I regret not knowing who Rachel Bloom is until now. Because she is a national treasure.
As star of the CW’s new show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” she plays Rebecca Bunch, a high-profile and high-strung New York lawyer who, after a chance run-in with an old (and brief) boyfriend from camp, chucks it all and moves to his small California town to win him back.
On the surface — and in title — it sounds completely off-putting, like “Felicity” but with an actual grownup, which is even worse. So I nearly avoided the show until I started hearing buzz about its sardonic take on the stalkery-ex trope.
Happily, the buzz turned out to be entirely accurate. The show, co-created by Bloom and veteran screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, feels more like a twisted relative of “30 Rock” than it does “Felicity.” It’s an hourlong musical comedy, but it’s just musical enough (unlike “Glee,” which quickly got old for me as it seemed to careen from one auto-tuned video to another). And you realize, through the hyper-verbal Rebecca’s internal monologue, that her show is gently sending up the whole culturalized notion of women’s rescue via finding that One True Love. (In an entirely different way than “The Mindy Project,” which I think is still one of the best satires of romantic-trope obsession out there.)
First of all, Rebecca’s ex (Vincent Rodriguez III) seems like a lunk — a good-looking one, but clearly not her equal in the wit department. It’s the bartender (Santino Fontana) at the local sports bar, the one whose dark good looks and self-deprecating wit are vaguely reminiscent of Xander Harris from “Buffy,” who’s a better contender. But of course she doesn’t realize that, because the pilot needs somewhere to go.
The show’s first big number, an ode to the nondescript, non-beach town to which Rebecca is inexplicably moving, is reminiscent of both the “30 Rock” ode to Cleveland and to the musical numbers of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who were name-checked by Bloom in a recent interview with Time. “As an actor,” she said, “I wanted songs that were actually hard laughs, and that’s hard to find in musical theater. And as a viewer, I wanted more like ‘South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,’ I wanted more like ‘The Producers.'”
In that interview, she also refers to the friendship between her character and a female co-worker (Donna Lynne Champlin) becoming the real relationship in the show: “We always said the real love story of the show is Rebecca and Paula. It’s kind of flipping the Bechdel test on its head, because in every scene, they’re talking about a dude, but inadvertently, they’re becoming bonded and they’re becoming close friends.”
But it’s not until well into the show that it drops its real stealth bomb, which is the “Sexy Getting Ready Song,” released online in all its uncensored glory. Here, Bloom showcases the R-rated humor that made her an internet star (more on that shortly) as she skewers the fetishization of all the torturous things women do to make themselves conventionally attractive on a date. (My favorite part: “Let’s see how the guys get ready!” she trills, as the video cuts to the bartender asleep on his couch with a half-eaten sandwich on the coffee table.) I don’t know how Bloom got the CW to agree to include an asshole-waxing joke on primetime — I imagine it’s a holdover from the show’s original home.
The pilot for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” you see, was originally produced as a half-hour Showtime show. When the premium network passed on it, the CW picked it up, making what Deadline refers to as “tweaks” to the dialogue and taking out a blowjob scene. (But they kept the waxing. Interesting.)
But here’s the best part: There’s so much more out of Bloom’s humor out there already. In case you, like me, are not well-versed in her stuff, she made her name on the internet five years ago with a video called “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury,” which is really a hilarious love letter to being a sci-fi reader, and which garnered her a Hugo nod.
Then there’s the animated “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song,” which features a narrator singing her way through a litany of horrifying medieval practices.
“You Can Touch My Boobies” seems, on its surface, to be pandering, but like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” it’s a deft delivery vehicle for satire: As a tween boy falls asleep in Hebrew school, he has a fantasy about his teacher (Bloom) that showcases just how little 12-year-old boys know about women.
“Nobody Wants to Watch the Fucking Tony Awards With Me,” clearly a very personal one for Bloom, is a chronicle of, well, it’s all in the title.
And there are so many more! I love that musical shows are cool again. I love that it’s a good time for women and parody songs — I’m thinking here of Amy Schumer’s “Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup” and Garfunkel & Oates (R.I.P. their show, but their videos — like “The Loophole” — live on on YouTube). “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” may have been blandified a touch by its transition to network TV — I’d love to have seen the original, shorter pilot — but I think its edge survives pretty intact.
I do still take issue with that title, though. Maybe it came from Bloom and McKenna, maybe not. But it’s playing a dangerous game, trying to have it both ways by luring in viewers who are into the traditional narrative about how bonkers women can be and by assuming that those who appreciate good comedy will be in-the-know enough to see the sarcasm dripping off the title. Personally, I almost missed it, and I bet there are other viewers who passed it by on that basis alone. Their loss — but the CW could have played it better. One day, I imagine, its star will be famous enough to just call it “The Rachel Bloom Show” and leave it at that.