Several months ago I fell down the rabbit hole that is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I didn’t watch the first two seasons when they premiered. I admit, I found the title a little off-putting and didn’t get how the plot could sustain an engaging week to week scenario. And musical TV shows are very hit and miss. While the idea of a show creating multiple original musical numbers week after week sounded appealing, it seemed unlikely they could pull it out of the hat. But several people I knew were watching it and all thought it was great. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t heard a single bad thing about it. And I had been watching a lot of dramas and was ready to start a new show. Something light and fun. I gave it a try, and I sopped up the first two seasons like a mop.
And here’s the thing. Yes, it’s a little like a soap opera with ridiculous things happening week after week, and you can often sense where it’s going next, but there are some real issues it brings up, which makes it continuously relatable. And the musical numbers, as it turns out, are brill.
There are a lot of different things I could talk about in regards to the show, but I want to focus on addiction. Because the lead character has an addiction. But it’s not in the way you’d expect. While they do touch on her use of prescription medication, she doesn’t have the drug/alcohol problem that many other shows lean back on.
I’m going to very openly state here that I have an addictive personality. I’m aware of it, and so far I’ve been able to (mostly) keep it check. I particularly careful of, you know, the obvious addictions. But it’s so easy to get addicted to things. And the type of things you may find yourself habitually doing, might not be talked about really. Like, bingewatching. Yeah, that an addictive thing. I do that. I have for awhile. I’ll zip through shows that have been on for years in a couple weeks. Other than the fact that it’s just easy to sit on the couch and let a show wash over you, the thing about TV watching that’s addictive for me, is that I can get really caught up in the fantasy. Really really really. I want to live in that TV show world. Doctor Who, Supernatural, The X-Files, Max Headroom, Jessica Jones…alright, some of those might seem like odd choices of universes to live in, and maybe I’m giving myself too much credit. I might not actually survive a Wendigo attack, but I could try!
I’m getting off topic. The point is, my addiction isn’t just to watching a show. It’s also this fantasy it’s created. Or I’ve created. I dunno, it’s my head. So I retreat into my disturbed little brain and plug myself into that world. Whether or not I’m watching the show. I imagine scenes with myself in the universe. Everywhere, and all the time. Home, work, out for a walk, driving, trying to fall asleep. Of course, the same goes for movies and books. Star Wars? I’m there. Harry Potter? Hold my Butterbeer. And sometimes they’re universes that I’m writing, and I can at least pretend that’s not as bad, cause, like, it’s kind of working on the script in a weird way?
But what does this specifically have to do with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend?
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is all about addiction. The lead character, Rebecca, is addicted to Josh. Actually, no. She’s not so much addicted to Josh, but rather the fantasy version of him (and them) that she has in her head. She needs to attain him, so that she can carry on with the fantasy life she’s created. Along the way, the audience retreats with her, into her brain, and experiences the musical numbers that she’s imagining. That’s the addiction.
But she’s not the only one with an addiction. Paula’s addicted to the drama that comes from Rebecca’s love life, Valencia’s addicted to health crazes, Greg’s an alcoholic, and Josh likely has some sort of relationship addiction (and keeps pinging back to Rebecca, maybe from an alternate fantasy of his own). Most everyone in the show has an addictive personality.
The characters begin as over-the-top caricatures, stereotypes even. You know a Rebecca type and or a Josh type or Paula/Greg/Valencia/etc. And it’s a musical, and it plays into musical tropes, which are very formulaic. And then the show completely fucks up those tropes, and that’s where I learned something.
In the beginning we’re introduced to Rebecca and her McGuffin, Josh. Then after the inciting incident and her move from New York to West Covina, we meet Greg and go “oh, so obviously he’s the guy she’s supposed to be with.” They followed that storyline to a T, and then wrote Greg off the show. Wait, what?
Now that may not have been the intention of the writers from the beginning, but when the actor (Santino Fontana) left, it brought that storyline to a close. It upended the trope. And it jarred me, because I had let myself fall for the trope, hook, line, and sinker. But the thing is, that’s every well meaning feel-good rom com with a bad message about being with the wrong people for the wrong reasons. SO, actually, it may have kinda saved the show. And I liked Greg, I didn’t want him to leave, but for the sake of a better message…maybe it wasn’t the worst thing in the world?
Cause I think we all have a certain addiction to story formulas too. The romantic comedy musical formula goes: Girl chases wrong boy. Girl meets right boy, but isn’t interested because of wrong boy. Hijinks ensue. Girl realizes wrong boy is wrong. Girls ends up with right boy. They walk off into the sunset together.
We were expecting that. She even has the airport scene where she dramatically stops him before he gets on a plane. To which he responds by going into a showstopping number, in which he calls their relationship shitshow, and then gets on the goddamn plane. And he’s not totally wrong to say what he said or do what he did. And isn’t that more like…life?
And they left it so Greg could come back, but he and Rebecca wouldn’t be able to pretend like they had a perfect relationship and could just pick back up where they left off. That shit needs some work.
Then, okay, fine. I can’t just roll over and rewire my brain out of fantasyland. And I’m not sure I want to. But some of us have this trope addiction. How do we treat it? By letting our expectations evolve. Letting shows grow beyond their tropes, really pushing for and supporting new stories. Or, okay, if it’s a familiar story, tell it in a new and exciting way. Go in a direction the audience didn’t see coming or, you as a creator, hadn’t planned. I’m hopeful, we’re going in that direction. TV is so exciting right now. Some people don’t get that, and it’s SO frustrating to me. Shows coming from streaming platforms have been ON POINT, but shows coming to us through traditional networks are also crafting good stories. Let’s acknowledge them. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a great place to start for a little trope rehab.