The Revenge Thrillers That Inspired Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s New Season

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Rachel Bloom in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Photo: Scott Everett White/The CW

When we last saw Rebecca Bunch in the season-two finale of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, she had a clear goal in mind after being left at the altar: “Josh Chan must be destroyed.” As the show returns for its third season on October 13, Rebecca is still figuring out how exactly to go about that destruction — and in a typically Crazy Ex-Girlfriend bit of subversion, she keeps getting stuck on the idea of mailing him poop cupcakes.

While the show’s new revenge plot affords Rebecca the opportunity to try out a new look (and possibly satisfy some deep emotional needs), it also represents a shift in focus for the series. After satirizing pop-culture tropes about the obsessed ex who’s mooning over her former boyfriend from afar, and then about the girl in a relationship who believes she can just force a guy to love her, Rebecca is now a scorned woman hell-bent on vengeance. Vulture caught up with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna to talk about the movies, TV shows, and other touchstones that inspired the Crazy Ex writers this season.

Basic Instinct

Rebecca is “very much a character who looks to the outside culture and pop culture for ways to behave,” according to McKenna. In other words, once she’s jilted by Josh, she reverts to the narratives available to her. Foremost among them: ’90s sex thrillers. When Rebecca gives herself a Basic Instinct–style makeover, complete with dark hair and a white outfit, she’s trying to “cloak herself in the power and the kind of indomitability of those women, like Sharon Stone. They’re very strong, they’re very sexual, they’re very overt, they’re not insecure, they’re not neurotic. We don’t really see their interiority, so we don’t get a sense that the insides of their brain are very complicated places, and that’s what she wants,” McKenna said.

Fatal Attraction

Although these women in revenge movies often look imperious and in control, the Crazy Ex writers also considered the unspoken turmoil roiling beneath the surface. In Fatal Attraction, McKenna said, “It’s quite clear that Glenn Close’s character is in the grips of some sort of mental illness, but it’s not treated that way. It’s treated like a monster movie.” The film’s original ending, which Close preferred, gave her character more sympathy, and McKenna was interested in figuring out the pathology beneath a character like that crazed ex: “Glenn had identified that she was someone who was suffering from mental illness and possibly an abuse survivor. For Rebecca, it seems like there’s strength in power and she doesn’t really think through to the other side of that, which is that in a lot of those movies the women die.”

Dangerous Liaisons

Another Glenn Close movie on the minds of the Crazy Ex writers, Dangerous Liaisons starts off as a game of petty jealousies that unravels into genuine emotion. “That’s a woman in a very tightly prescriptive world,” McKenna said. “She doesn’t have access to the levers of the economy so she’s trying to execute her will from backstage. She ends up also paying an enormous price and being laughed at publicly and humiliated. So, there’s a price for women who try to exact their revenge in these roundabout ways.”

Cruel Intentions and Swimfan

McKenna added that the younger writers in the Crazy Ex room also brought up Swimfan, the 2002 Erika Christensen poolside thriller. The writers room also spent time talking about Cruel Intentions — the late-’90s, teen dramafied version of Dangerous Liaisons — so much so that they inserted a line referencing the movie. But don’t hold your breath for a musical number riffing on “Bittersweet Symphony.”

Psychology research

“We did a lot of reading about that and a lot of talking to experts,” McKenna said, in order to figure out the best way to approach and depict Rebecca’s mental illness. The season’s as-yet-unrevealed opening credit sequence “is not related to the revenge story, but is related to [this] more general question of the third season.” Rebecca’s history with Robert, a law-school professor whose house she set on fire, lingers over the season, and it becomes clear that she acts out her romantic obsessions in patterns. “It was interesting to see that people were surprised to find out that she has a history of being obsessive, romantic-obsessive,” McKenna said, “If someone is doing that, that’s usually something they’ve done before. I think that there are kindergarten classmates and people she co-starred in high-school productions with who also got a bit of the Josh Chan treatment.”

Breaking Bad and Mad Men

In addition to Basic Instinct, the show’s ad campaign this season references prestige anti-hero dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, which have long been inspirations for Crazy Ex. “There’s something subversive about seeing [Rachel Bloom] in Walter White garb,” McKenna said. “Breaking Bad is probably Rachel and my number-one inspiration. The yoke of likability is something that I really labored under for years writing romantic comedies. There’s just so much pressure for women in those movies to be lovable and save puppies from the wheels of buses. Those shows really embrace the reality and the complexity of people who are not perfect.”

… and yes, coprophagia

Rebecca’s idea to send Josh poop cupcakes comes from an impulse that has a name: coprophagia, derived from the Greek words for eating feces. “That’s a thing people do!” McKenna said. “The outcome of revenge behaviors is really just trying to make someone feel the way you feel. You’re trying to take your pain and transfer it to the other person. She really feels that Josh has not paid for, or taken responsibility for what he’s done, and she’s not wrong about that.” Here, the pain is represented by poop, which is fitting because Rebecca feels like poop.

Revenge Thrillers That Inspired Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 3