Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of the best, most ambitious comedies on TV right now. The musical series won two Emmys for its first season, and if that’s not impressive enough, just take a look at all the titles on Rachel Bloom’s resume: co-creator, star, writer, and songwriter. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s charm and idiosyncratic tone can best be summed up in its Emmy-nominated theme song. In just thirty seconds, the show lays out its basic premise and introduces viewers to its flawed heroine, Rebecca Bunch (played by Bloom). “I was working hard at a New York job making dough, but it made me blue,” she sings. “One day, I was crying a lot, and so I decided to move. To West Covina, California. Brand new pals, and new career. It happens to be where Josh lives, but that’s not why I’m here.” It’s funny and catchy, but if you listen closely to some of the other lyrics, like, “she’s so broken inside,” it’s also kind of sad. That combination perfectly encapsulates what the show is, and also what makes it so great.
As soon as Rebecca runs into her ex-boyfriend Josh on the street in New York City, she’s reminded of how happy she used to be. Before long, she quits her job and abandons her old life, hoping that the answer to her problems are with a boy she dated back at summer camp when she was 16. The running joke we hear in the opening theme song is that she didn’t really move because of Josh, and while it’s true that “the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that,” essentially, that’s exactly what she did. Thematically, season 1 was all about denial. We watched as Rebecca repeatedly lied to everyone about her real motivations for moving to West Covina (a sunny, So-Cal town that’s conveniently located two hours from the beach; four in traffic). Her increasingly ridiculous attempts to hide the truth carried most of the narrative last year, until the very last scene, where she finally comes cleans to Josh. After spilling her big secret, and turning the show’s initial premise on its head, it was anyone’s guess where the show would take things next.
Only two episodes of season 2 have aired so far, but we’ve already seen a lot of exciting new developments. Paula, Rebecca’s best friend and stand-in-mom used to be intoxicated with Josh and Rebecca’s love story; there wasn’t any plan or scheme that went too far for her to pull off. But this season, she’s taking a step back from Rebecca’s world and following her lifelong dream of going to law school. Greg, Josh’s best friend, and Rebecca’s other ex-boyfriend, appears to be on a good path, too. He’s in Alcoholics Anonymous, finally addressing his drinking problem. It’s clear that he still has feelings for Rebecca, but for now, he’s focusing on his own stuff rather than trying to win her back. After spending most of the first season depicting people who are trapped in their own self-destructive habits, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend appears (thus far at least) to be showing us that its characters are capable of breaking free from their unhealthy patterns – if they want to badly enough. This might not apply to Rebecca, though. Presumably, as long as the show goes on, Rebecca has to be “crazy” (although what that word means exactly, and how poor her mental state is, can fluctuate). But while Rebecca might be the glue that connects a lot of these characters, they all have lives that exist outside of her, and it’s been nice to start to see them find new ways to better themselves.
It might seem weird for a show to scrap a theme song that was nominated for an Emmy, but since the original song no longer applied to Rebecca’s emotional state, that’s exactly what the creative team did. The new theme for season 2 is also reflective of Rebecca’s denial – except this time, it’s not love that she’s denying, it’s her own psychological issues. “I’m just a girl in love,” she sings. “I can’t be held responsible for my actions. I have no underlying issues to address, I’m certifiably cute and adorably obsessed.” Now normally, sitcom characters might live in denial about something for an episode or two, but typically, it ends, and they inevitably return to the status quo. In the case of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, all of the characters are constantly pretending to be something they’re not, and most of them are unsurprisingly, deeply unhappy about it. While the show can seem cheerful at times because of the musical numbers, the situation in reality is, to quote the theme song, “a lot more nuanced than that.” It’s probably no surprise then why Bloom and her co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna refer to Rebecca as “a bubbly Walter White.” It’s a tightrope act: Rebecca can be a difficult character to watch, but it’s a testament to the quality of the writing and Bloom’s performance that the show hasn’t repeated itself too much, and is even sharper and funnier in season 2.
Crazy-Ex Girlfriend wouldn’t be the same show without its musical numbers. They do it all: Broadway numbers (“Cold Showers”), rock (“Textmergency”), and rap (JAP Battle). Their best number is still “Settle for Me,” inspired by Cole Porter, with choreography that pays homage to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. So far this season, we’ve also seen a takeoff on Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” a punk-rock Green Day-infused number about ping-pong, and a great Irish drinking song about staying sober. The songs give us insight into characters’ inner thoughts and emotions, and the show is able to get at these darker themes in really interesting and entertaining ways.
Another area where the show deserves enormous credit is with its commitment to character depth and development, even within its musical numbers. Unlike an SNL digital short or a YouTube parody, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is an hour-long story, and as a result, it has to be concerned with continuity among its characters, which is something sketches don’t really have to worry about. In one season 1 song, “I Love My Daughter,” Rebecca’s boss Daryl (Pete Gardner) struggles to sing about his daughter in a way that sounds creepy. In a sketch, it would be easy to simply make him really creepy – but the show has a long-term investment in his character, so the comedic takeaway becomes something different. Bloom has said in interviews that their intention is for the characters to drive the songs, and rarely vice-versa.
As we move forward into this new season, the series is consciously playing with a love triangle. While Greg and Josh have both been seen as love interests since early on, for a long time Rebecca didn’t see herself as being in much of a triangle. Especially in earlier episodes, Rebecca’s tunnel vision when it came to Josh often meant that Greg got left in the dust. And although she and Greg got together toward the end of last season, it was only after she thought her chances with Josh were shot forever. Up until very recently, Rebecca’s been so obsessed with Josh that Greg has always appeared as a second choice. In the finale, we see how much she does care for Greg, and then he blows his chances with her by getting wasted and failing to reciprocate her feelings. This season, with her and Josh and finally together, it’s finally dawning on her to question whether or not he’s the one she’s actually meant to be with. Whatever direction the show leans toward, this love triangle isn’t as straightforward as it appears.
The kind of attention and care that the show’s invested, even in its minor characters, has really paid off. Just like Rebecca left New York for California, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend repeatedly reminds us how difficult it is for people to change their lives. Rebecca’s just now starting to reevaluate her feelings for Josh, or is at least recognizing that there their relationship isn’t everything she had imagined it would be. Perhaps we’ll eventually see her forging a new path for herself too. Or, you know, she’ll just stay crazy.