Stream this in the summer: ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’

07.07.16 1 year ago 16 Comments

In my early days on the beat, NBC had an ad campaign encouraging people to watch summer reruns, promising, “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!” In the age of Peak TV, that slogan seems less cynical than accurate. The rise of streaming services have put the bulk of TV history only a click or two away, which means that people are constantly discovering The Wire, or Arrested Development, or Terriers (sigh) for the very first time.

Since I’m not doing a summer rewind this year, I thought I would, from time to time, offer up a primer of a show you can stream, whether an older series available in full, or a new arrival to one or more of the services. And since the CW just made official its deal to move all its shows’ streaming rights from Hulu to Netflix(*), I wanted to start with what’s my favorite current CW series: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

(*) The upside of the deal: full seasons will be available on Netflix eight days after the season finale airs on the CW. The downside: if, like me, you often watched CW shows on Hulu the day after they were first broadcast, that option’s gone, though episodes will still be available on the CW’s website and viewing app.

So let’s go through the basics, with the help of some music videos, because that’s how Rebecca Bunch rolls:

What is it? Maybe it’s better if I show you first before telling you, with a theme song that lays out the story and the tone:

So, yeah, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a romantic comedy with frequent musical numbers, about young lawyer Rebecca (co-creator Rachel Bloom) abandoning her promising New York legal career to move to West Covina, California, because her summer camp boyfriend Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) lives there, and she has decided he’s the key to unlocking her lifelong quest for happiness.

Along the way, she makes new friends like paralegal Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), boss Darryl (Pete Gardner), and neighbor Heather (Vella Lovell), and ponders whether she might be better off dating Josh’s buddy Greg (Santino Fontana) rather than trying to break up Josh and his mean girlfriend Valencia (Gabirelle Ruiz), and occasionally pauses to practice law. Oh, and there are at least two original songs in every episode.

Where can I find it? The first season dropped on Netflix earlier this week, and season 2 will debut on the CW on Friday, October 21 at 9 p.m.

What are its strengths? Those songs, first and foremost. Bloom first came to prominence writing and performing YouTube music videos like “F–k Me, Ray Bradbury,” and she teams with Fountains of Wayne keyboardist Adam Schlesinger (no stranger to writing catchy fake songs, like “That Thing You Do”) and Jack Dolgen try to never hit the same genre twice, bouncing around from ’30s movie musical (“Settle For Me”) to ’80s hair metal (“Textmergency”) to The Music Man (“Cold Shower”), nailing the form even as the clever lyrics are revealing so much about Rebecca and the other characters.

Here, for instance, is “West Covina,” the song from the pilot episode where Rachel decides to leave New York after a chance encounter with Josh:

And here’s “JAP Battle” (the explicit version, so lyrics NSFW), where Rebecca finds herself going up against a childhood rival from Scarsdale:

Bloom and her co-stars slide easily from one song style to the next, and help navigate the shifts from the absurdity of the musical numbers to the slightly more grounded reality of Rebecca’s new life. Bloom and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna have also proven to be very smart about confronting the many emotional pitfalls of a series with this title and premise, making the other characters clever enough to realize what Rebecca is up to with Josh, and to give them complicated inner lives (Darryl realizes he’s bisexual, Paula has a troubled marriage, Greg cares for an ill father) so that they’re not just props for her insane quest. Like the theme song says, the situation’s a lot more nuanced than you would expect.

What are its weaknesses? As with most new shows, there’s a learning curve, and the early episodes at times feel less self-aware about what Rachel is doing and how bad it is for her and everyone around her. (Especially given how dull Josh seemed in the first few episodes – before, like the rest of the supporting cast, becoming much more complex over time – I initially wondered if this was another show like Cougar Town that might be better once it ran the hell away from its own title.) The songs and performances were enough to keep me watching, though, and the show ultimately turned Rebecca’s craziness into a feature, not a bug. (Your mileage may vary on where the season ends, but I have enough trust in the creative team at this point to want to see where they go from that decision.)

I’m still not entirely sold. What else can you tell me? If the above doesn’t make Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sound like a show for you, it probably isn’t. But just to be sure, here’s one more song, as Rebecca tells Valencia about the perils of being a curvy woman:

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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