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The joy of CEX

April 19, 2019

About a year ago, a friend told me about a show on Netflix (originally the American network, the CW) called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It sounded a bit out there – a musical comedy about a high-flying lawyer who abandons her successful life to move to the other side of the country for a boy she dated half a lifetime ago. But after she’d shown me a half dozen YouTube clips of the songs in the show, I was hooked. I immediately went home and binge-watched the first two series.

Trust me when I say it’s brilliant. And if you haven’t already accepted and embraced this brilliance into your life, look away now because, spoilers.

I laugh out loud at multiple points in every episode of this show. Even during season three, when it all goes a bit dark, there were moments when I was lolling at songs about anti-depressants and suicide attempts. The show’s creators – Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna – have created a character for every thirty-something woman out there who feels a bit doubtful about her life, her looks, her career. They’ve made a woman (Rebecca Bunch) who every single woman can identify with – for every time you’ve had a bit too much to drink and said something you shouldn’t, or eaten too much and hated yourself, for every time you’ve compared yourself to your prettier, skinnier friend and found yourself wanting, for every time you’ve screwed it up with someone you love.

There are so many blogs about this show that I don’t need to gush about its virtues, or tell you about its plot. But after four series and 61 episodes, which finished a couple of weeks ago, I feel bereft. It’s like losing friends you’ve known a long time, who always make you laugh, and sometimes cry. Rebecca and her bunch of misfits in West Covina, California (which I hope has seen its visitor numbers somersault since the start of this show) have created a world in which women (and men – this is a show watched “reluctantly”, but actually eagerly, by fans’ boyfriends and husbands) have found an unlikely hero, who isn’t a size 8 and aged 25, who ugly-cries and regularly wears hideous outfits to send herself up. She spanxes to the max, gurns and grimaces, and still, at the end of season four, has three hot men lusting after her.

A show written by two women should be this way, of course. Rachel Bloom plays Rebecca, so she has literally created herself, and has spoken about reflecting her own life in her character. I am sure there is plenty of Aline Brosh McKenna in her too, and the creators’ mothers, sisters, friends and colleagues have all undoubtedly lent inspiration for some of the characters we see – from the overbearing Jewish mother to the frenemy from school, from the hopeless boss to the mute communications manager, from the basketball playing priest to the forever-hopeful therapist.

And those are just the supporting characters.  

The real joy of this show though is in the songs. Halfway through a lament on loneliness, a character will suddenly burst into song; to emphasise a love conundrum the set will turn into a Broadway stage. In a way that dialogue just can’t (either because it would be too corny or on the nose), a song can lift the drama to another level, making a moment even funnier, sadder, more beautiful or more insane. The choreography has grown in style and substance over the seasons, and the tunes have sent up every single genre from thrash metal to girly pop, from hip hop to classic musicals. If you have just one ounce of the theatrical in you, you will love every moment of the sheer silliness of it all.

But it also takes on a serious subject. The main theme of Rebecca’s life is, undoubtedly, the (many) men that populate it – but the thread that runs through this complex love story is the relationship she has with herself. From the time she was wounded by her father leaving home, on her eighth birthday, Rebecca has struggled with self-worth and acceptance, which has influenced all of her relationships and the way she sees herself. Mental health is explored throughout all the series, particularly so in season three, when she completely loses control. Despite the title (a “sexist term”, Rebecca points out), it’s never glossed over, nor made light of, and there is so much pathos in some of the darker episodes it actually hurts.

But ultimately, it’s joyous. Whether you agreed with the ending or not (and our Crazy Ex appreciation group – or CEX – on WhatsApp was roundly divided on this issue), it was one hell of a journey. I hope I don’t sound too gushing or sycophantic, but the creators (and their team of writers and songwriters) really nailed this show – it’s the kind of thing I’d love to be part of, and Rachel Bloom really is my ultimate girl crush.

But really, this blog is a love letter to Rebecca – for being an entirely imperfect hero, who ultimately gets everything she ever wanted. BLAM.

Addendum: I actually wrote this blog a couple of weeks ago, since which time Rachel Bloom has announced two live dates in London in June. To say this sent our CEX Whats’app group into a slightly hysterical meltdown would be somewhat of an understatement – the outcome being, we have booked tickets and are in the FOURTH ROW FROM THE FRONT. Rachel, fear us. It’s going to be AMAZING.

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