Clever satire is far more than it first seems

Netflix's new TV musical comedy hit, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend reminds us not to take life - or ourselves too seriously


Full disclosure: I really didn't want to like Rebecca Bunch, the protagonist of Netflix's new TV musical comedy hit, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

The show's title may offer some clue as to why; she is as maddening as she is mad.

Here you have a Harvard-educated lawyer with, ostensibly, everything going for her: a stellar career in ascent, a droolworthy Manhattan home, and perfectly-coiffed hair that laughs in the face of humidity.

But it just takes one chance encounter with her summer camp boyfriend Josh, who mercilessly dumped her aged 16, to erase any semblance of self-respect. Within moments, Bunch has quit her job, boxed up her life and upped sticks to the far more humble (read: pretty grim) setting of West Covina, California - "two hours from the beach, four hours in traffic".

"It also happens to be where Josh lives," she trills. "But that's not why I'm here!" So far, so crazy. And thus swiftly my eyes began to roll.

Here we go, I thought; another problematic representation of the "crazy white female". Like a cartoon character with love hearts in her eyes, suffocating under the heady haze of her own hysteria. Oh, and this one is Jewish, so you also have that loaded sub-category of "neurotic Jewish woman" to contend with.

As you might expect, a friend's remark that "she reminds me of you" drove me, well, a little crazy, annoyingly fuelling his observation.

But then, something surprising happened and the show quickly set itself apart from pretty much anything else I have ever seen. Before I knew it, I was transformed from reluctant viewer to bona fide superfan, and trumpeting its star Rachel Bloom - who not only plays Bunch, but co-created and wrote the whole series - as a feminist TV icon.

The reason? It became far more than the sum of its parts, multi-layered in its delivery, plot, and usage of tropes, cliches and genres. Setting up, then deconstructing, what it means to be a woman, to be Jewish, to be "crazy" - to be a person, really - in one fell swoop. And all the while doing so amid high-energy musical numbers, fast-paced, irreverent dialogue, and plenty of heart.

On face value, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a romantic comedy sitcom, charting lovelorn Bunch's attempts to win back the one that she believes should never have got away. He dumps her in an early flashback scene, leading her to pool her every effort into ace-ing academia and climbing the career ladder, much to her pushy Jewish mother's delight.

Then comes the breakdown; and before you know it she has relocated west, flushed her "happy" pills down the toilet, and set about nabbing the one thing that surely all smart women really want and really need for self-validation: a bloke's attention.

Within every 40-minute episode are two-to-three big production, leg-kicking musical numbers, pastiching everything from Fred Astaire to Fiddler on the Roof, Les Misérables and 1980s heavy metal with glorious irony.

The songs are mainly performed by Bunch or those she is sharing a scene with, and acted out as if imagined by her aforementioned "crazy" mind.

And here is where things get clever. Consistently breaking the fourth wall, the show's characters poke fun at their own language, lyrics and dialogue, highlighting how ridiculous it is that, in this day and age, we still subscribe to the same bygone standards of love, power and success.

Take the opening number, performed by Bunch and her "chorus" of co-stars, and setting the show up as a modern-day, Greek tragi-comedy.

"She's a crazy ex-girlfriend," they sing, to which she interjects: "That's a sexist term!" Again, they repeat their refrain, with Bunch retorting: "The situation is a lot more nuanced than that." This meta-song-and-dance act continues throughout the show's entire series, reminding viewers that its characters may be both mad and maddening, but throughout all the warbling, tongues are resolutely lodged in cheeks.

There really are too many amusing misadventures and musical numbers to recall, but one performance in particular stayed with me long past viewing. Halfway through Bunch's slew of lovelorn sagas, she comes face-to-face with Audra Levine, her longtime lawyer "frenemy", against whom she has spent the majority of her life competing, both academically and professionally.

As they get ready to face one another in court, the lights dim, the camera shakes, and the pair launch into a parodic re-imagining of a classic 1990s American rap battle - or, in this instance, a JAP (Jewish American Princess) battle.

With rhymes like, "That tough act's a bluff, so sheket bevaka sh…ut the hell up" and "Think your verse is tight? Then you're tripping like Birthright", the show's makers manage to satirise everything from the madness of female competition, ruthlessly pitting educated women against one another for no good reason, to the cultural cosmos that is Jewish suburbia.

My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is satirical and sincere. It entertains and amuses, but also asks us to question our own sense of self-worth and identity. Like Bunch, we are left looking at our own personas - those masks we wear when performing the roles of girlfriends, boyfriends, employees, employers, friends, foes; adulthood, in all its guises.

It reminds us not to take life or ourselves too seriously, and importantly, not to drive ourselves too crazy when, every so often, we might just lose the plot.

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