Greg Serrano has a new face. Really, he does. The on and off boyfriend of Crazy Ex Girlfriend’s Rebecca Bunch, previously played by Santino Fontana, now bears a startling resemblance to Pitch Perfect’s Skylar Astin and fans of the show have reacted exactly as you’d expect them to. What they don’t realise is it’s not only Greg who’s changed.
Rebecca Bunch has been on quite the journey – from a glorified stalker with her grip on morality ever straining to… well, to someone whose heart is no more unsettled than any of ours. Now in its final season, Crazy Ex Girlfriend is showing us Rebecca’s attempts to atone for the all the things she’s done and been – and how, unmuddied by fear of rejection, by senseless desire, by pain or self-loathing, her perspective has changed drastically.
If you pay attention, all of Crazy Ex’s characters are different this season. For some, it’s behavioural. Darryl is relaxed now – wise, even. Josh is still superficial, so many concepts still roll right off him, but emotional awareness is no longer one of them. Nathaniel is ‘nice now’ and that he tells us, over and over again, that he tells us beyond the point of reason is important. Important because the exaggeration reminds us that what we’re watching is a few inches removed of reality. When we watch Crazy Ex we aren’t watching actors imitating reality. We’re watching actors imitating reality as seen by Rebecca Bunch, by a mind that – however, healed – still leans towards exaggeration, to excess of every kind. When Nathaniel reminds us he’s nice, when the fact is thrown at us over and over, it isn’t because we couldn’t find the evidence of that niceness for ourselves, but because Rebecca – Rebecca who always chose men who would treat her with contempt, who never really cared for kindness in her partners – is just now discovering her ex-boyfriend’s heart.
There are characters who’ve changed physically too. Throughout ‘Forget It’ Rebecca’s mother Naomi extensively applies oestrogen patches and anti-wrinkle cream. The character hasn’t aged at all – this is just the first time her age is expressed. Rebecca is more confident, more settled than she’s ever been – and thus, less scared of her domineering mother. Of course, then, it’s only now that she is able to see Naomi’s weakness – her age, her grappling with her body. Every time Rebecca grows, her vision changes – and we see more of other characters, see what Rebecca’s previously narrow vision didn’t allow us to.
So, Greg. While he remains the only character to be recast, that falls in line with the greater change in this final season. Of course, Greg has changed. When Rebecca loved him, it was because he would loathe her – and Santino Fontana’s portrayal of the character embodies that; glowering and physically imposing and somewhat hard around the eyes. We were given only scraps of good in the original Greg because it wasn’t good that Rebecca was looking for. But Rebecca doesn’t want to hurt anymore, so now we can see all the things that Greg is other than a weapon. Skylar Astin’s version of the character retains much of the original – a dance move he performs in his debut number has him look so much like the previous actor it’s almost uncomfortable. But that spin and wink is followed by a grin, a jokey admission that ‘I am indeed really cool’ – something old Greg with his self-loathing and his determination to be as miserable as possible would never have given. Skylar Astin’s version is physically smaller and looser – less threatening, less an overt menace. Some of this is character growth but some of it is Rebecca’s ability to see – finally – people for who they are and not who she needs them to be.
So yes, Greg Serrano has a new actor. And yes, until you realise how masterfully Skylar Astin has studied his predecessor’s work, it’s distractingly obvious. But if he’s changed, so has everyone else. They’ve changed because Rebecca has because her perception of people now allows them to. Greg has a new face, but if he didn’t he would still be completely transformed.
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