Welcome to Seen Anything Good? A monthly series where I tell you which shows to binge-watch when you need help coping with the state of the world.
Pride isn’t something that comes naturally for me. I don’t hate myself, but I also don’t celebrate myself the way I feel that I should. I don’t hide my interests, but I’ve never been comfortable discussing them at length. I’m not closeted, but I don’t talk about my sexuality with many people. And I never learned how to actually process my feelings, so I mostly work through my issues by analyzing TV shows.
The problem is, a lot of this repression is just reinforced by the things that I watch. Especially looking at the things I grew up enjoying. So many of the punchlines end up being about people like me; queer, or mentally ill, or otherwise different. And then suddenly my fun viewing experience is ruined by the knowledge that like, Tina Fey or the Sex and the City ladies think I shouldn’t exist. So often, I come away from a movie or TV show with the sense that whoever made it would probably hate me. Like, on a personal level. Or at the very least, they would be indifferent to my existence. But I’m secretly a very sensitive person who needs a lot of affirmation from my media, and the one show that always delivered on that is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
CXG is a lot of things. It’s a rom-com, but also a kind of meta-commentary on how toxic rom-coms can be. It’s absurdly silly, while also serving as an unflinchingly honest exploration of the long-term effects of mental illness and unprocessed trauma. It’s earnest and honest in all the ways that I wish I could be. Also, it’s a musical. And it does all of these things really, really well.
The show follows Rebecca Bunch, a depressed lawyer who impulsively moves across the country in hopes of getting back together with her summer camp boyfriend who she hasn’t spoken to in 10 years. Obviously, this plan doesn’t work, and things spiral hilariously/tragically out of control. It stars Rachel Bloom, who created the show with her writing partner Aline Brosh McKenna, the rom-com genius behind The Devil Wears Prada and 27 Dresses. Bloom also wrote all 157 songs in the series alongside musicians Jack Dolgen and the late musical icon Adam Schlesinger (who also wrote, in my opinion, two of the greatest movie songs in history). All of this to say, the people behind this show are ridiculously talented, and it pays off in ways that are bold, and touching, and genuinely unlike any TV show that I’ve seen before or since.
To be fair, though, it took me a while to get into CXG. I’m the kind of person who will throw away my laptop and walk into the ocean if I so much as think that a fictional character is about to make an embarrassing decision, and that’s kind of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s whole deal. But then, scrolling through Twitter, I saw this scene, where Rebecca’s dorky boss Darryl announces to the office that he’s bisexual in the form of a punny, yacht rock-style song. It’s silly, and joyful, and (overlooking the pretty binary view of gender in the song) deeply affirming to my own experiences. Up until that point, the only positive bisexual representation that I had seen on TV was of aloof women who “didn’t like labels” which is great for them, I guess, but felt completely inaccessible to me. I personally love labels. I tried a lot of them on before finally deciding that “bisexual” fit me best, and I remember feeling so relieved and happy that I finally had a way to contextualize my experiences. This scene is the first time that I can remember seeing a character who was equally open and excited about being bi. It’s even more impactful given that the character singing this bi-anthem is a middle-aged man, which you hardly ever see on television. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend really does right by its queer characters, giving them storylines that are just as touching, and impactful, and funny as their straight counterparts. I know that’s a low bar to clear, but even today, a lot of shows still seem unsure how to deal with LGBTQ+ characters (looking at you, Bridgerton).
It would have been great for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to just have positive queer representation, but they didn’t stop there. At least for me, every moment of the show felt like an experience of affirmation. It’s sex-positive, body-positive, and committed to destigmatizing mental illnesses. Rebecca’s journey in understanding her own mental health is one of the most realistic and affecting things I’ve ever seen on TV. They don’t hold back when it comes to discussing how brutal it can be to live with untreated mental illness, but they’re also not afraid to joke about it, which I almost find even more empowering. I don’t need a television show to remind me that being suicidal is bad. I do need someone to point out that hey, maybe you haven’t gotten out of bed in days, but if this were a fancy French movie it would probably seem kind of sexy and cool. The whole show feels like a pep-talk from your friend who can never follow their own advice, but somehow always knows what you need to hear. It’s kind of unbelievable how seen I felt when watching it. Even throwaway lines managed to really strike a chord with me (and yes, that was a musical pun).
In season 2 episode 12, Rebecca says something that knocked the wind out of me. Technically she sings it to an unsuspecting delivery man while begging for validation that her bad decisions haven’t completely destroyed her life, but that’s beside the point. She asks, “was I sick the day in school they taught you how to be a normal person?” and as soon as the line was spoken I burst into tears because it’s something that I had been wondering since I was a kid. I’ve spent so much of my life feeling weird, and isolated, and broken because I never seemed to be able to do things that came so naturally to other people. The only explanation was that I had somehow missed the one day in school that everyone learned how to behave like a normal human being. And for a long time I assumed that I was the only person who felt that way (because obviously everyone else had been in class that day and learned everything they needed to know), but there was Rachel Bloom on my TV screen, assuring me that I wasn’t the only person who wondered that. That I wasn’t wrong for wondering about it.
Ultimately, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a show about finding ways to love yourself, instead of looking for external validation. It’s a reminder that our passions, our needs, and even our challenges should be celebrated, and that no matter how we may feel, we aren’t actually alone. To me, that’s pride.
Because this show really does follow a pretty strict seralized structure, I recommend that you watch it in order. But here are a few of their best songs to give you an idea of what you’re in for:
This is the self-hate ballad that we all need sometimes. Who among us hasn’t spent some time wallowing in self-pity, imagining a beautifully sweeping musical number that mostly consists of hurling insults at yourself? Rebecca shouting “Yes! I deserve this!” as the imaginary audience joins in on the chorus is deeply relatable, which is probably a sign that I should go back to therapy.
I miss going out to parties, but mostly I miss singing this to myself in the mirror as I get ready to go out to parties. It’s a sultry slow jam that dissects the ridiculous lengths that women go through in order to fit beauty standards, and as someone who cries a little every time I tweeze my eyebrows, it’s definitely relevant. The song also features Nipsey Hustle (RIP) who honestly deserved a Grammy just for his delivery of “nasty ass patriarchal bullshit.”
A lot of the music on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend serves as interesting character studies or smart satire, but some of the songs are just really fucking funny. It’s like a Drake song, if Drake sang about escaping his problems by visiting the zoo, and then when that doesn’t work, the aquarium, which is “like a zoo for fishies.” It makes me laugh every time I hear it.