Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Why 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' is the Best Show About Relationships, Characterization, and Feminism You're Probably Not Watching


About a year or so ago, I wrote a piece about how I was impressed with one particular television network’s strides in their portrayal of women –– The CW. For a long time, this network was one typified by soapy dramas and “guilty pleasure” television (the home of shows like One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl, and 90210). And while there is nothing inherently wrong with any of the shows listed above, there was something missing in the network’s female leads. They were all relatively interchangeable.

They were all size zero tall, beautiful women who –– in their late twenties –– were still playing high school students. These female leads were always dressed as if they were walking onto the set of a Vogue shoot and had men falling at their feet constantly. And while all of that makes for fun television to become sucked into, the problem is that this depiction of women isn’t really representative of women in society as a whole. Enter: the new CW network.

Nowadays, The CW is –– either unconsciously or consciously –– expanding the variety of women that the shows on their network feature. And it’s absolutely glorious. We exist in an age of television where a Latina woman who is driven and type-A and has an amazing relationship with her mother and grandmother is the lead of a Golden Globe-winning series (Jane the Virgin). And then there are the countless diverse characters featured on The 100, alongside the variety of strong female characters we see on The Flash and Arrow. And that’s not even including the host of series on the network whose leads are women –– shows like iZombie, Reign, and the new comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

That last series is one that I want to spend the majority of this article talking about, because I think it’s a really important show that hasn’t gotten the buzz it deserves yet. People (admittedly, people like me) dismissed this series when its title was revealed. I really should learn to stop doing that (Jane the Virgin, Trophy Wife, and black-ish should have helped me learn that lesson), but what I think is so important about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the fact that its title is polarizing.

Because they’re taking back the term and flipping the insult on its head in this series, by revealing to us that characters labeled as “crazy” may actually have things mentally wrong with them. And people labeled as “crazy” may not –– they may just be people who are highly intelligent and lack basic social skills. The series features Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), a woman whose life is pretty much going nowhere fast up the corporate chain. She has a mother who incessantly calls her and lectures her, and a life that is decent but not ideal. That is, until she randomly runs into her first love/camp boyfriend Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) and decides, on a whim, to move to West Covina, California in order to be closer to him. In the process, she has attracted the attention of Greg Serrano (Santino Fontana) who has a love/hate relationship with Rebecca, and has become near-instant BFFs with Paula Proctor (Donna Lynn Champlin).

If that sounds like exactly what you assumed a show titled Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would be about, you would be correct. And that’s just what I feared –– that this would be a musical comedy poking fun of love.

But I have never been happier to be in the wrong than I was about this show.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is much more than a show about relationships and love and the messiness that accompanies those things. And it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what about it is so magical and so special. But I have decided to list a few of the most impressive things about this comedy.



#FEMINISM


This show is a brilliant commentary on the sexism present in our society. In the show’s theme song, Rebecca notes as much, saying that the term “crazy ex-girlfriend” is sexist. And she’s right. Do we ever use that phrase to refer to MEN? No. We just casually refer to them as our exes and we move on. But for some reason, emotional women who are exes are often branded as “crazy,” which is demeaning and completely missing the point. Rebecca continues in the theme song to say that her situation is much more nuanced than people are willing to accept. And she’s exactly right, too (I’ll get to that momentarily, no worries).

Feminism isn’t just a topic that this show throws in so that they can claim cultural or historical relevance. It’s easy for shows to do that, and a lot of them do. A lot of series shove two women into a scene together without any sort of larger narrative or purpose, label it “feminism,” and move on. But that’s not what feminism is. Feminism is the idea that relationships between men and women are important, but the relationships between women and other women are just as important. It’s the notion that women should be treated as equals in society and that if men are held to a certain standard, so should women. And if men are talked about in a certain way, then women shouldn’t be degraded in conversation.

There’s a moment in an episode that I think is really poignant:


Isn’t Rebecca right, though? Isn’t it horrible that our society conditions us to pit women against other women? Don’t we have enough problems gaining respect from men as it is? Why would we add girl-on-girl hate into the mix, too? So Crazy Ex-Girlfriend stimulates conversations like these. And they’re not conversations that are just haphazardly mentioned in a line of dialogue or a scene and then never touched upon again. These are real, lasting, foundational questions of behavior. Rebecca is a feminist and she’s imperfect; Paula is a feminist and imperfect; Heather is a feminist and imperfect. And I think that this show highlights how integral is it to have female relationships.

Even in meeting Josh’s girlfriend –– a gorgeous, fit yoga instructor named Valencia –– the show didn’t pit the two women against one another. In fact, it uses the episode in order to build a relationship between them. And while, on Rebecca’s part, some of that might have been an agenda to get close to Josh, the larger part of her really was just fascinated by Valencia as a woman and as a person. And truly, there are always Valencias in our lives: we can all think of the beautiful woman we hang out with and secretly fawn over because we think she’s the coolest and most put-together person in the world.

(Also that episode was so important because it revealed to us that Valencia did not really have her life together and that while she could be a bit standoffish, it is essentially because she doesn’t have female friends in her life. And that genuinely affects her.)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a show that exemplifies #LadiesSupportingLadies at every turn. It’s one that places high value in women and the relationship between them. But it also doesn’t say that every woman has to be friends with every other woman they encounter and if they don’t like each other, they’re setting women back. No, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend reminds us that it’s okay to not like every woman you come across. It’s okay to have fights and to disagree. And at the end of those disagreements, you don’t have to pretend to have a relationship with another women just because you’re a feminist.

The point of feminism –– the point that Rachel Bloom, the EPs, and the writing team really and truly get –– is that women should strive to support one another against the injustices that women, in general, face. We shouldn’t slam or shame other women just so that we can prop ourselves up. We shouldn’t let men slam or shame us. We should be the ones banding together to fight that inequality. (The “Sexy Getting Ready Song” is evidence of that fact.)

And at the end of the day, we don’t have to be best friends with every woman we encounter, so long as we recognize that every woman has value and deserves a voice.



MORE NUANCED THAN IT APPEARS


Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a lot more nuanced than one might assume based on the title. Again: one of the major points is that the show is trying to erase the shame and devaluing language that is used when talking about and to women.

(And the men on the show, when they are being gross or sexist, are acutely aware that what they say or do is not right. AND THEY SAY THAT. Honestly, this is so refreshing to me and something I didn’t talk about above but really deserves mention.)

It would be simplistic to say that this is a show about love and about a woman’s journey to finding it. It would be simplistic to say that it is about relationships. Because it’s not really JUST about those things, even though they’re important. In this week’s episode, the show addressed Rebecca’s problems head-on and it was intensely fascinating. Because she’s a mess. She’s immensely smart and went to Harvard and Yale and can do so much with her life. And yet there is one part of her life where she just can’t seem to function properly and it’s in learning how to be an adult and how to have relationships with other people.

Rebecca doesn’t understand what’s wrong with her, but she’s self-aware enough to know that something is wrong. It’s not healthy for her to be drawn to Josh or one-night stands the way that she is. And in order to stop those bad habits, she decides to be “healthy” for a bit, until the temptation is too much to bear and she backslides after the fear of the progress she made with Greg propels her into unhealthy choices again.

When she hurts Greg because of this, she emotionally crumbles and tells him that he shouldn’t want to be with her because she’s a wreck. “Can’t you see that?” she asks through her tears. And what I really love is that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn’t seek to answer and solve the large, big picture questions within the show.

Greg isn’t a put-together foil to Rebecca’s mess. Neither is Josh. No character on the show is the character branded as “the one who has life in order.” Even Paula isn’t faultless, though she is often the one to give advice. I love that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn’t try to provide easy answers to life’s complexities. People aren’t “fixed” overnight and learning how to become a better person while working through your flaws and issues takes time –– sometimes a lifetime.

There is much more to Rebecca than meets the eye. She’s not just an ex-girlfriend who is desperately in love with (and denying it) Josh. She’s the kind of woman who is smart, but also impulsive. She is sensitive and working through her issues one at a time. And sometimes, she fails. Sometimes she fails spectacularly. But to try to label her as “crazy” is insensitive. Heather, while studying Rebecca, notes that the woman has issues. That much is clear. But she doesn’t want to force labels onto her new friend. She doesn’t want to study her like a specimen under a microscope. What she wants to do is be her friend. That’s it –– without judgement or diagnosis or reservation. She knows that Rebecca needs a friend, not a friend who diagnoses her.

(For the record, I don’t think that’s a commentary on not being diagnosed by a mental health professional for a disorder. I think that it’s a commentary on people who are NOT doctors trying to attach labels and the stigmas they carry to people.)



THE BOTTOM LINE


Crazy Ex-Girlfriend isn’t a flawless show, because there are none of those. But what it is, however, is a beautiful example of how a comedy can be both hilarious and poignant, musical and layered, and filled with character development and growth in every episode. People aren’t problems to solve. They’re not things to callously label. Human beings are real and they’re nuanced. And by looking past a label or a surface-level behavior and leaning into their messiness, we might learn more about them. And we might learn more about ourselves, too.

And, if we’re really lucky, we might experience that all through a musical number.
Watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on The CW, Mondays at 8 PM, right before Jane the Virgin. Or catch up On Demand/online!

3 comments:

  1. it inspired me on writing my post about obsessed exes, https://kovla.com/blog/3-quick-ways-to-stop-obsessing-over-your-ex-in-pictures/ check it out its interesting!

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  2. Those days are awesome which were spent with the ex-girlfriend because she is that person who has a vital role in ones life, I like your way of writing you can visit my blog to learn more about that how to get back your ex-girlfriend?

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