Of musicals and dark comedy

December 13, 2015

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a fun watch for those who manage to look past its darkness and mirth

Of musicals and dark comedy

Starring: Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, Santino Fontana, Donna Lynne Champlin, Pete Gardner, Vella Lovell
Created by: Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna
Tagline: Never. Let. Go.

Don’t judge a television show by its title - that’s a lesson networks have taught us time and again. A number of promising series have suffered as they failed to attract viewers atleast partly because someone thought it would be a good idea to give them a title that was either lazy (Complications, Better Off Ted), bland (Go On, The Neighbors), confusingly irrelevant (Terriers, Cougar Town), or just plain bad (Don’t Trust the B In Apartment 23, Selfie, Trophy Wife, and many, many others).

Likewise, the name of CW’s latest comedy drama, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, seems to have been picked by someone who appears to be under the impression that titles should actively serve as audience repellents. Without any context, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is more than likely to turn people off, and the series itself seems to be aware of that. "That’s a sexist term," the protagonist interrupts the "she’s the crazy ex-girlfriend" chorus in the show’s theme song. "The situation’s a lot more nuanced than that!"

And it is. Because once you move past the cringe-worthy title, you encounter a delightfully compelling, charmingly zany musical comedy with a lot of potential. The series follows the story of Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), a single woman who is smart, strong, and successful. Also profoundly disturbed, and quite possibly in the middle of having a nervous breakdown.

A chance encounter with her former boyfriend Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) - a guy she dated at a summer camp a decade ago when they were teenagers - makes Rebecca realize that she isn’t happy with her life and needs a change. In an attempt to seek happiness, she turns down a huge promotion, leaving her job at a law firm in Manhattan to move to West Covina, California, the "pride of the Inland Empire", only two hours from the beach! Oh and it just happens to be where Josh lives.

As she tries to get closer to Josh, she befriends his buddy, bartender Greg (Santino Fontana), only to discover that Josh is actually dating a stunning woman, Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz). Rebecca’s new co-worker Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) soon finds out about her obsession with Josh, and starts attempting to help her win back her lost love.

Proceedings generally take the most ridiculous route possible. The show presents an interesting character study, offsetting the underlying darkness of its premise with often-sarcastic humour while having a lot of jaunty fun in the process. The cast periodically breaks into exuberant Broadway-style musical numbers that are amusingly absurd and often annoyingly catchy. The show is consistently self-aware and mostly finds the right balance between embracing and lampooning its tropes and stereotypes. Every role is well cast, and the series is a perfect showcase for the very talented Rachel Bloom who is terrific in the lead role.

But as with most projects, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend definitely isn’t for everyone. Certain viewers won’t enjoy both its darkness and mirth. It is risky to make the protagonist so quirky, and Bloom is so good at portraying the unhinged Rebecca that the result is almost disconcerting. It’s amply clear that Rebecca has serious issues and is chasing a fantasy in an effort to recapture a moment of happiness from her past in the midst of a crushing depression. Also, at times some of the show’s less engaging arcs are given more focus than they deserve, and you are left to feel that the series might have been better off as a half-hour comedy (which it was originally intended to be when it was developed for Showtime) instead of going for a longer, one-hour format.

Ultimately, not all viewers will enjoy Bloom’s quirky brand of humour, and if the idea of an offbeat, campy, over-the-top musical comedy doesn’t appeal to you, then Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not for you. But those who fancy a fresh, fun escapade that is sharp and has a lot of musical fun along the way will be pleasantly surprised by this new, often bizarre comedy.

Of musicals and dark comedy