5 Important Ways the CW’s ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ Defies Stereotypes
As a musical theater enthusiast, I was predisposed to love 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend': the show includes two or three original musical numbers per episode. It’s not just its uniqueness as a TV comedy/musical, though, that makes this show stand out. Here are 5 reasons to applaud ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ for busting stereotypes and breaking barriers in television.
Warning: contains spoilers from seasons one and two!
1. It features an Asian-American romantic male lead.
Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) is Filipino-American and the object of protagonist Rebecca’s affections from episode one. Typifying a sort of “Asian bro,” Josh is a significant departure from typical depictions of Asian-American men on television, which Rodriguez describes as the "asexual sidekick." Asked about his audition at the CAAMFest 2016, Rodriguez recalled: "I saw a part that described me, and I thought 'well this is interesting' [...] I'm not used to that. As an Asian male actor, I'm not used to reading a breakdown [...] that describe[s] me." When it comes to Asian-American male representation on TV, Josh Chan is definitely a step in the right direction: a desirable, relatable character who doesn't fall into familiar racial stereotypes.
2. It de-stigmatizes bisexuality and portrays a healthy relationship between two men.
Darryl Whitefeather, Rebecca’s charmingly awkward boss, comes out as bisexual after realizing his feelings for White Josh, a trainer at Darryl’s gym. Like the casting of an Asian-American male love interest, the representation of male bisexuality as a positive, discovered identity is a rarity on TV. Darryl's cringeworthy coming-out song to the office certainly does its part to bust stereotypes about bisexuality: he rejects the assumptions that maybe he’s really just gay, that bisexual people are “players” or “sluts,” that it’s just a “phase” or that he's just “confused.”
Darryl and White Josh do end up in a relationship, and it’s undoubtedly the healthiest relationship on the show. This, too, is encouraging to see. Though Mitch and Cam on Modern Family were stereotype-busting in some ways, their relationship was nothing to emulate; it never seemed clear that they actually loved each other beneath all the bickering and deception. Darryl and White Josh, on the other hand, communicate openly and seem to genuinely appreciate each other. Fortunately, David Hull (who plays White Josh) has been confirmed as a series regular for season 3, so we should see a lot more of him.
3. It features a confident, sexualized, relatable middle-aged woman.
Paula Proctor (Donna Lynne Champlin), Rebecca’s coworker and best friend, is stuck in a crappy marriage. So far, that's typical for a middle-aged woman on TV. The unusual part, as Champlin sees it, is that Paula is still represented as a sexual person. She is seduced by an attractive client and almost goes through with an affair (see the video above); then, when she and her husband are working on their marriage, having sex is an important part of reconnecting.
Just the mere fact that Paula’s weight is never mentioned is also unusual (despite the fact that, as a size 14, she’s about average for American women). Champlin applauds that Paula doesn’t hate herself for not conforming to a specific beauty standard and focuses instead on everything else in her life, providing a sorely lacking role model for plus-size women.
Lastly, Paula’s abortion is another important stereotype-busting subplot. Refreshingly, when she finds out she’s pregnant just as she’s beginning law school, the show doesn’t pretend she can become superwoman and do both. Though she grapples with the decision, after she decides to have the abortion, she moves on. This fits in with a growing trend of TV shows portraying abortion in a more realistic and de-stigmatizing way.
4. It explores issues of mental health honestly and openly.
The entire show could be considered a commentary on mental illness, as Rebecca openly struggles with anxiety and depression. What it portrays so honestly are the difficulties of getting well. Rebecca has several moments of clarity throughout the two seasons, when she vows to make healthier choices and take steps to address her issues. But soon enough, something gets in the way—usually the allure of an unhealthy relationship with a romantic interest or with her absent father (this is explicit in the song ‘A Boy Band Made Up Of Four Joshes’ (see the video above), in which Josh literally stands in for a mental health professional). Instead of portraying some huge moment of self-realization from which Rebecca never looks back, the show is realistic about the twists and turns of dealing with mental illness.
It also critiques over-medication: we find out at the end of season 2 that Rebecca spent time in a mental institution, and we already knew that before moving to California she took copious amounts of prescription medication, probably beginning at that time. Neither heavily medicating herself nor seeking validation in another person is a long-term fix for Rebecca; it’s clear to us as viewers that she will never truly get well unless she addresses the underlying causes of her unhappiness.
Though Rebecca’s mental health is usually the show’s focus, every character is struggling in one way or another. Greg is an alcoholic who eventually begins treatment; Paula struggles with addiction to and obsession with Rebecca’s life, and has to learn to set boundaries in their relationship; even happy-go-lucky Josh struggles with unwelcome thoughts. These struggles aren’t all medicalized, but they realistically exist along a spectrum—they show that there isn’t some clear line between “mentally ill” and “healthy/normal,” something our society would do well to recognize.
5. It’s full of important social critiques.
Usually through its songs and music videos, ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ lightheartedly yet pointedly criticizes social norms. A common theme of critique is the great lengths women are expected to go to to make themselves ‘appealing’ to men. In the ‘Sexy Getting Ready Song,’ Rebecca’s elaborate and painful pre-date ritual is contrasted with Greg’s (taking a nap on the couch).‘Oh my God I think I Like You’ mocks music videos which feature women looking sexy in the shower (think Selena Gomez) by showing Rebecca in the shower actually cleaning herself. ‘Put Yourself First,’ in which teenage girls encourage Rebecca to “wear six-inch heels, just for yourself / put yourself first, in a sexy way / put yourself first for him,” satirically exposes how even messages of female empowerment often reproduce sexism (the cameraman in this music video wears a shirt that says “male gaze”).
The show’s critiques extend beyond sexism, too: for example, the ‘JAP Battle Rap’ mocks white liberals who try to prove they’re “cool with Black people” by joining the ACLU and volunteering in African countries. The writers make a point of addressing relatable, taboo topics: the weirder aspects of casual hookups; the struggles of having “heavy boobs”; the way father-daughter love often comes off as creepy, how female depression is often sexualized (see video above), and more. Bringing attention to these topics isn’t just refreshing and funny; it’s liberating to see space opening up for discussions of commonplace experiences (often those of women) that we’re not supposed to talk about.
‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ has been renewed for a third season, and I hope it continues this important trend of stereotype-busting and silence-breaking. I’ll certainly be watching to find out!