Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the best show on TV right now.
I know, I know, stick with me. This isn’t some clickbait title I’m going to slowly back off of over the course of the article. I legitimately think that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the single best show that you can watch on TV right now. It’s the smartest, the funniest, the most well-paced – judge it how you want, it’s just a really great show. And very few people are watching it.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend tells the story of Rebecca Bunch, a gifted lawyer in New York City who is lonely and overworked, suffering from severe depression. On the day of her big promotion to junior partner, she has a panic attack, leaves the building… and runs into an old high school flame she once loved. After seeing how happy he is to be returning to his hometown of West Covina, California, she promptly packs her bags, takes a job at a much smaller law firm, and moves out west… only to find that Josh is happy with his long-term girlfriend Valencia. Or, as the theme song would say…
Now, saying that a musical romantic comedy on the CW is the best show on TV may be controversial to some. ‘Quality TV’ has some very specific connotations in today’s environment. Post-Sopranos, it is about tough men making hard choices, cable crime dramas about men on the brink of society wrestling with weighty moral issues. This, on the other hand, is a romantic comedy that is, on its face, about a well-off white lady who moves to California to stalk an ex. Which is to say, it doesn’t sound very promising. The CW isn’t a cable network, but the least-respected of the basic network channels; stalking an ex isn’t quite as adventurous as (and is simultaneously far more creepy than) the drug trade; and musicals are basically a dead genre in modern American entertainment.
The musical numbers are sharp. With at least two songs in every episode, it would be easy for Bloom to coast a bit – as much as I love Flight of the Conchords, their show had as many losers as winners, and it is the height of musical television. Or, it was. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has produced over a dozen hilarious, heartbreaking songs and a dozen more than range from excellent to pretty good. By my counting, there’s maybe one stinker in the bunch, and even that is great for a laugh in the context of the episode. It’s a remarkably consistent show when it comes to making me laugh or tear up, and the music plays a big part in that.
It’s also a remarkably insightful one. Depression is hard to dramatize. It is often such a thoroughly internal process, one in which doing anything can be a profound struggle. And yet, doing nothing is… well, it’s boring TV. We can’t watch Rebecca crash every couple episodes, slide into bed, and then not get out. We want to see her interacting with people, get a feel for what she’s thinking. Sure, depressed people can get out in the world and function normally some of the time, but self-loathing inaction is just as important. But how do you make that visually interesting?
Thankfully, the entire point of the musical genre is to make the unspoken irrepressible, to make subtext into text. It’s a genre that is, unwittingly, perfect for exploring things like depression and anxiety. It’s the only genre where, done well, telling is showing, and vise-versa. And Crazy Ex-Girlfriend took that core idea and built an entire show around it. The cast of the show are almost all damaged people struggling with the gulf between who they thought they’d be and who they are. And when they suffer setbacks, particularly Rebecca, she falls hard.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is also blessed with a deep bench of performers with great comic timing, amazing voices, dance skills, and more, actors and actresses who can truly do it all in the very classic Hollywood sense of the phrase. The cast is casually diverse in a way that I rarely see on television, particularly given its southern California milieu, and every member has stepped up to the plate to knock a few big moments out of the park. The comic chemistry between these people is bananas.
What’s more, the show is insightful about the different kinds of internal struggles the characters are dealing with. Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) transfers her dissatisfaction with the way she settled into married life into a manic enabling of all Rebecca’s worst qualities – she’s so lovelorn in real life that Rebecca’s passion lets her live inside her favorite romantic movies, never realizing that those are (potentially unhealthy) fantasies. Greg (Santino Fontana) is smart and driven, but trapped in a go-nowhere job in a small city he hates because of family obligations – he’s turned bitter and hard as a defense against life’s disappointment. Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) is a bro of the Channing Tatum school, a fun-loving, caring guy who loves to party and dance but never really learned how to grow up – he wants so desperately to be a ‘good’ guy that he’s unwilling to stand up for himself. Among the half-a-dozen or so regulars, only Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz), Josh’s smokin’ hot yoga-instructor girlfriend, has never really received the depth that the rest of the cast has, and even that is starting to change as the series nears the end of its first season.
Ultimately, the reason I’d say that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the best show on TV right now is simple. It boils down to one word: Empathy. Rachel Bloom and her team of writers, directors, and actors have created a giant musical romantic comedy that is also deeply insightful about the inner lives of human beings. The Sopranos could have very easily been another crime drama, but David Chase opted instead to really delve into the inner lives of Tony and the rest of the cast, to look at the moral rot of organized crime and the emotional toll of overseeing an empire in decline. The Wire could have been another simple cop drama, but it decided to show what motivates crime, how society is built on every level to encourage criminality. Almost all the greatest TV shows are united by their dedication to diving deep into characters and situations everyone else took for granted. Nothing is as simple as it appears on the surface; great storytelling typically acknowledges that.
With Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rachel Bloom, Aline Brosh McKenna, and company may just be joining the ranks of TV’s all-time greats, we’ll see how things pan out going into season 2. But for now, it’ll have to be content simply being the best show on TV right now.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend airs on the CW Monday nights, with recent episodes available on Hulu and old episodes available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes. Its first season is coming to a close in a few weeks, and it was recently renewed for a second season.