You usually don’t see "spanx" and "awards consideration" in the same sentence. But then again, over its first few months, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" hasn't been like anything else on TV. On Thursday night, at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, the show held a For Your Consideration event for TV academy members and press, blending together a live performance with a panel discussion of the show's debut season.
Once moderator Patton Oswalt told an Alfred Bester joke, it was clear the evening had locked onto its targeted happy place and wasn’t going to stray for the next hour. The event gave a chance to highlight a number of people who make the show run, from co-creators Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom to composer Adam Schlesinger to choreographer Kathryn Burns and editor Kabir Akhtar sitting in the audience. On the heels of Monday night's episode (one of the best in the show's brief run), the panel had plenty to talk about and a handful of things to look forward to.
For die-hard fans and for the increasing number of curiously uninitiated, here’s a taste of Thursday’s festivities (with help from some of the show’s best tunes):
Sexy Getting Ready Song
Taking the stage solo to raucous applause, Bloom made her introduction and quickly established the tone for the rest of the night. After some opening banter, (including an incredibly concise explanation of where babies come from), she kicked off the night with a performance of one of the show's choice tracks. “I wanted to start out this evening by sharing with you my process,” Bloom said, slowly removing her dress as the instrumental track for the above ditty played over the speakers. After singing the first verse in the trademark spanx from the song’s show version, she beckoned for help. On came “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” cast members Pete Gardner and Donna Lynne Champlin in matching get-ups.
The trio proceeded to perform the rest of the song with staged choreography, with Gardner grabbing the song’s best line (“Body rolls are really hard”) and Vincent Rodriguez III, the show’s Josh Chan, assuming the song’s interrupting rapper role. (Alas, no surprise Cedric Yarbrough to reprise his “Sexy Gonna Do It” tag from Episode 7. But now there’s always Season 2!)
While this was the only on-stage performance of the night, it was a fitting reminder that, although bound by certain restraints of network television, the creative team behind this show rarely seems afraid to do exactly what they (and the members of their show’s audience) want.
Fittingly the centerpiece of the show’s pilot, there’s no better distillation of the plot, spirit or humor of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” than “West Covina.” The three-minute encapsulation of Rebecca’s journey to warmer and cheerier southern California climes stemmed from an actual tour through the city that it lovingly lampoons. “The West Covina mall is the best mall,” Bloom explained.
“The reason that there are those pretzels in the pilot is when you come into the mall, there’s a pretzel kiosk and then you walk all the way to the other end of the mall where there’s another pretzel kiosk with a pretzel kiosk facing it,” said McKenna. That LA-specific humor is part of the reason that the show never feels like a slap in the face to Angelenos. It instead fosters a shorthand among fans to the point where Thursday's event featured a pretzel kiosk of its own in the theater lobby (next to a makeshift boba stand, lest you fear that Josh and Rebecca’s go-to hangout spot was wrongfully overlooked).
The population of West Covina also gave them a guiding template for giving the show’s version the lived-in, diverse feel of its residents. That extends from its supporting cast to its background actors to the ensembles for the show’s bigger musical numbers. McKenna singled out Burns for her efforts on "Cold Showers," the show’s recent Music Man riff, saying that she "cast an incredible, diverse group of people that actually look like they live in that building instead of a cheesy group of dancers. That’s something that permeates the show at all levels because we’re trying to do something real."
Face Your Fears
Pitching a show is a daunting task for anyone. Bloom and McKenna had plenty of tales about the rocky process of getting "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" to TV screens.
The two went through a brief rundown of executive meetings tribulations, from the network that responded with, "We already have a show with women in it," to the ones who neglected to watch the sampling of Bloom’s pre-CEG YouTube song efforts that they sent in advance of each pitch. (Speaking of which, if you’ve never basked in the warm glow of the weaponized earworm that is "I Steal Pets," add it to your weekend playlist.)
Now that the show is firmly ensconced in the CW primetime lineup, they can proceed to other show-based challenges. Bloom and McKenna didn’t rule out the possibility of a live episode or the inclusion of more Broadway stars (in addition to Lea Salonga’s guest spot in the impending Season 1 finale).
Regardless of where things end up, the show benefits from evolving its story from a central place. As McKenna said, “It starts out being Rebecca’s fantasies and as it moves on, it’s almost like she has a contagious disease. Donna’s the first one to catch it.” (Champlin’s first venture into the show’s musical songbook as Rebecca's trusted friend Paula is included above for your viewing pleasure.)
I Have Friends
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is an occasional casualty of entertainment’s ongoing “likable characters” debate. Rebecca doesn’t easily fit into a preexisting character box, but the co-creators spoke on Thursday about how they embrace what makes her real. “There are some shows where people are gratuitously mean to each other because you can see the creators being, ‘Oh, it’s so funny to be mean!’ If you understand where that rage is coming from, I don’t think it matters if you ‘like’ them,” Bloom said.
While anger isn’t exactly the cocktail fueling “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” erratic, infatuation-driven decisions often are. Bloom addressed those who find those choices crippling or unrealistic.
"We wanted to portray truths that we hadn’t seen. One of them is a smart, capable, bubbly woman who makes horrible decisions: Those are most of my friends," Bloom said. "I really like exploring the contrast between what our brains think should happen and what our bodies want to happen...It’s hard to be an intelligent person and fall in love because your body wants you to hump and it wants you to make babies, which is the opposite of, like, getting a doctorate.”
Or, as succinctly summed up by McKenna, “I think the last frontier for feminism is getting to be an asshole.”
Settle for Me
The Fred and Ginger riff was a turning point for the show’s public perception, but it’s not just a critical favorite. When asked which of the other characters’ songs the panelists would have wanted instead, “Settle for Me” was Rodriguez’s instantaneous reply. “I just want to tap dance on TV,” he implored through some light faux-sobbing, before pointing at Bloom and adding, “In tails. With her.”
That fascination with being able to experience musical theater on TV was built into the fabric of the show and has since attracted a diverse viewing demographic. “So many people have come up to me and said, ‘I thought I hated musicals because I never saw one! But then I saw one for free on my TV and I love musicals!’” said Champlin. “A musical, in its true form, is where emotions reach a height where true spoken word cannot be enough and you must sing. That’s all it is. It’s not posh, it’s not out of your reach. It’s the most visceral way to tell a story.”
For a show populated with Broadway talent, that’s not by accident. But as the show has benefited from heavy involvement of theater-community mainstays, it’s holding up its end of the symbiotic bargain by providing a new wave of audition songs for musical theater hopefuls. “I fell in love with sketch comedy writing in college and I was a musical theater major. The thing that inspired me to combine the two and start writing musical theater was when I was looking for audition songs, any time I would look for a comedic song for a woman, it was stuff written in the 1950s, where it would be jokes about Eisenhower,” Bloom said.
I Love My Daughter
As Rebecca’s boss, Darryl Whitefeather, Pete Gardner could have been easily relegated to TV’s Character of Comedic Convenience Tier. But McKenna explained that one of the happy by-products of the switch to the CW meant that the hourlong format afforded them on-screen time to examine the show’s rich side characters. According to Gardner’s account of his first days on set, all of those developments were built into the original DNA of the show. “Before I showed up for the very first day, they invited me to come down and meet all the writers,” Gardner said. From there, they walked him through the various episode-by-episode developments, from his qualified ode to his daughter (pictured above) to his burgeoning bisexuality. “That told me, right from the get-go, that this character was more than just the guy who trips over the furniture.”
Beyond the on-stage antics and charming anecdotes, it’s nice to know that TV like this can exist. For a show that was staring down certain extinction just a few weeks ago, to have it be part of the awards conversation, well on its way to a sophomore season? That’s just proof that there’s at least some part of the TV landscape that’s “Flooded with Justice.”
For more from the CW's lineup, check out a trailer for "Jane the Virgin."