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‘Crazy Ex Girlfriend’ : It’s a lot more nuanced than that

Amidst the brilliant homage to theater and musicals, the show’s success lies in its ability to evolve in the name of self-awareness

The center of the triangle is lil’ me: the character story arc is where the show succeeds best

In its four season run, I have come to realize that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is more than its title. It may have been that way for the first season when the theme song literally alludes to titular character Rebecca Bunch (played by the flawlessly amazing Rachel Bloom)’s zany decision to move to West Covina for her former flame Josh Chan, but it’s grown beyond that. The beautiful thing about Crazy Ex is that it manages to do a 180-degree change every season, and you learn with the characters along the way.

Vox had a brilliant piece as to why the show supersedes its fellow musical comedies, and it is because their songs are character-driven. The piece further alludes to Rachel Berry in Glee whose identity is not built around the songs, but rather sings because she is that way. But Crazy Ex does the opposite and bolsters character development through the songs the team comes up with. So, in honor of their penultimate episode (which may result inevitably in me breaking down at the loss of another excellent TV series), I will summarize what the show has taught me in their song titles.

It’s only smooth, smooth sailing from now on: um
  1. We’ll Never Have Problems Again: ‘So you guys are like super delusional.’

The show has an ingenious commentary about delusion and escapism, and it begins with Rebecca Bunch’s move to West Covina, wherein her decision to do so was based off a butter commercial that begged her to answer, ‘are you happy?’ She arrives with a La Vie En Rose attack, where she sings madly about the city she only met upon touchdown to try to compensate for the fact that her move was based off an unreturned infatuation. She carries this with her for some time, through the songs “I’m a Good Person,” “Sexy French Depression,” and even in the title of Lesson #1, where she sings about not having love problems with Josh after they decide to get married. 

She carries this sense of false security and illusion throughout Season 1 and 2, but she isn’t the only one who feels this way.

Real life isn’t a movie, no no no

2. The End of the Movie: ‘Sometimes you’re the lead and sometimes you’re the extra, just walking in the background, like me, Josh Groban!’

While it’s amazing to have renowned singer Josh Groban sing in the background as you slowly head toward rock bottom, the songs have a reason why they exist in the first place. While it starts off to portray Rebecca as the crazy former lover, this same pattern can be seen in the supporting characters that surround her. The songs are a way to portray what’s going on in the heads of these players, and have since been proven especially in the scenes where in a sad but boppy eDM salute called “Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too,” White Josh and Nathaniel (mourning over break-ups) invite Josh to join in their ‘imaginary song and dance’ and when Rebecca’s voice cracks while attempting to harmonize with her half-brother Tucker. 

All of them sing in the show because Crazy Ex Girlfriend attempts to explore the human psyche through — where else? — the thought processes of these characters, and they’re really good songs, by the way. I will give a list of my top 5 per season at the end, so I hope you will stick and bear with me.

You guys know this one.

3. You Stupid Bitch: ‘Well, Rebecca, you’ve done it now.’

When I said that the show’s success is in the name of self-awareness, the remark was not meant to be said in passing. Crazy Ex Girlfriend, at the heart of it, is a romantic comedy, and yet it manages to criticize the tropes anyway. A good example of it would be when Rebecca confesses that she runs out of money because of all the spending she’s done trying to reel Josh in. When the characters decide to go against their moral compass, the show makes sure to let them drown in the consequences first before trying to fish them out. This is also seen in Paula Proctor’s “After Everything I’ve Done For You” ode where her crazy attempts to assist her best friend and co-worker Rebecca in getting Josh are revealed, and they distance from each other for a while. It’s not because they hate each other, it’s because they realize that what they’re doing is toxic. It’s not right and knowing your best friend did that (albeit with good intentions) is not really gonna sit good, yes? 

And if you’re looking at the proof in the pudding, check out the Season 2 theme song, which reads, “I’m just a girl in love / I can’t be held responsible for my actions.”

(By the way, Lesson #3’s song is a hilarious take on live performances, but with an underlying somber message about Rebecca’s mental situation)

It’s nice to meet you / in various meet cutes.

4. Hello, Nice To Meet You: ‘Pleased to make your acquaintance, stranger, I’ve spent many years processing my anger.’

In the episode where this song plays, Rebecca re-meets Greg but in a literal new light. We all know the role was recast after Santino Fontana left (which was really and truly sad) and rightly so chosen was Skylar Astin of Pitch Perfect and Ground Floor (shoutout to Rene Gube please!) fame. Valencia and Heather see him as the same old Greg, but Rebecca puts on the audience eyes and says, “That’s not him,” which leads to the beautiful explanation that you don’t really remember someone after not seeing them for a long time.

But the song represents the evolution and the journey of these characters to where they are now. If you’ve caught the show in its early days, you will know that the characters’ present relationships were not as friendly as it was right now. Before Rebecca’s girl group was formed (cue: Friendtopia!), it was basically Paula and Rebecca versus Valencia (Josh’s ex girlfriend) and Heather in the background, and even then Paula and Rebecca gave each other the silent treatment because of the group. But the beauty of the show is it makes the characters attempt to explore and work out issues if one makes the effort to. The show portrays friendship not as a plot device to get everyone’s plot going, but as an honest portrayal of its ups and downs. 

Josh and Greg were best friends before their mutual love for Rebecca got the best of them, Nathaniel and Heather shared deep animosity for each other before baring their souls out on a road trip, and Greg and Rebecca (like in Lesson #4’s title) had a desolate separation before they decide to make amends and move forward. Even Rebecca’s nemesis Audra Levine gets a redemption arc in JAP Battle (Reprise) where they do a compliment battle versus their angry insult exchange in the spirit of Hamilton back in Season 1. 

The show’s essence treats their characters not as plot devices, but as people with real emotions and real lives. Most of them don’t stay terrible, but realize that they are and end up changing, which is great. I could also summarize this portion with a callback to the song The End of the Movie, where Josh Groban belts, “People aren’t characters. They’re complicated / And their choices don’t always make sense.” 

Why do men never listen and only think about themselves? Unlike women who always have to listen and never think about themselves!

5. Let’s Generalize About Men: ‘Let’s take one bad thing about one man and apply it to all of them’

In the fourteenth episode of Season 4, Rebecca sings a favorite classic theater song she slowly realizes is misogynistic and problematic called “Etta Mae’s Lament.” The song’s premise is about how a woman needs a husband to function, which she does not agree with. The show never forgets to tread on societal topics, like being sexy for the male gaze (see the Fifth Harmony parody “Put Yourself First”), the lengths women go to look good for men (see: “Sexy Getting Ready” song because we are not having that ‘nasty ass patriarchial BS’), and sexuality (“First Penis I Saw,” “Heavy Boobs” and “Gettin Bi”). 

But while the future is female on the show, Crazy Ex Girlfriend does not forget about its male players, whose woes are best captured in “Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too” and Lesson #5’s song title where they explore how problematic misandry is as well. 

The show is never afraid to explore all of these in catchy song, and that is the brilliance in their package. They share these messages outright but captured in LSS-worthy bops with great intentions. 

Trust that my eyes are not going to be dry when the show meets its end on April 6th, but I’m glad that they ended on a high note. I have never related to someone like Rebecca so much in a sense that I, too, have some songs I can align with as I walk down the street. I also salute the team for championing a Filipino like Vince Rodriguez as a lead character and fellow Filipino Rene Gube as head writer. The cast and its diversity is something I will always laud, and I will miss them so much greatly. 

I will end this piece with a short list of my top 5 songs per season as promised, just so I can end up laughing instead of crying while counting down the days. Thank you for everything, Crazy Ex Girlfriend

Season 1

  1. Settle for Me
  2. The Sexy Getting Ready Song
  3. Put Yourself First
  4. A Boy Band Made up of Four Joshes
  5. Group Hang
  6. Heavy Boobs (Bonus!)

Season 2

  1. Remember that We Suffered
  2. We’ll Never Have Problems Again
  3. Let’s Have Intercourse
  4. Rebecca’s Reprise
  5. Ping Pong Girl

Season 3

  1. Let’s Generalize About Men
  2. First Penis I Saw
  3. Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too
  4. The End of the Movie
  5. Strip Away My Conscience

Season 4

  1. Hello Nice to Meet You
  2. Trapped in a Car With Someone You Don’t Wanna Be Trapped in a Car With
  3. Slow Motion
  4. What’s Your Story?
  5. (Saving the last for the finale!)

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