By Abby Fisher ’19
A TV show about a woman uprooting her high-powered professional life in New York for an ex-boyfriend seems, on the surface, anything but feminist. But writer Rachel Bloom’s riotous musical dramedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend takes a sexist premise and turns it on its head by satirizing and thereby delegitimizing stereotypes of women —particularly Jewish women.
While representative of traditional feminine archetypes, every female character has a depth that undermines the very stereotypes they represent. For example, in addition to playing the mother-like best friend archetype, Paula also presents the audience with her career aspirations. And Valencia, the seemingly superficial and materialistic girlfriend, opens up early on about her struggle to find female friendship. It also quickly becomes clear that Rebecca Bunch, the “crazy” ex-girlfriend, is much more than her crush on an old flame or her impulsive decision making.
The most unconventional element of the show is the music. Each episode features one to three original musical numbers, many of which reference famous moments in musical theater. Each season also has its own theme song, all of which are tongue-in-cheek spoofs of sexist tropes like the “crazy ex-girlfriend” and the “girl in love.” In the theme song for Season Two, Rebecca, clad in a 1920’s flapper dress, sings, “I have no underlying issues to address. I’m certifiably cute, and adorably obsessed,” pointing to the way that movies, TV shows, and musicals often hypersexualize women and portray them as two-dimensional. Correspondingly, in the most recent and final theme song, a chorus of cheery women sings, “You know, we’re not really seeing a common theme! Meet Rebecca! She’s too hard to summarize,” highlighting the progression from earlier theme songs which indulged tropes in order to subvert them to a complete rejection of stereotypes.
Another notable element of the show is its handling of Jewish stereotypes. The protagonist is culturally Jewish and clearly views Judaism as central to her identity. Rachel Bloom walks a fine line between embracing gendered anti-Semitic tropes and challenging them. With songs such as “Remember that We Suffered” and “JAP Battle,” her approach is certainly edgy. She seems to fully embrace the overbearing Jewish mother stereotype, having Rebecca’s mother, played by Tova Feldshuh, go on a tirade entitled “Where’s the Bathroom?” singing, “You call that a bathroom? That’s what passes for a bathroom? There were no bowls of rocks or any decorative soaps. You don’t even have a bath mat. Who doesn’t have a bath mat? If you need a bath mat I can— Oh, did you hear? A bishop in Wisconsin said something anti-Semitic,
so the temple has decided to boycott cheddar cheese.” However, Feldshuh’s stereotypical character is humanized and made dynamic over the course of the second and third seasons.
Crazy Ex, as it’s lovingly called by fans, also features a number of queer characters who take on damaging stereotypes. Darryl’s catchy number “Gettin’ Bi” tackles lots of misconceptions about bisexuals and gets easily stuck in your head to boot.
For a Jewish, feminist, musical theater nerd who loves wordplay like me, this show is a perfect balance of incisive social critique, production numbers, and sharp wit. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend certainly fills a niche, putting not-so-traditional characters into seemingly traditional plotlines and undermining sexist and anti-Semitic stereotypes in the process.