In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, The CW
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been something of a puzzler for me. Ever since I saw the trailer, I was looking forward to it, but the pilot was a surprising disappointment and having watched the first three episodes, I’m now giving up. And the problem has been puzzling out exactly why it hasn’t been working for me.
On paper, it should be a much-watch, being very clever, innovative, satirical and, despite the title, feminist. Starring the show’s co-creator Rachel Bloom, it sees a successful New York attorney quit her job and fly to small-town California to chase after the boy she had a summer camp romance with a decade previously. Suddenly a big fish in a small pond, she nevertheless fails to take advantage of her opportunities, as well as the other interesting men around her who might make better choices of partner, in favour of chasing after her ‘ex’, single-white-femaling his current girlfriend and so on.
The show plays with meta-analysis, sending up romcoms, comedies, musicals and various other genres, in a clever, self-mocking but also mocking feminist analysis of society and the things it does to women, embracing and using the bugbear of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend stereotype to explore its point. It even has nifty song and dance numbers that take in everything from Enchanted to Katy Perry.
Unfortunately, I think the show’s biggest problem is that you have to find mental health problems unproblematically funny. Or at least not to feel slightly concerned for a psychotic, hallucinating former pill-pusher whose last happy moment in life had occurred 10 years previously. TV fiction is obviously filled with plenty of protagonists who are mentally disturbed, sometimes for comedic effect, whether it’s Gurney Slade, Des Kinvig, Carrie Mathison, Nurse Jackie or Mr Robot. But those characters’ shows all felt like they were on the side of their protagonists and sympathetic towards them.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, however, seems to keep an ironic distance from its subject and is half-laughing at her as it runs with her to California. At times, it’s almost Equus-like, the third episode giving us a look into the sad, bleak life of her new best friend, as if to say “Sure’s, she’s got problems, but she’s sane; Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is happy, even as she’s throwing her life away and everyone around her knows it.” Yet it also is clear that reality’s still better than delusion and that her happiness is not something truly to be envied.
If this were on Showtime as originally intended and with a little less ironic detachment, it might work, feeling like a dark, human satire, but on The CW it feels more like the cool kids mocking the odd kids in the corner.
Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: I’d be surprised if it gets another season, but I’m surprised it’s on The CW in the first place so miracles could still happen.