Casual dismissals of television shows might not always be warranted. I’ll admit that I dismissed Jane the Virgin originally, and it’s a decision I immediately regretted. The same can be said of it’s often-paired-with-CW-stablemate Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. In which lawyer Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) decides to leave a high-paying law firm in New York to move to West Covina, California where her ex-boyfriend Josh lives. Who she is quite obsessed with. There’s also a bunch of singing and dancing and very crazy antics all over the place. Wait, wait — come back! Come back!
On paper, the series sounds like it’s not going to be very good, and it does conjure the idea of every bad romantic comedy movie ever made. But writing it off like that does the show a massive disservice to what it’s actually about: finding happiness amidst some deep psychological issues. This isn’t AMC or Showtime style of psychological study; it’s the CW: so it’s done with mass amounts of off-beat comedy and spoof musical numbers that are written to be laughed at. To raise the comparisons to Jane the Virgin again: they both live in their own bubble of self-awareness. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fully knows and pokes fun at its own premise, whilst also not side-stepping over the darker aspects of the situation that Rebecca finds herself in.
The lynch-pin of the show and its ability to juggle all of the different things it’s trying to do is Rachel Bloom. She manages to make Rebecca likeable despite her being full of not-likeable qualities. From her singing, acting and seeming willingness to sing songs about anything; she almost effortlessly centres the whole show with a fascinating central character. Rebecca’s obsessively stalker-ish ways aren’t always glamourised and the show can often condemn her for what she’s doing.
It’s an interesting way of tackling a character like Rebecca, and it goes into some interesting avenues as her arc continues to develop. Josh and I Go to Los Angeles is a highlight in terms of using the show’s off-beat humour to great effect as we see Rebecca confront two different sides to her character. We see the heartless lawyer in Audra Levine from the life that she escaped in New York, and in Trent we see her come face to face with someone as darkly obsessive as she can be. It’s a fascinating little glimpse into a character that you wouldn’t have thought could be multi-faceted.
That’s not to say she’s the only interesting character. The support characters she interacts with all begin to have their own issues and quirks that I guessed would mean that calling out Rebecca on her craziness would be hypocritical. Rebecca’s new best friend Paula ends up romanticising Josh and Rebecca to the point of crazy fandom in a nice little jab towards internet shippers. Further love interest Greg is the sarcastic straight man who has his own issues to deal with but the show constantly pokes fun of his own world view.
Even foil Valencia is technically right about Rebecca but the show does skewer her as more of an antagonist even when she’s technically not. The show even addresses this in a song later on in the season with the excellent Villain of My Own Story. A shout out to Daryl Whitefeather, Rebecca’s boss who comes out as Bisexual and ends up in a relationship with White Josh, who himself manages to become an interesting side character in his own right.
The musical numbers are one of the major selling points of the show. There’s a lot of great songs here. A lot of them have unsafe-for-work versions that are uncensored on YouTube that are even better to watch. For days after seeing the episode, the song I Give Good Parent was stuck in my head. It just wouldn’t leave. JAP Battle (like IGGP, written by lyrical mastermind Zach Sherwin) is a brilliant example of genre appreciation; alongside other songs.
The big hook is that they have a concept and influence and celebrate/poke fun at it whilst achieving character development and plot momentum. You have the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers number (Emmy nominated Settle for Me) to progress the Greg/Rebecca relationship; whilst some songs like Textmergency are humorous songs adding context to an episode premise. They’re all great, well performed and there’s no real dud amongst them.
With a series that so fun, it’s hard to find a major problem with it. The usual romantic cliches are spun on their head, and the songs are a lot more intelligent than you’d expect them to be from the marketing that the show’s been getting. Give it a few episodes, then a few episodes more — you’ll love it.
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