‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ Could Be a Great Show About Mental Illness — If It Moves Past a Tired Premise

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The first thing that must be addressed is the title. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a terrible title, one that’s immediately off-putting and inseparable from pop culture’s frustratingly persistent “crazy woman” trope. It’s a title that screams, “Don’t watch me!” — just like Jane the Virgin.

Fortunately, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is far better than its title suggests, and the series premiere quickly implies that it will attempt to subvert that trope, even if it does so by totally playing into it. The show’s definition of “crazy” is not necessarily what we’d expect, either; Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) isn’t described that way by her ex, Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), to justify their break-up or accentuate his “good guy” status to potential future partners. Instead, Rebecca has a real mental illness. One scene shows her dumping multiple bottles of pills down the drain; in another, her mom references a suicide attempt. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is darkness hidden under a joyful song — it’s Glee before Glee ate its own tail and became unwatchable.

The premise is just about as annoying as the title. Rebecca runs into the boy she dated for no more than a summer when she was in high school and, deciding that he’s her soul mate, ends up following him across the country to California (partly due to an encouraging butter advertisement). This is all very Felicity and very reductive, but the good news is that Josh’s character seems a bit more inconsequential than the setup would have you expect. He’s the reason she moved, yes, and he’s the catalyst for what could be construed as a total break from reality — oh yeah, the show is also a musical and often features Rebecca and some randoms breaking out into song and dance, though we’re not sure how that fits into her reality — but it’s also easy to see how he might fade into the background, and how Rebecca’s story could be about something more than a man.

At least, that’s the hope! A season of watching Rebecca trying and failing and trying and failing to capture back the heart of an old flame who already has a girlfriend (while also lying to and manipulating people around her), perhaps before ultimately realizing the right man was there all along, is a season that will grow increasingly boring and tiresome. But there’s a better version of the show –and one that I think we’ll get — in which the secret focus is actually on Rebecca’s personal growth, her fresh start, her coming to terms with her mental illness and why it has manifested in this overwhelming obsession with a boy from about a decade ago.

The series can’t get too heavy, though, because it’s routinely interrupted by a large song and dance number. And that’s the trickiest part of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for me, personally: I am not a fan of musicals and find random, forced musical numbers a bit uncomfortable. There are exceptions (I will love every song on Empire), but they’re rare. That said: the show’s music is good and catchy, with a sneak-attack bite. One song is about Rebecca getting ready for a date, dancing around in Spanx and waxing her ass until blood splatters on the pristine white bathtub. It’s certainly nothing that we’ve seen on The CW before, and kudos must be given to the writers — and, of course, Rachel Bloom, who originated these fun songs on YouTube — for the funny inventiveness.

If you like musical comedies, you’ll likely love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It is funny and it is well written — you can easily tell that the pilot was stretched from its original half-hour format, but you can also tell that the writers did an OK job attempting to make it work. Rachel Bloom is fantastic. But it’s a series that won’t prove itself until at least halfway through, and it could definitely go either way.