Sarah Thompson brings us the guest post this week from the Winter 2017 Applied English class. Enjoy!
The CW’s critical darling, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, was recently renewed for a third season despite being the least viewed network television show two years in a row. The program follows a tradition of fairy tale-esque musical programs, like Once Upon A Tune and Galavant. But what makes the show so loved by critics and the few who watch it religiously (as opposed to Galavant, whose early cancellation was not surprising to either viewers or critics)? Well, this avid fan is pretty sure it’s because the show pulls apart previously established trends in the romantic comedy genre in the most hilarious way possible. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend uses fairy tale elements to demonstrate exactly how different the characters of the show, and real life people, actually are from fairy tales.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna. The combination of these two writers reveals the nature of the show as a combination of modern romantic comedy and fairy tale elements.
Rachel Bloom gained popularity through Youtube videos like “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song” and “I Was a Mermaid and Now I’m a Pop Star” the latter of which is described by Rachel Bloom in the video description as “what would happen if The Little Mermaid got discovered by a record producer for her singing voice and became a complete [jerk].” In contrast, Aline Brosh McKenna worked on big budget romantic comedies like The Devil Wears Prada in her early career. The marriage of Aline Brosh McKenna’s romantic comedy experience with Rachel Bloom’s history of updating the fairy tale has led to many songs which address fairy tales specifically and hilariously.
To avoid confusion, let’s go over some of the main players:
Rebecca moves to West Covina, a small city in the eastern San Gabriel Valley. She sees this place as magical and therefore the setting is easily related to the magical kingdoms in many fairy tales.
Josh is the object of Rebecca’s affection. He dated Rebecca when they were both 16 at a summer camp until Josh dumped her. He loves West Covina and hip hop dancing.
Valencia is Josh’s current long-term girlfriend. The main antagonist of the show, she represents everything Rebecca wishes to be.
Paula is a paralegal in West Covina and Rebecca’s first friend in town. She supports Rebecca’s romantic shenanigans while also dealing with her own career goals and marriage troubles.
Greg is a snarky bartender and the “healthy romantic alternative” to Josh. In traditional romantic comedy style, he’s the guy that Rebecca probably should be pursuing.
The music in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend adapts not only the fairy tales each fairy tale-esque song is based on, but also previous Disney adaptations. “Maybe This Dream” stars Paula as she wistfully contemplates her dream of going to law school. (Warning, some sexual references are made in the following video):
Paula’s outfit looks very similar to the one in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and the allusion is clearly intentional. However, instead of showing how similar Paula is to a princess, the song does the exact opposite. Paula implies her past dreams have “poop[ed] on her face.” She makes shocking comparisons between her dreams and reality in a song that otherwise looks, sounds, and feels like a fairy tale. This makes it only more obvious how much Paula does not quite fit into the fairy tale setting. Office printers and copiers are seen throughout her magical forest; her life experiences are not that of a princess.
“The Villain in my Own Story” also addresses how the characters of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are not like princesses and takes the idea even further. Rebecca sings this song in response to learning how she is hurting Valencia in pursuing Josh (warning, this video contains minor language):
This musical number brings together a lot of fairy tale elements; Rebecca looks like the witch from Disney’s Snow White while making references to Hansel and Gretel when stating her plans to eat the captured princess. The last verse of the song contains an interesting allusion to Disney’s Aladdin when Rebecca says: “I told myself that I was Jasmine, But I realize now I’m Jafar.”
The message of this musical number repeats the one shared in “Maybe This Dream.” The women in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are not true princesses. Rebecca isn’t even a true villain in this musical number; she says herself that she “gives annually to UNICEF.” Josh is not completely like a prince either. All of the characters are instead real-world mixes of fairy tale elements. It’s when the characters of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (or anyone for that matter) imagine themselves as the hero without fault that they run into problems.
Rebecca’s tendency to destructively imagine herself as a princess, specifically Jasmine, is repeated in the song “One Indescribable Instant.” This is perhaps the piece that best shows the combination of both original fairy tales and Disney film adaptations as influences. Lea Salonga (the voice of many Disney princesses) sings a song from Rebecca’s favorite childhood movie Slumbered an obvious reference to Disney movies like Sleeping Beauty or even Enchanted (warning, spoilers ahead):
The scene takes place at a wedding that character Greg snidely remarks is “the epitome of Southern California pastiche; a chain hotel with vaguely French decor and Italian food . . . being served Tapas style while [a] Filipino girl is marrying a Jewish guy, all with a lightly Arabian Nights style. What was this Pinterest board called? Juxtaposition?”
The song itself is also a pastiche, borrowing elements from different films. Rebecca is seen as a Jasmine when making out with Josh on a flying carpet. She lets the fairy tale nature of the wedding catapult her into pursuing Josh once again, leaving behind boyfriend Greg, even though it is the wrong choice. Here, Rebecca uses fairy tales to justify her objectively bad choices (cheating on her boyfriend with a man who doesn’t truly love her).
The fairy tales in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend demonstrate that the characters of the show are not simply archetypes, like the princess or the witch, but a combination of these archetypes. It’s when Rebecca imagines herself as a princess who can do no wrong that she hurts others. The show uses expectations we all have in a post-Disney world to show that disregarding reality in the pursuit of the fairy tale is, well, crazy. And it does this while being charming and hilarious and so, so great. And that is why Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a show that you should definitely be watching.