"Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," the Most Underrated and Feminist Show on Broadcast Television

My pick for the best show of 2018 is, without a doubt, CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Now, I know what you’re probably thinking -- what’s up with the title, and how on earth can anyone think a show called “crazy ex-girlfriend” is in any way feminist or even worth watching, for that matter? Women have been unfairly labeled as “crazy” since the beginning of time, and the pervasiveness of this derogatory term only reinforces this cliche and puts women in a box to be dismissed by others. However, upon watching the first episode of this zany comedy, the satirical overtones and sharp, feminist commentary are extremely hard to miss. The writing is funny, self-aware, and highlights the negative impact of societal norms and the mixed messages the media sends about how women are supposed to act. Additionally, it’s a musical (!!!), and there are 2-4 original songs per episode. I binged the first three seasons on Netflix, and now, the show is preparing for its fourth and final season on the air.

 “Crazy Ex” follows Rebecca Bunch, a rich, hotshot lawyer in New York who’s also terribly depressed. It seems as though she has everything she’s ever wanted but has never been able to find true happiness. She runs into Josh Chan, her ex-boyfriend from summer camp, moments after having a mental breakdown, and finds out he’s moving back to his hometown of West Covina, California. Rebecca remembers she always felt a sense of joy being around Josh, and impulsively quits her high-paying job and relocates to West Covina, planning to reunite with Josh and make him fall in love with her. Upon beginning this new chapter in her life, she quickly befriends sarcastic bartender, Greg, and her co-worker Paula, who soon becomes her best friend, determined to help Rebecca win over Josh -- even if that means teaming up and hatching occasional schemes to get rid of Josh’s current girlfriend.

Hearing this initial premise probably makes Rebecca sound nuts, and dare I say crazy, but that’s precisely the point the writers want to emphasize. Yes, leaving behind your career and moving across the country for a guy you dated 10 years ago is definitely not a wise decision. However, it’s important to think about where the person is coming from, in this case, Rebecca. At the onset, it’s revealed she has a history of mental illness stemming from a rough upbringing and an absent father. Basically, she’s never had any successful familial or romantic relationships, and is desperate to find true love. Within this context, “Crazy Ex” also acknowledges the influence of the stereotypes put forth by romantic comedies and pop culture. Women are not only expected to find their prince charming, but are also taught that in the end, love will finally solve all of their problems and bring them complete happiness. This idea is so ingrained into society, that even for a self-proclaimed feminist like Rebecca, it’s easy to reject her progressive principles and adhere to the traditional notion of love. Even if she preaches about feminist activism and female empowerment, her actions sometimes negate everything she stands for. In a broader sense, this is why the “crazy” trope is so dangerous for women and society in general-- when people talk about “my crazy-ex girlfriend,” we unfairly assume that the woman is simply insane and obsessed with her significant other, without caring to know more about her background or the complexities of her own perspective. Rebecca, while a bit emotionally unstable, delusional, and manipulative at times, is also driven, hardworking, confident, and confused by what society expects of her -- just like the rest of us. With the passing of each episode, it becomes easier to relate to her character and recognize that the situations she encounters are more or less heightened versions of what most of us experience at some point throughout our lives.

One of the most surprising and engaging ways “Crazy Ex” critiques societal norms is through subversive musical numbers, often parodying a specific genre, artist, or overall theme. For example, in the first episode, as Rebecca is preparing for a party that she expects Josh to attend, she sings softly and seductively about the actual process of getting herself ready. The classic R&B song is titled “The Sexy Getting Ready Song,” yet another example of how the writers establish the satirical tone, because as Rebecca sings, it’s clear that the manner in which women get ready is the complete opposite of sexy. In the song, we see a montage of Rebecca doing her hair and burning her neck with a curling iron, bleeding after attempting to wax herself, and crying in the mirror about her stomach sticking out in her dress. Meanwhile, a dolled-up version of Rebecca with perfect hair and makeup, along with other women, repeatedly sing “it’s the sexy getting ready song,” utilizing comedy to highlight the disturbing and arduous Western beauty standards women feel they must comply with in order to impress men on dates, as well as the overarching double standards of our patriarchal society -- men, as Rebecca hilariously notes, spend their time getting ready by dozing off on the couch.

While there are several subsequent numbers that delve even further into our societal structures, this one really sets the tone in the beginning for the next few seasons. I could go on and on about how wonderful this show is, but I know it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s okay to occasionally fast-forward through some of the musical numbers, because the plot is truly the most intriguing aspect. I can definitively say it’s made me more consciously aware of the use of the word “crazy,” as well as just how impacted women are on a daily basis by traditional expectations of love and femininity. What’s remarkable is that the main goal is never to have Rebecca find her happily-ever-after with Josh, but for her to reflect upon and work through her own issues, ultimately developing a more positive sense of self and finally achieving personal happiness.