When young girls look to the media for representations of the female gender in society, they find a variety of limiting roles. The common tract of “women as love interests” is one of the more harmful roles, as it reinforces a particular trope: women need romance to be happy. Too often in movies and television shows, every female character’s main purpose is to fall in love with a man. In this sense, the media treat romantic love as though it’s the only path to nirvana, the only way to reach fulfillment, rather than through personal or career accomplishments, or strong relationships among family and friends. So thank goodness for the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a show currently in its second season that seeks to challenge this stereotypical role for women. Through satire and exaggeration, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend critiques the unrealistic and borderline absurd expectations that American society holds for women and makes a great watch out of doing it.
The comedy-musical TV series, created by Rachel Bloom, Aline Brosh McKenna, and Marc Webb, piloted in 2015 with the intelligent, ambitious, and successful Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) impulsively deciding to leave her six-figure salary job and move across the country when she runs into her ex (in this scenario, “ex” means the boy she dated for two months in summer camp). After seeing Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) on the street and hearing his romanticized account of his home – the small town of West Covina, California – Rebecca decides that moving to West Covina is the change she needs to be happy. But, as she constantly assures herself and the friends she makes in her new town, she did not move to West Covina because of Josh. Each episode of the show contains several elaborate and hilarious musical numbers that parody all kinds of music.
Eventually Rebecca admits to herself and her partner-in-crime Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) that her unrequited feelings for Josh actually are what led her to West Covina, and the two begin scheming to bring Josh closer to Rebecca and further from his “perfect” girlfriend, Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz). These elaborate and outrageous schemes blatantly satirize the media’s stereotypical role of (there’s no better way to say it) the crazy ex-girlfriend, who is so completely lost without a male counterpart that all she can do is pine and pray for his return. So, despite the fact that Rebecca is an incredibly talented and respected lawyer, her role as such takes a back seat while she does everything in her power to win back her beloved. The show’s multiple musical numbers also serve to satirize various genres of music, as well as the media-created role of the modern woman. For example, “Sexy Getting Ready Song”, from the pilot episode, vividly describes the horrifying and unsexy process of becoming sexy, and contrasts this process with the male routine for a night out. More recently, in the third episode of season two, the show parodies Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”, with a song about love triangles – in which Rebecca plays the dumb blonde who can’t even understand basic geometry. The mocking of the common hip hop music video and the “bimbo” stereotype created by the Marilyn Monroe iconography points out how absurd gender roles in the media are.
Another way that the show does this is through exaggeration. The writers have created each character by taking one or two personality traits, and emphasizing them so that they become the entirety of the character’s nature. Rebecca, for example, is a heightened version of a young woman with anxiety. Santino Fontana plays Greg Serrano, a bartender who has on and off romantic feelings for Rebecca throughout the first season. Greg’s temperament comes from an intensified form of nonchalance – he even has a musical number called “I Could If I Wanted To”, in which he assures that he could do amazing things (such as date Rebecca, get “A’s” in community college, have a kid, etc.), if he were “lame enough” to actually want to do them. Not only are the show’s characters exaggerated, but also the scenarios. For example, in season one episode nine, Josh invites Rebecca on a day trip to the beach with him and his friends, and she is determined to show them how cool she is. An ordinary approach to gaining acceptance from a group would be a friendly gesture, such as bringing a couple of six packs for the group. Rebecca’s approach is to bring an extravagant party bus (complete with a stripper pole) and dance for everyone. This type of outrageous reaction to get Josh’s attention is the norm in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and it significantly adds to the show’s satirical feel.
Before I finish my ramblings on the manner, I would like to elaborate on how this show is contributing to the shifting paradigm of women in television and film. In the introduction, I mentioned the media’s prevalent allegation that women need men to be happy. We’ve all been exposed to this theme with such intensity that it’s become normalized in our minds, and whenever we see a woman on screen who’s seeking a man to make her feel complete, we don’t question it. This is often because the theme is a subconscious part of the storyline; perhaps the dominant plot is that the young heroine is working to become a surgeon, but at the same time she looks for a happy relationship, and the story’s conflict doesn’t feel resolved until she has that title of “surgeon” as well as a marriage. In fact, that’s actually the plot to Grey’s Anatomy, an ABC series that has been airing since 2005. However, for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the dominant plot is the search for love, and we see a young woman throwing away everything – from her career to her sanity – to gain the coveted romantic relationship. While television shows like Grey’s Anatomy subtly nudge us towards this assumption that we need love, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is forcefully shoving us to this idea, with the purpose of satirizing it. Indeed, the result is that we realize how ridiculous the theme is, and it makes us notice the subliminal trend of women seeking love in other media. For this reason, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is critically and comically brilliant, as it provides viewers with truly unique comedy, while still promoting a pro-female agenda.