“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”: Therapy Affirmative

Deftly switching between melodrama, cultural satire, and fantasy, the show is at once arch and sincere, risqué but never trashy, ambitious but never pretentious, and it’s consistently honest about its characters’ flaws and blind spots, even when the plotting (as in most romances and musicals) is blithely unconcerned with plausibility. Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture, about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

The first season of the comedy/musical Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, created by its star Rachel Bloom along with Aline Brosh McKennahas received many kudos—among them a recent award for being the best show on TV (Vulture). So, why care about a show whose title casts aspersions against the mentally ill?

Fortunately, it’s not as it appears. Emma Gray, Huffington Post: “In their hands, the ‘crazy woman’ trope becomes a lot less tragic and a lot more interesting. Perhaps the key to doing away with the negative power the ‘crazy’ label has over women is to embrace it with compassion and humor.”

Stacey Wilson Hunt (Vulture), explains further how the lead character handles the “crazy” label: “Not only does Rebecca acknowledge society’s double standard for women who’ve been jilted (on the usage of the phrase ‘crazy ex-girlfriend,’ she says in the opener, ‘That’s a sexist term!’), she fully owns the ensuing, decadelong bout of depression and anxiety that follow in the wake of breaking up with her high-school summer-camp crush, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III).”

In the opener Rebecca actually moves from New York to West Covina, California, to chase the lost long-ago boyfriend. Willa Paskin, Slate:

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not just how Josh Chan might see Rebecca (if he ever sees her; she can’t get a hold of him for the rest of the pilot) but how Rebecca occasionally sees herself. The lyrics to the opening song find Rebecca narrating her move while persuading and unpersuading herself that what she is doing is insane. She knows moving across the country for a guy who barely knows she exists (and who, to judge from all the talking she let him do, she barely knows) is crazy, and so reassures herself that’s not exactly what she’s doing. ‘I didn’t move here for Josh,’ she sings, ‘I did it for a change. Moving here for Josh, that would be strange.’

A key piece of info about the variety of characterizations on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend comes from Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture:

All of the show’s characters are living a lie, including Rebecca, a child of divorce whose love life is an overreaction to her self-involved, cold father and her smothering mother, and who (surprise!) always wanted to be a musical star but became a lawyer instead. For all her hyper-verbal outbursts, Rebecca’s self-awareness is tragically limited; it appears in brief bursts and then recedes, perhaps because the way she is now is the only way she can ever imagine being. ‘You lie to yourself well enough,’ Rebecca admits to her therapist…’you can convince other people.’

That’s right—there’s a therapist—seen in episodes, 7, 14, and 15 (of 18). Back in New York Rebecca’s therapy for anxiety and depression had consisted of too many prescribed medications. In California straight-talking shrink Dr. Akopian (actress Michael Hyatt) wants more for Rebecca, i.e., to deal with her feelings and thoughts and actions, something the client strongly resists. Rebecca just wants the pills.

Eventually, in fact, she agrees to seeing Dr. Akopian regularly only after getting into some potential legal trouble—and even then she fails to follow through on keeping those appointments. Meanwhile, there’s no question that she needs those appointments.

Although the first season has ended, it’s available to watch on Netflix and elsewhere.

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