[This is a review of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend season 1, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Originally picked up as a 30-minute pilot at Showtime, the premium cable network eventually passed on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but the series found a new home at The CW -- as a 60-minute musical romantic comedy. Developed by Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses) and comedian Rachel Bloom, the series follows high-powered lawyer Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) who leaves her job in New York City and moves across the country to California in pursuit of happiness with her ex-boyfriend/soulmate, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III). However, Rebecca runs into plenty of roadblocks on her path to love, not the least of which being shirking the label of a "crazy ex-girlfriend."
The series premiere 'Josh Just Happens to Live Here!', directed by Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man, 500 Days of Summer), wastes no time in setting up all the moving pieces and players that will be instrumental to the show going forward. Rebecca is a successful lawyer with an overbearing mother who struggles to answer a question posed by a strangely philosophical ad campaign for butter: "When was the last time you were truly happy?" So, when Rebecca runs into Josh, and he tells her he's moving back to West Covina, California (just two hours from the beach, four in traffic) where people are happy, she makes the slightly impulsive decision to move across the country.
Given the way that Rebecca and Josh's relationship is portrayed, from their breakup after two months of dating at Camp Canyon Grove in 2005 to their reunion in New York City 10 years later, the show quickly establishes a sweet connection between the two characters. Still, though the show seems to revolve around Rebecca's plan to find happiness by rekindling her relationship with Josh, he doesn't appear much in the series premiere. Instead, 'Josh Just Happens to Live Here!' focuses more on Rebecca's struggle to find something in her life that she enjoys, her move to West Covina (just two hours from the beach, four in traffic), and starting her new job -- all while attempting to track down Josh Chan, who proves to be incredibly elusive.
Though Rebecca's enthusiasm, over-active imagination and dramatic tendencies have made it easy for her to be branded the crazy ex-girlfriend, the writing of the show and Bloom's performance cause viewers to question why exactly that is. Certainly Crazy Ex-Girlfriend forces the viewer to see the world through Rebecca's eyes, to sympathize with her unhappy life, and to go along as she takes steps to improve it -- no matter how over-the-top they may be. Many scenes, like Rebecca carefully crafting a text that Josh fails to respond to, are too close to those that have played out in everyones' lives to not ring true, even when the series takes the joke a step further, such as Rebecca knowing the exact number of hours it takes Josh to reply.
Still, Bloom's portrayal of Rebecca imbues the character with enough charm and genuine emotion that even the over-the-top moments -- of which there are many -- come off as relatable and fun. Additionally, Bloom pulls off the musical numbers, which either move the plot along, like "West Covina," or poke fun at rom-com conventions, like the hilariously insightful "Sexy Getting Ready Song." Though there may not be enough musical numbers to truly call Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a musical-comedy, they help to bring another kind of entertainment to the series that can be appreciated by fans of Bloom's viral music videos and new viewers alike.
Since Josh doesn't actually appear at all after the first 15 minutes of 'Josh Just Happens to Live Here!', the rest of the premiere is filled by introducing the side characters in Rebecca's quest for happiness. Viewers meet her new boss Darryl (Pete Gardner), who's going through an emotional divorce, the office paralegal Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) who's suspicious of Rebecca's motives to move to the west coast, and the bartender Greg (Santino Fontana), an old friend of Josh's who quickly develops feelings for Rebecca. Though these characters may simply act as Rebecca's sidekicks in the overarching story of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, they help to paint West Covina (just two hours from the beach, four in traffic) as a more colorful place than New York City.
In fact, they help to further to portray Rebecca as a sympathetic character, one who can point out to Darryl that it's not healthy to fixate all emotions on a single person, or realize that her actions are crazy. The scene toward the end of 'Josh Just Happens to Live Here!' when Rebecca confesses her motives for giving up her life in New York to Paula and sees how that could be construed as crazy is one of the most genuinely heartfelt of the episode. And, like the audience, Paula is won over by Rebecca's moment of vulnerability and doubt. Their subsequent friendship, born of kindred spirits who believe in the power of love, is just as (unnervingly) sweet as the high school relationship between Josh and Rebecca.
That being said, Rebecca's single-minded focus on Josh is never more apparent than her obliviousness to Greg, who recognizes that his own feelings for Rebecca are misguided due to her fixation on Josh. Viewers are sure to relate to either Rebecca or Greg (or both) in this situation of either having feelings for someone who is unavailable or being oblivious of someone else’s feelings. Additionally, Greg plays a good straight-man to Rebecca, and the entire series. He acknowledges that his interest in Rebecca is because she doesn’t pay attention to him, and he claims West Covina (just two hours from the beach, four in traffic) is actually, always, four hours away from the beach. As such, Fontana’s performance as Greg is a good balance to Bloom’s portrayal of the dramatic Rebecca.
For those that have seen a rom-com or two (or twenty), Crazy Ex-Girlfriend establishes a fairly routine set up in its series premiere: Rebecca as the spunky-but-flawed heroine, Josh as the object of misplaced affection, Greg as the inevitable one-true-love and Paula as the quirky best friend. But, while using the pieces of a rom-com, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend skillfully parodies the genre on which it's based, while still managing to deliver an entertaining episode. Furthermore, the comedic voice of the series established in 'Josh Just Happens to Live Here!' is fresh while employing typical comedic methods, like the recurring line describing West Covina as "just two hours from the beach, four in traffic." However, this comedy is best represented in the final scene of the episode, which shows the rapper from "Sexy Getting Ready Song" calling women and apologizing for sexualizing and objectifying them in his music videos, which marries crass and thoughtful humor.
All in all, McKenna and Bloom have crafted a series that not only challenges rom-coms, but the ideas that those films and TV shows represent. Specifically, through Rebecca's manic quest to reunite with her "soulmate" Josh in an effort to find happiness, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend challenges the idea often perpetuated by rom-coms that women can only be happy when they're in love. Of course, it's still too early to see if the season continues to deliver on these sharply insightful themes. But if 'Josh Just Happens to Live Here!' is any indication, it's likely Crazy Ex-Girlfriend will keep challenging tropes and perceptions of women established by rom-coms while providing an incredibly fun musical-comedy.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend continues next Monday with 'Josh's Girlfriend is Really Cool!' at 8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below:
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