By Jillian Capewell
So many of pop culture’s celebrated stories begin and end with the pursuit of a romantic relationship. After seasons’ worth of near misses and underhanded flirting, we expect to see our favorite on-screen ‘ships sealed with a kiss.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” did just that at the end of its first season, leaving Rebecca Bunch, played by show co-creator Rachel Bloom, in the arms of her longtime crush, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III). Of course, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is not a typical show. The way Rebecca so clearly articulates what is often implied at the end of romantic comedies — “I just knew you were the answer to all my problems,” she tells Josh, rendering the notion absurd simply by saying it aloud — implies that the two characters’ lives from here on out will not be a parade of shared spaghetti dinners and horseback rides at sunset.
So often, a romantic relationship is the end-all, be-all. The problems are solved, our two faves are hand-in-hand and the credits roll, allowing us to imagine the rest of Joey and Pacey’s or Noah and Allie’s relationships continuing on, conflict-free, for the rest of their days. Most entertainment products make it seem like starting a relationship is the hardest part, but they rarely tackle the humdrum days in a long-term commitment, nor the realization that the hit of bliss from true love is not all one needs to be happy.
Dramatic, on-and-off-again courtships belie most on-screen hookups — after all, for viewers, the pursuit and questioning is infinitely more interesting than the supposed prize of a healthy pairing. The show here takes a hard turn from most romantic television offerings by avoiding an implicit endorsement of this unhealthy behavior. Instead, it strips it bare, exposing the chaos of Rebecca and Josh to reveal the very human wishes to be loved and feel “normal” while dealing with all of one’s inevitable baggage. It all comes to a jaw-dropping head at the season finale, which I won’t spoil here, but is certainly not hidden if you Google something like “crazy ex-girlfriend.”
Though Rebecca “got” the guy at the end of Season 1, she and Josh do not take a backseat in their happy, normal coupledom as wackiness rages around them, à la Jim and Pam on “The Office.” And here is why “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is so valuable in its second season. The show reminds everyone watching of an important truth: A loving relationship alone is woefully inadequate for erasing one’s insecurities and deep-set problems.
This sounds like a grim premise, and it might be in incapable hands. However, Bloom and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna, along with the rest of their team, manage to skewer tropes and tackle topics like abortion and mental health without ever getting too heavy-handed. (The songs might help with that.)
In an episode of the podcast “Off Camera with Sam Jones,” Bloom explained, “We kind of go by the old adage, ‘When the emotion is too strong to speak, you sing, and when the emotion is too strong to sing, you dance.’” The musical numbers, she continued, allow a deeper look at the perspective of the character who’s singing, as well as a chance for the writers to comment more directly on tropes. (She gives the example of the rapper in Season 1’s “Sexy Getting Ready Song,” who realizes “I gotta apologize to some bitches” after he sees the intensive “patriarchal bullshit” rituals women undergo to get ready for a date.)
Season 2 opens with Rebecca clinging to Josh’s “love kernels,” keeping the idea of their connection alive in her mind thanks to his sparse, vaguely praising comments like, “Those jeans are cute.” It’s the perfect send-up of a mostly unrequited relationship, where one party is way more heavily invested in the other.