There’s something about the title that’s immediately irksome: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Women get enough shit in this world, especially on TV—do we need a show that explicitly points this out? Watch five minutes of The CW’s hour-long comedy, though, and those initial annoyances are completely unfounded. In their place is a smart, dark, and inventive musical comedy from star Rachel Bloom and screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada). The show was originally meant for Showtime—The CW has picked up other shows from its sister networks before, namely the Sarah Michelle Gellar-starring Ringer—but it makes so much more sense on The CW, especially paired with the excellent Jane The Virgin, a show that also felt surprisingly formed from the get-go. Both shows exist in heightened universes of camp-drama: Jane uses the telenovela as a template, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend goes bigger with musical set pieces that are much less Smash-like than that description implies. But where Jane skews sweet, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend get its hands dirtier. Jane Villanueva would never make a waxing joke about ass blood, for instance.
Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) is miserable. She’s about to make partner at her New York law firm, but her mother is insane, she can’t sleep, and she gobbles up pills in the hope of something resembling normalcy. A margarine commercial seems to follow her around taunting her: “When was the last time you were truly happy?” the tagline asks. That would be when was Rebecca was a retainer-wearing camper, in love with camp sweetheart Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III). He dumped her because she was weird, but after running into him on the street in New York 10 years later, she’s filled with glitter. And yet, he’s moving back home to West Covina, California, “only two hours from the beach, four if there’s traffic,” but more importantly where everyone is happy, or so he tells Rebecca. So Rebecca picks up and moves cross-country. Not for Josh. Of course, not for Josh. But, really, for Josh. “I hope this isn’t another stunt like your little suicide attempt in law school,” her mother says over the phone. “You didn’t even break your skin and you inconvenienced a lot of people.”
What’s important about the setup of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is that Josh is essentially a cipher in the pilot, and Rebecca is not man-hungry or desperate. Yeah, she’s totally insane. Rebecca is prone to breaking into musical performances that involve extras and elaborate choreography. It’s not clear who can hear her or who can join. But it’s also that her move is not really about Josh at all. It’s so much less about the fantasy guy than it is about chasing fantasy itself.
In West Covina, Rebecca finds employment at a law firm run by a one-eighth Chippewa named Darryl (Pete Gardner), who is excited about the fact that Rebecca is Jewish. (Her nose is so small! He had no idea!) Paralegal Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) is suspicious of Rebecca’s motives. Why leave a top firm in New York for a place where people think branzino is a sandwich and the town website takes a couple minutes to load? Rebecca also meets Greg (Santino Fontana), a sweet bartender who happens to know Josh, and sticks with Rebecca even though she’s very clearly insane. Like Jane, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is smart to add a colorful array of ensemble characters. Champlin, Fontana, and Rodriguez have musical theater chops, while Gardner has a strong comedic background. It’s a deep bench of players, and in the pilot, Champlin, whose strong singing voice seems to come out of nowhere, is a particular stand out.
But they’re all there to back up Bloom, who was best known for her musical comedy before taking on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. While YouTube has been her training ground, she still seems like such a surprise. Like Jane’s Gina Rodriguez, Bloom is so perfect for the part, emerging as a fully formed character. She grounds Rebecca, but is also fearless when Rebecca needs to live up to the title of the show. The final production number of the pilot, “Sexy Getting Ready Song,” is the perfect example of how much Bloom puts on the line. She dances around in a pair of Spanx and seductively sings about getting ready for a party as if she’s Beyoncé reincarnate—particularly if Beyoncé sang about ass blood.
Created by: Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna
Starring: Rachel Bloom, Donna Lynne Champlin, Santino Fontana, Vincent Rodriguez III, Pete Gardner.
Debuts: Monday, October 12 at 8 p.m. on The CW
Format: One-hour musical comedy
One episode watched for review