Why “Crazy Ex- Girlfriend” Is One of TV’s Most Groundbreaking Shows

* SPOILER ALERT *

When I first heard of this show four years ago, it was not a concept that piqued my interest. However, I figured I would give it a shot because I needed a mindless comedy to watch. Needless to say, my perception quickly changed as I realized the show was so much more than how it was advertised. As a brief premise, Rebecca Bunch (played by the incredibly talented Rachel Bloom) is a high-power lawyer working in New York but is completely miserable with her job. One day, she runs into her old boyfriend, Josh Chan, from summer camp and spontaneously decides to move to his hometown of West Covina, California. With the frequent use of musical numbers, the viewer follows Rebecca on her journey for love. It is the classic rom-com set up but, as the theme song says, “the situation is a lot more nuanced than that.” Here is why the show rose to the top of my watch list and is so important especially in our country’s current climate.

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Photo Courtesy of the Washington Post

 

#1: Borderline personality disorder does not mean you are crazy

Instead of writing off Rebecca’s perceived craziness as a simple character flaw, this show accepts it and seeks to provide an explanation for it. Upon close examination, the viewer can easily see that there are certain behaviors Rebecca exhibits that goes beyond the realm of what is acceptable for a girl in love. For example, she sends an accidental text to Josh confessing her romantic feelings and goes through the normal emotional rollercoaster of panic and regret. But, she takes it several steps too far as she breaks into his apartment to delete the text and then stages a break-in at her own apartment so that he will comfort her. She exhibits poor judgment and impulse control on several occasions, especially when she drunkenly has sex with her ex-boyfriend’s father. For these and several other reasons, the comedic premise of the show carries some darker undertones that are finally addressed in the third season: Rebecca has borderline personality disorder. Mental illness as a whole is often misunderstood, but this is one that few people are well-informed about. It has such a harsh sounding name that the natural response is to assume the person is just crazy or manipulative. Thankfully, the show deconstructs this perception and proves that it is a serious illness and an everyday struggle that one should not be looked down upon for having. People with BPD have self-destructive tendencies but Rebecca depicts the challenges of overcoming these and learns about self-acceptance. Much of the material is drawn from Rachel Bloom’s own battle with mental illness which gives an element of vulnerability that many shows are not able to achieve.

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#2: Older women can get abortions too

Abortion is such a controversial topic but this show tackles it head-on. A natural assumption many people have about abortion is that it is mainly a choice made by younger, often unmarried, women. Many often disregard the fact that a married woman over the age of 30 is also perfectly entitled to make the same decision and should not be judged for it. Paula is Rebecca’s best friend and, in season two, decides that she wants to be more than a paralegal and starts attending law school. However, she ends up getting pregnant and is saddened by the huge ramifications a baby would have on her career track. In keeping the baby, Paula would have to be a stay-at-home mom, setting her back further and ultimately preventing her from ever becoming a lawyer. After grappling with the decision, she sees an abortion as the option that makes the most sense for her. Her decision is not selfish in any capacity because she has the strength to pursue her dream and recognizes that a baby is not what she wants at this point in time. Paula' decision destigmatizes the concept of abortion as she is arguably old enough to make a rational choice. Furthermore, it addresses the notion that women should always be ready to have children and need to sacrifice their career and other goals in order to raise a child. Paula proves there is another path and goes on to be a powerful lawyer, proving she made the right decision for her.

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#3: There is no such thing as a perfect body

It is no secret that film and media are often criticized for presenting young girls and women with an unrealistic idea of body image. A size two is considered ideal and there is often no regard for different body types. Rebecca struggles with this herself as she immediately notices Josh’s current girlfriend is a gorgeous yoga instructor with the “perfect” body. While she is initially jealous and self-conscious of this fact, she grows to accept herself, curves and all. In the song “Heavy Boobs”, she outlines what it is like to live with her double Ds and that while they can be a pain, they still look “super fly in shirts.” Of course, it is a constant back and forth between wanting to be thinner and loving yourself for who you are as Rebecca often spirals into cycles of self-hatred and insecurity. However, this just makes her more relatable as a character because everyone has moments where they feel bad about the way they look. There is no one definition for perfection and this show makes sure to address these societal preconceptions without going overboard and coming across as preachy.

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#4: Asian-American representation

While “Crazy Rich Asians” may have been the movie that brought Asians to the big-screen, this show flipped the stereotype of having a leading white male and instead has Rebecca fall for the Filipino-American, Josh Chan. It even goes as far as to make a joke about one of Josh’s friends being nicknamed “White Josh” in a direct response to secondary characters often being from minority groups. With many shows still centered around white protagonists, viewers from other backgrounds tend to feel as though they are not being represented and struggle to find someone in mass media that they identify with. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” delves into Filipino culture and family dynamics making it more relatable to some audience members while also educating others. Rebecca’s attraction to Josh also touches on the subject of interracial couples and how they are seen as an anomaly in society. In reality, this is not an accurate reflection although movies and television usually perpetuate that view. Race should not be a factor in deciding who to fall for and this show takes a step forward in normalizing all types of relationships.

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#5: Happiness is not about ending up with a guy

For a show that presents itself as a rom-com, the natural expectation is that Rebecca will find love, get her happily ever after, and ride off into the sunset with her perfect man. There is no shortage of hookups, breakups, the necessary love triangles, and confessions of love making the viewer root for their favorite guy and hoping that Rebecca will end up with him. Her BPD diagnosis complicates this a bit as one of her main triggers is being in a relationship because she tends to fall hard and fast and that makes her symptoms more intense. However, she smartly decides to take a step back and focus on herself, recognizing that she needs some space to heal away from the pressures of a romantic relationship. After some time, she ventures out into the dating scene and finds herself in a love quadrangle leaving her with a difficult choice to make for the majority of season four. She has an amazing connection with each guy but, when she tries to imagine a future with them, she still finds that something is missing. Ultimately, she discovers that love is not necessarily about a guy, it is about identifying what makes you happy and going after that. For her, her love is songwriting as it is a way to express her feelings and creativity. This eventually becomes her new happy ending. There are certain societal notions that the typical life trajectory is to get a job, find a partner, get married, have children, etc. But, there is more than just that one path. Rebecca reminds us of this and that it is acceptable to defy expectations in pursuit of your passion. Remember, relationships do not define you because you are more than just the person you are dating.

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