Sunday, March 18, 2018

Why Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Was One of the Most Important Shows of 2017-2018 [Contributors: Jenn and Anne]

Ever since its debut, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been a boundary-pushing, raucous, wonderful comedy — a gem on The CW and critical darling. As the show has grown and evolved, its shed preconceived notions and embraced discussion of stigmas. This season, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend took a few darker twists and turns which made the show more nuanced, layered, and poignant than ever before. Because the series has been so important to us (and actually Anne is the one who pushed me to try comedies that had polarizing names), Anne and I decided to combine our forces and describe the ups and downs of this season on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Rebecca Bunch is such a complex character — on the one hand, occasionally we will root for her, but often we root against her. This year, we saw quite an evolution of her character. By the finale, how did you feel about her arc?

Anne: I think that Rebecca still has a long way to go. I am a tremendous fan of this show — it is comfort television on weekends and comfort music on weekdays. Rewatching and re-listening so often has helped me to fully appreciate how ambitious the creators’ plan was for the character, to where each conflict Rebecca faced — whether unfairly or as a result of her own actions — made perfect sense within her emotional arc. If it were done, it would hardly be as ambitious. So I imagine there’s still a lot Rebecca has to learn, and that the arc isn’t concluded.

I wanted to mention the (presumably four-season) arc as a whole before answering what you were asking, about this season in particular. I thought the breakdown in season three made perfect sense and was necessary. For how strongly Rebecca reacted against Robert, with whom she was not even exclusively involved, it makes sense that Josh Chan — who, for the entire show, has been a bedrock of her happiness and hope — leaving her would cause such a downward spiral. And I think it has been important, as more people become involved in her life, that the artificiality of her moving to West Covina is shed. It makes the show darker and realer, and makes her decision in the finale justifiable (at least from an emotional standpoint).

Jenn: I’ve always enjoyed the fact that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a meta, raucous series. But I think that season three really helped elevate it from a smart comedy to a poignant one. This year saw darker twists and turns, but yet they never felt excessive or out of place. Rebecca is such an interesting character. We spent so much of our time in the series trying to decide whether or not her actions are justifiable. In season three, Rebecca Bunch became more self-aware, and we got the opportunity to see her realization that her actions have consequences and there are some lines that, once crossed, cannot be un-crossed.

Rebecca’s arc makes sense to me — she’s grown and progressed and has finally come to the point in which she’s willing and able to take responsibility and change, even if it’s difficult. In spite of the rocky road it took to get her there, Rebecca’s willingness to sacrifice (time, freedom, convenience) has allowed her to become a more well-developed character and also a more complex one. Rebecca still makes mistakes. We still disagree with some of the decisions she makes. She still takes two steps forward and one back. But that’s humanity in the show and in Rebecca.

Let’s talk about how Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was unafraid to go really dark this year. Why was that important for the show and its evolution?

Anne: I think it was important in the interest of blowing up the idea of “crazy ex-girlfriend.” Despite how many interviews the creators give and how concerning Rebecca was so often, I think that there is a huge chunk of people who miss season one Rebecca’s “quirky adventures,” and that’s not the story this show is interested in telling. I’m personally happy it’s not. I had a much harder time enjoying the back half of this season than the first — trying to watch Rebecca do the same antics with Nathaniel as she did with Josh. The first half of the season ruined forever the sanctuary of ignorance that Rebecca, and us viewers, could stay in. There’s nothing quirky about Rebecca’s behavior anymore; there never really was. Her actions have real consequences.

Now that we have seen with our eyes the consequences of Rebecca not receiving the treatment she needs, we know that that’s the endgame we need to be rooting for — not about the guys! That’s an idea that Rebecca hasn’t committed to (despite “Buttload of Cats,” ha) and an idea we’re not used to, either. My pea brain sees a guy like Scott Michael Foster and wants him to kiss anyone on screen at all times, okay, not necessarily watch Rebecca fill out therapy workbooks. A part of me has to wonder if our resistance to this idea is because we’re not used to a woman anti-hero character. Walter White didn’t end up with anyone. Don Draper didn’t end up with anyone. Dexter didn’t end up with anyone. (Actually, don’t get me started on Dexter...) Why is it essential that Rebecca does? Is it because the show is sold as a deconstruction of rom-coms, or is it that romantic love is seen as the only ending a woman has?

Jenn: I totally agree, Anne — especially in regards to the fact that the series now wants to remind us that Rebecca’s actions have genuine consequences and we should see her not as a quirky heroine but as a broken, messed-up woman who we can root for, not to find love but to find herself and healing.

I feel like the topic of mental health including this season’s reality of Rebecca’s attempted suicide is important in the show’s progression. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a misnomer — the show is not about love or ex-love. Those are integral elements that propel plot and characterization. At its core, this is a show about what it means to struggle to deal with life and heal. Everyone in the series has their own coping mechanism for when life gets difficult and most of them are toxic — denial, deflection, dependency, regression — but the series does a great job this year in pointing those things out and naming them as toxic behaviors. Rebecca’s diagnosis was the first step in her healing (emotionally, mentally, and physically) in order to have better, healthier relationships with her friends, co-workers, family, and loved ones.

I think the show knew that it was so easy to romanticize Rebecca’s unhealthy behaviors (because we see them, on a smaller scale, so easily romanticized in rom-coms — come on, jealousy? Light snooping? Sabotage? All things that female characters do on some small scale in romantic movies in order to propel themselves closer to the person they’re attracted to), so they completely demolished our perception of that this year by allowing us to see exactly how self-destruction works. Rebecca’s arc is the show — and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend reminded us that just because she’s the main character doesn’t mean she’s always right. The darkness of this season will help Rebecca and the show’s characters become more fully-realized human beings who become better through mistakes and triumphs.

Not many shows can successfully do time-jumps, but toward the end of this season, we got one on the show. How effective was it? What did you like/dislike about jumping a bit into the future?

Anne: I thought that episode was sorely needed. I mentioned that the back half of the season was not as enjoyable for me as the first — and I mean, that’s for a lot of reasons. But this episode helped to propel a lot of the action that could have lingered for too long, and gave Rebecca sufficient time to find a “new normal” that was just as threatening to her happiness as the quest for Josh Chan.

So I liked the movement and slight changes to status quo. I liked that it skipped past the pregnancy. I liked Dog Josh! And I did think, after a front half that was so, so jam-packed with plot propulsion, that time needed to stretch a little bit to fit it all, if that makes sense. It’s not required that shows follow the same timeline as ours, but let’s be real — it’s hard to make sense of it in our brains when shows play with time too much. Ask How I Met Your Mother (actually, don’t get me started on How I Met Your Mother...).

I did not like Mona’s place in the eight months (made no sense she’d stay that long), and I wish that Valencia-being-bisexual was touched upon more in advance. For a fan theory that was so popular to be true was awesome, but it felt dismissive of the character to not give it more time — although what’s new with Valencia? Same with Josh, to be honest.

Jenn: I just loved the way the episode framed the time jump itself, panning to the different characters at different periods in time. It was smart, from a directing standpoint, and visually appealing. Ultimately, I’m a fan of time jumps when they make sense — and this one did. We needed to see our characters change (or not change) in that eight-ish month time frame and to flash forward a little bit gave, like Anne said, that sense of relief that time is still moving forward. Because yes, the front half of the season was dark and great but also because of how heavy it was, narratively, it was slower — literally, it took up less time. Moving forward, I loved that we got to see very pregnant Heather. I’m in agreement with the Valencia decision: even if it was fan canon, it still didn’t quite feel earned.

While the emphasis this year was more on Rebecca’s personal journey and dealing with a lot of darkness in her life, we still focused a bit on romance — especially the romance between Nathaniel and Rebecca. What are your hopes for these two moving into next season?

Anne: I have never believed that Rebecca loved Nathaniel the way that Nathaniel loves Rebecca. They have bonkers chemistry, and I love both the actors’ jobs in portraying both, but I think with so much going on in Rebecca’s life, Nathaniel felt jam-packed in as a serious viable romantic candidate in a way that Greg did not.

I still don’t think Nathaniel understands Rebecca beyond “manic pixie dream girl,” which makes his unconditional acceptance of her implausible, and his inability to criticize her actions in the way that she needs is a huge problem for their relationship to develop honestly. I also think it’s scummy to have a girlfriend and a long-term mistress in a way that I don’t think can be forgiven. Not to mention poor Lolo. So... I don’t know. I think they had done such a great job with introducing that initial attraction budding into something more from Nathaniel’s side, but (and maybe intentionally?) they never did that with Rebecca in a convincing way. I guess the answer to your question, though, is “kissing.” Scott Michael Foster has great arms.

Jenn: Give me more of Scott Michael Foster always, honestly. Sometimes I forget that he wasn’t always a part of this series but he’s so, so great and talented and elevates everything. He’s got the whole “puppy in love” look nailed down. I definitely think Nathaniel romanticizes and oversimplifies Rebecca as a person and character (we see that in the finale a bit), but I don’t think it comes from a place of malice or anything. It’s weird because Nathaniel isn’t asking Rebecca to change who she is at all, and essentially he tells her that he loves her as she is. But that’s kind of problematic, right? Because Rebecca NEEDS to change and grow, and Nathaniel’s acceptance is (ironically) just as bad as if he would force Rebecca to change everything about herself.

I’m interested to see how this romance plays out. I think Rachel Bloom and Scott Michael Foster have excellent chemistry, but I’m curious to know what exactly they would glean from a real relationship with each other. Nathaniel is becoming a better version of himself around Rebecca (he’s more vulnerable and caring and thoughtful) because he loves her, but is Rebecca the best version of herself around Nathaniel? Or is she more content to remain who she is because that’s the way he loves her? It’s just so interesting to ponder.

Also, all feelings about Scott Michael Foster aside, I truly do miss Greg. I know that Greg and Rebecca had so many issues together but darn if I don’t still miss him a tiny bit.

Josh was once such a focal point of the series, but kind of faded into the background by the end of this year. What do you think of him now, compared to what you used to think?

Anne: I always respected Josh as a character because he was believable in a way that Heather, Valencia, Nathaniel, even Paula are not... I’ve met type-B “chill” guys who were afraid to confront uncomfortable situations, and have definitely had overkill crushes, so he always kind of hit home for me. I also think that Vincent Rodriguez III is just the greatest at being a fully realized character with flaws and strengths.

A huge disappointment I have had with this season is the lack of focus on him, actually. I always thought this was Rebecca and Josh’s story — after all, in order to be a “crazy ex-girlfriend,” you have to have an “ex-boyfriend,” right? I wish that in the back half of the season instead of focusing on Trent in such a plot-important way, they had focused on Rebecca and Josh. The conversation they had near the end of the season (where Josh thanks Rebecca for changing his perspective) is one I think should have happened in season four. Josh has one of the most incomplete arcs of the ensemble, and more time should be spent on him next year.

Jenn: Yeah, it’s weird because I never really cared for Josh. I never shipped him and Rebecca, because he was just such a man child (in a way that, while Greg had his serious flaws, never truly was), that it seemed implausible to me that Rebecca would even find him remotely attractive. But that’s probably because I’ve met so many type-B guys in my life who I immediately find unattractive for the whole aforementioned man-childness that I’m projecting onto Josh.

ANYWHO, Josh’s lack of any significance or purpose toward the back half of the season did feel like a misstep on the part of the show. I get that he’s no longer the crucial character he once was to the plot, but we had more of White Josh character development than Josh character development and though I’m a fan of some White Josh, something about that felt off. As much as I’ve never cared for Josh, the show almost dropped him off in the background — which is only startling because of how integral he once was to the show. I think there’s a way to gradually fade him into obscurity and I’m not sure that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did that well.

Let’s talk about the importance of the series’ supporting characters! Which of their stories resonated with you this year? Who and what do you hope we see more of next season?

Anne: I am not the right person to ask this question to — I have never liked much a majority of the supporting characters. Ummm, I did love Father Brah playing poker. And the story with Tim and his poor, poor wife. As far as resonance, I thought the Naomi story in “I Never Want to See Josh Again.” was very emotional.

Here’s what I’ll say: a part of my apathy toward the supporting characters is because of Rebecca’s apathy toward them. I was driven nuts by how many conversations Paula, Valencia, Heather, even Rebecca’s therapy group that Rebecca would not listen to. She’d just steamroll and we’d move onto the next scene. I don’t know how that problem is fixed fully next year and it’s a shame because I love the supporting cast so much. But a baby? A pregnancy? I guess Paula’s still in law school? A job I don’t understand? A girlfriend who was introduced two minutes ago? So?

Jenn: I literally just want all of the Hector/Heather stories, and more of White Josh/Nathaniel scenes. In the back half of the season, those were some of my absolute favorite scenes. They provided levity but also actual depth. I actually have cared less for Paula this year than I did in the past two seasons, which makes me sad. It seems like she really serves no purpose apart from being Rebecca’s partner-in-crime and supposed rock (and again, the dizzying amount of circles the two women went in with conversations about what Rebecca should/should not do was really tiresome). And Darryl has always just kind of been present to me. I could do without the rest of the characters at the firm (especially because the one girl now has a show on Freeform), since they never really added much value, IMO.

Valencia’s character development into a really well-liked, but still flawed now-background protagonist has probably been my favorite development of the series. I like that she’s still got the personality that makes her irritating to other characters, but she still is able to learn and grow and change as a result and that makes her likable. Plus, putting the three women together in a house was one of the show’s best decisions.

I also totally agree with you, Anne, about Naomi’s story in “I Never Want to See Josh Again.” This show doesn’t make me cry often, but that whole episode left me feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me — and part of that was just the complexity of Naomi as a character and mother, and her relationship with Rebecca.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jenn: I love this show, and I think that it continues to find ways to improve itself. Rachel Bloom deserves awards for the way she’s played this incredibly difficult-to-like, yet ultimately redeemable anti-heroine. And I will always commend Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for being unafraid to tackle the really difficult, really messy, really taboo stuff in a way that no other show on television — in my opinion — can with grace, hilarity, and poignancy.

Anne: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of my favorite shows. Rachel Bloom is transcendent. The songs were amazing this season. And although I have much to say about this season on top of what I’ve already said, I agree with this title of this article: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was important this year. It was raw where it mattered and moved fearlessly along. I hope we get our renewal; I will be excited, I think, to say the same next year.

What did you all think of this season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Sound off in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. Yes to all of this! Both of you articulated thoughts similar to the ones I had about season three. (Especially the part about Valencia's bi-sexual story line not feeling earned, and feeling like too much air time was wasted on the law firm characters). I agree that season three was important for Rebecca (and the audience), but I think you did an effective job of pinpointing exactly why it was also frustrating.