Not so crazy after All: positive feminism in a CW show

Last Friday Rachel Bloom’s epic musical rom-com Crazy Ex-Girlfriend returned to the CW in a new season that sets a much darker trajectory for the protagonist, Rebecca Bunch. Rebecca is a top New York lawyer who abandons her career and home to chase the dream of getting back together with her childhood boyfriend, Josh Chan. She moves to West Covina, California, and Josh just happens to live there. Crazy, right?

Yet despite the shows wildly misleading name, this is not just another romantic comedy that fits into the stereotypical narrative of ‘girl finds boy’. The situation is a lot more nuanced than that – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is finally a feminist take on the rom-com genre. The show itself deconstructs the genre, giving us deeply human, well-rounded characters instead of the stock love triangle tropes.

Rebecca, for instance, is not just a girl in love. She is a deeply flawed, problematic feminist with an idealised vision of how to be “empowered” but no real desire to act on it. For example, she has been offered a partnership in her New York law firm – the epitome of career success and breaking through the glass ceiling – yet in the pilot episode we see this makes her deeply unhappy. Her romantic pursuit of Josh in her move to West Covina does not make her truly happy either. Rebecca has been pushed by her overbearing mother into her career, and led to believe that a man will give her a fairy-tale ending. No, for Rebecca to achieve true happiness, she must focus on her own underlying issues to address rather than looking for a man, a career, or any number of anti-depressants to mask her problems.

As for the male leads on the show, they deviate from the typical Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy tropes. At the start, they are shown within this easy-to-recognise framework; Josh the confident jock who doesn’t treat her well, and Greg the sensitive shoulder to cry on. As the show progresses, however, we see how both men develop as sympathetic and flawed characters in their own right. Josh has problems being alone with his thoughts as we see in his solo ‘thought bubbles’ leading him to being a serial monogamist, while Greg turns out to have an unhealthy relationship with Rebecca due to his alcoholism as shown in ‘Greg’s Drinking Song’. Both men are treated sympathetically despite their flaws.

However, it is Rebecca’s boss Darryl who garners the most sympathy for men’s problems on the show: he is the only man willing to talk about his emotions openly. He is ridiculed for this of course, from his ex-wife who cheats on him with a man who “doesn’t cry at cat food commercials” to his father who labelled him from a young age as an “emasculated sock puppet.” Despite these sexist pressures on Darryl however, he continues to feel his feelings and this is one of the most heart-warming messages on the show. Everyone, no matter their gender, is entitled to their feelings, and true feminism allows both men and women to act on them.

As the third season of the show develops, we can only expect more great messages to come.

Image: Red Carpet Report on Mingle Media TV @ Wikimedia Commons

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