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How Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Embraced the Crazy and Became Must-See TV

The CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is frequently embarrassing and frustrating, with a lead character who's constantly taking one step forward and about five giant leaps back, but the series is self-aware even if Rebecca isn't, and after the events that closed out "Josh and I Are Going to Los Angeles!" the series has finally finished setting up all of its pins and is ready to knock them down in the final five episodes of the show's first season. Regardless of how the show's love triangle between Rebecca, Josh, and Greg (or rectangle, because of Valencia) eventually plays out, The CW should renew this sharp and unique comedy for a second season because of its tendencies to zig when it's expected to zag, for its depictions of mental illness, for successfully producing multiple quality and addicting musical numbers every week, and because we've only just begun to see real change in Rebecca.

After ditching the medications that made her numb and leaving a high-paying job in Manhattan for the sunny skies of West Covina, California, Rebecca Bunch (the award-winning Rachel Bloom) has carved out a home for herself in the San Gabriel Valley, though it's admittedly been very slow going. She originally denied that she was pulling a Felicity and following her crush across the country—even though in a way she was—but the situation, as the theme song reminded viewers every week, really was a lot more nuanced than just Rebecca's feelings for Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III). By leaning into the title and premise and surrounding Rebecca with a colorful but fantastic group of supporting characters—shout out to Darryl!—the show blossomed from an off-kilter but clever pilot into a dark comedy with frequent bouts of emotionality as it took on one woman's search for personal happiness. Was Rebecca delusional? Yes. Should she spend more hours with her therapist? Probably. Is it entertaining? Absolutely. Having the strength to seek out happiness in the awkward, confusing wilderness of new experiences and the complicated boundaries that are placed upon us and reinforced by social norms has made Rebecca sympathetic and familiar even when she's doing something, well, crazy.

It helps that in her search, she's also inadvertently helped others find some happiness of their own. Rebecca's best friend Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) enabled Rebecca's Josh obsession to spin wildly out of control because of the lack of excitement in her own marriage left her unfilled, but she's at least admitted to being addicted to the fantasy of Rebecca's love life, and her dedication to helping Rebecca in her quest for Josh's affections eventually even brought a renewed sense of enthusiasm to her own relationship. Meanwhile, Darryl (Pete Gardner) has come out as being bisexual after being friends with Rebecca led him to White Josh (David Hull), and portraying bisexuality, especially with a character like Darryl, was a bold storytelling decision that's so far only led to a few brief scenes, but is honest and fulfilling and everything Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does so well.

But the real accomplishment here is that the show has developed Josh into more than just an unattainable fantasy for Rebecca. By making him a fully developed character and an honest potential suitor alongside Greg (Santino Fontana), the series has subverted expectations and actually allowed Rebecca to continue doing the crazy things she's been doing all this time, which is smart even though Rebecca is obviously in the wrong and it's admittedly sometimes hard to watch. But it took some time for the show and for Rebecca to even reach that point, because Rebecca was living in denial of the truth about her feelings for Josh for months. Eventually, on an ill-fated trip to the beach on a party bus, her neuroses bubbled over and she was forced to confess that she wasn't offered a job in West Covina like she'd said, but that she actively sought it out following her run-in with Josh in New York because she'd been numb and unhappy and had wanted to feel something.

A less confident series likely would have treated Rebecca's confession as ammunition to introduce unnecessary conflict and torpedo the newly rebuilt friendship Rebecca had with Josh, but as has become Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's M.O., the series rebelled against lazy tropes by having Josh support Rebecca's decision to find the gold hidden in West Covina. In that moment, having also experienced a draining and unfulfilling life in New York, Josh felt a deeper connection to Rebecca and her plight. He understood her actions better than anyone ever had, and instead of driving them apart, her confession brought them closer together and solidified a bond that no one—not Valencia, not Greg, and definitely not White Josh—could understand. And when she tried, but failed, to help people all over the San Gabriel Valley fight back against a mega-corporation that was stealing from them, Josh saw that underneath her more wacky actions and her lie about someone breaking into her apartment, Rebecca was a good person with a big heart. Rebecca was absolutely selfish and manipulative, but she was kind and learning to be selfless, too.

And although Rebecca's willingness to put herself in uncomfortable or no-win situations continues to be odd and vexing—and oh so embarrassing to watch as a viewer—it is also weirdly admirable. Whether she's throwing a party in a new city where she knows only five people just so Josh will come, going to Josh's parents' house for Thanksgiving, or actively choosing not to use illegally-obtained evidence to win a case to impress Josh, Rebecca is taking risks and making choices that she probably never would have otherwise if she'd remained in New York, and that is progress, however slow and small it may be. And as proof, in "Josh and I Go To Los Angeles!" the show offered up two ugly versions of Rebecca to contrast the woman she's become in just the six months since she's traded coasts.

The first version appeared in the form of Audra Levine, a former classmate of Rebecca's who spent their childhood comparing herself to, and constantly trying to one-up, Rebecca. Now she's replaced Rebecca at her former Manhattan law firm, right down to the hair and wardrobe the unhappy Rebecca wore in the show's pilot. The second was Trent, a stalker who loved Rebecca from afar, who had his own "Dear Josh" letter in a baggy, and who was willing to do whatever it took even just to sleep at the foot of her bed like a dog. Although Rebecca wasn't self-aware enough to see that Trent was a slightly more uncorked, dangerous version of herself (he was blackmailing her in order to "be" with her), Rebecca was able to spot the differences that have sprung up between Audra and herself, and although the entire case involving the water conspiracy started out as another one of her frustrating schemes crafted to be able to spend time with Josh, she was honest in court and it worked in her favor. The two shared a passionate kiss after Rebecca chose not to use the evidence Trent acquired by hacking into the water company's server because she was no longer the person who would do anything to win, even though she was willing to do anything to "win" Josh's affections.

At a glance, it's sometimes difficult to see why anyone would want to be friends with a woman like Rebecca, let alone fall for her romantically. She's selfish and absurd, she's delusional, and she's constantly having to build bigger and bolder lies as she crosses bigger and bolder lines. She's very obviously in the wrong in nearly every situation, but she isn't vicious or malicious, and she usually means well, even if her skewed view of the world often leads to her jumping to conclusions, acting a little strange, and making terrible decisions. But by forcing viewers to see the world through Rebecca's eyes—and the use of musical numbers helps to bring about that clarity—it makes viewers sympathize with her, even as we recognize that people like Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz) and Greg are entirely right about her. It also helps, of course, that the show has acknowledged that Valencia has a tendency to be awful toward Josh, but even if she was sweet and unassuming, our own expectations and experiences would have led us down that path anyway. Meanwhile, Greg's anger and feelings toward Rebecca have obviously been colored by the way she's treated him since moving to West Covina, but they're also the product of the fact he clearly still has feelings for her, and as a result it's a bit hard to align ourselves with him when he's calling Rebecca out for her poor behavior and attempting to convince Josh of how toxic Rebecca was, because he can't break away from Rebecca's pull either.

The show has now offered up two real possibilities for potential boyfriends, but when the series premiered it was clear that Greg was the man Rebecca was actually supposed to fall for in the long run, and the two even went out a couple of times. Being the walking disaster that she was/is, however, Rebecca blew them up before they even had a chance (sleeping with someone when you're on a date with someone else will do that!). But what Greg has going for him is that he isn't blinded by the version of Rebecca she's desperate to put out to the world—the version that's happy and successful and only wants what's best for Josh. He sees that she's cracked, and also full of cracks, and he's still pulled into her intoxicating orbit time and again. She doesn't have to manipulate him into hanging out with her or liking her. Even when he was dating Heather, he still found that his free time involved thinking about her, and because of that Heather (Vella Lovell) dumped him (with a wonderful reprise of Greg's own "Settle for Me" from "I'm Going on a Date With Josh's Friend!") just in time for Greg to rush (well, as much as you can rush in Los Angeles traffic) to the courthouse and see the kiss with Josh thereby completing the show's central love triangle.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's dedication to Rebecca's outrageous behavior and its ability to nail the romantic comedy stories are just two of the reasons to sing the show's praises, though. The musical sequences, which take place almost entirely in Rebecca's head and try to never repeat in style or genre, are easily the most impressive thing about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. From a rap battle with Audra and a Shakira-inspired song about group hangs, to a Barbra Streisand-like ballad about self-loathing and a Les Misérables-style number about justice, the songs, which can vary between two and four per episode, are stylish, polished, and the perfect complement to Rebecca's everyday shenanigans. The heightened reality, the recognition of Rebecca's mental health issues, the strong feminist voice, and the introspective look at Rebecca's psyche that these performances provide help the show to stand out in a sea full of bland cops, superheroes, and more supernatural creatures than even The CW knows what to do with anymore. There's really nothing like it on TV, and that's truly invigorating.

But even as Rebecca is drowning in anxiety and making all the wrong choices, like when she fabricated an elaborate excuse that required Paula to throw a rock through Rebecca's own glass door to explain why she'd broken into Josh's apartment, Rebecca is fearless in her pursuit of happiness and that counts for something. Every week I find myself covering my eyes and screaming, "Oh, honey, what are you DOING?!" at my television as Rebecca's forced to squirm her way out of yet another awkward situation of her own making, but the show's courage and dedication to painting its lead in this uncomfortable but honest and familiar light is one of the many reasons The CW comedy is worth watching.

At some point, the series will probably eventually have to evolve beyond Rebecca's feelings for Josh and seriously and honestly address her personal issues, but now that Josh has returned her interest, the show is excelling creatively and there's no reason to blow that up. In her mind, Rebecca has drawn a connection between happiness and Josh because she was largely unhappy and emotionally stunted in his absence. Was it unfair to place this burden upon his shoulders? Maybe, but having an unrequited crush wasn't necessarily harmful to anyone but herself, and in the end it gave Rebecca a renewed outlook on life, even when she couldn't admit it was what she was doing. Now he actually returns her affections, which doesn't automatically eliminate, forgive, or support the character's crazy choices or selfish tendencies—nor does it even mean that a breakup with Valencia is on the horizon—but it was definitely the result of some character growth on Rebecca's end—some very small, minuscule character growth—and that's not nothing.

Rebecca has made plenty of mistakes since moving to West Covina that could have easily been avoided had she been honest with herself, listened to the advice of people who weren't Paula, taken time to assess the situation, or lived outside of the fantasy she'd built up in her head, but that series would not only be boring, it wouldn't be honest to who Rebecca is. Watching her fumble her way through life is something that's embarrassing for everyone involved, but also familiar and necessary. And as time has passed and she's made those mistakes, Rebecca has even begun to learn more about herself in the process, which is the real reason we're here. For instance, in "That Text Was Not Meant for Josh!" there was a brief moment in which Rebecca seemed to realize that she was to blame for most of the miserable situations she kept finding herself in and it led to one of the show's best performances to date.

It's always baby steps with Rebecca, but without her frequently awkward mixups, without her constantly and blindly stepping into new messes while trying to find the happiness that has eluded her for so long, there would be no Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Because the show is about her journey, and the similar journeys we all take as we learn how to become successful, self-actualized adults. Maybe we're not stalking people and breaking into their homes to erase text messages or looking to drum up legal cases in order to spend time with somebody, but we are all Rebecca in one way or another. And once Rebecca achieves her true happiness, which may not be with Josh, and maybe not even with Greg—and which maybe shouldn't involve men at all—the series will have to acknowledge that its work is done or find a way to reinvent itself. And as frustrating as Rebecca and her antics are week in and week out, that day shouldn't come for a while. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and its musical numbers are the perfect companion to Jane the Virgin's own heightened reality and soapy drama on Monday nights, and The CW would be smart to keep that dynamic going for years to come.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend airs Mondays at 8pm on The CW.

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