we’d be making brash decisions in the name of love, too.

So why the need to pretend we’re so different? For every relatable scene the show delivers there’s another that feels, if relatable, too authentic and unfiltered for our tastes. We’re an era that loves its filters—photo, coffee, you name it. Unadulterated truth is not only tough to take in, but to then call it entertainment? It’s not in our natures. We like the fantasy of the romantic ideal, where everyone finds their true love worth fighting for. If we don’t know how to handle Rebecca’s continued infatuation with, Josh, it’s because we think she should have moved on years ago. She’s following her interpretation of that ideal, where Josh is her man, but because we disagree on her choice, we fear her romantic endeavor is borderline stalker-ish instead. Their brief stint as a couple took place years ago, during summer camp. Consequently, Josh has no comprehension of  the depths of Rebecca’s continued feelings for him. Although he may not recognize how big a role he currently plays in Rebecca’s future plans, we, as viewers, do and we’re frightened by that intensity.

But should we be? Because when you actually spell it out, what has Rebecca done that we haven’t tried? To a certain level obsessing over a crush isn’t outlandish at all. Especially in the age of the internet and Catfishing, who hasn’t contrived “coincidental” run-ins with crushes? Or checked up on their social network pages? While the idea of someone researching you is inherently creepy, we are also those creepers. What makes it feel worse when we catch someone else is doing it is we know our limits. We don’t know where the other person is going to draw the line.

Yet besides the obvious potential for negative, it’s important to remember that Rebecca’s embracement of drastic personal change could be seen as empowering. Reacting off of the recognition of how unhappy she is in her work-absorbed, if financially secure, routine, she doesn’t submit to the inevitableness or necessity of such a career. She uplifts her whole life, completely overhauling her normal. That’s not crazy but inspiring—a call to “Face Your Fears” instead of letting them dictate your life.

I don’t even mind that Josh was the instigator of this major move, because it was clearly a festering, unresolved issue that needed an unorthodox motivator to be confronted.

It’s the continued preoccupation with Josh’s whereabouts, once done moving, that can be disappointing, or off-putting. That’s the point of the show, and undoubtedly one that will change over time, as they grow closer or further apart. That he’s actually a decent guy helps to soften the blow of Rebecca’s infatuation, in that she hasn’t completely overstated his niceness from behind rose-colored glasses. Ultimately, though, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s not the guy for her, a fact made even more blatantly apparent by her shining compatibility with Josh’ best friend, Greg. While Greg develops a crush on her, however, his feelings aren’t [yet] reciprocated.

In this way the show doesn’t submit to what the audience wants for Rebecca. Rightfully so, it follows what Rebecca wants for herself.  Perfect on paper doesn’t always equate to love and telling a person to feel different (It’s Greg, Rebecca! Not Josh! Greg!) is futile at best, cruel at worst. We can’t project onto people (let alone fictional characters) who they should or shouldn’t like. We try that enough with celebrity couples. However convenient it would be if we could, you can’t force feelings and it’s the culture we live in, that we’ve come to think otherwise.

Isn’t that life after all? Loving the person we shouldn’t, or who doesn’t, love us back?

At least the characters on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend have the guts to make it messy and try. Even past the point of realizing how one-track set on Josh she is, Greg asks Rebecca on a date. He doesn’t hide the fact that he likes her, even when he expects rejection. Likewise, Rebecca recognizes how good a guy he is. She even tries to sing herself into liking him but, however frustrating it might be for viewers, it’s not her fault that she doesn’t. Settle for Me makes for a great song but it doesn’t make for a healthy relationship, and that she doesn’t try to pretend feelings and prolong Greg’s hurt is considerate, if still painful.

In being semi-realistic, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend may not always go the way fandom wants. It may not always shield the crazy that we try to deny in our own lives. But for every time we cringe at one of Rebecca’s questionable decisions, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend should be applauded. Life is uncomfortable and if we always allow ourselves to be inhibited by fictional curve balls, we’ll never be prepared for the real life ones. Similarly, in playing with extremes, the show promotes the positive message of embracing your inner crazy while denouncing the stigmatizing labels that make people feel like there’s something wrong with being yourself. It’s a sensitive act to balance but already Rebecca is growing more self-aware as the show goes on. While that doesn’t always prevent her from regretting choices, it does allow her to make peace with their outcomes and I look forward to seeing what happens next.

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