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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Sunday (7/16/17) 11:44pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Books:   <none>
Movies:  <none>
TV:  Crazy Ex-Girlfriend [season 1]

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend [season 1]
This is the first season the 2016 musical comedy about a lawyer who moves cross-country to, well, stalk her teen crush.

I'm in the weird position of writing about this show a good five *months* after watching it.  (What?!  *I've been busy.*)  But it's still crystal-clear in my head that the songs on this show are freakishly good.  Rachel Bloom was already an Internet celebrity in her own right for her musical comedy videos, and they got freakin' Adam Schlesinger to step in as their music director.  I remember when musicals on television weren't a thing.  I remember, too, when established shows would do musical episodes, and all the songs would be kinda crap, but you'd smile and gush over it because, hey, at least they were trying.  Occasionally there would be a Cop Rock or a Viva Laughlin attempt at a full-on TV musical, and it would fail catastrophically and hilariously.  Even Galavant, a show I full-on adore, and which had Certified Goddamn Legend Alan Menken, batted maybe 500 in the songs department.

So it's just weird seeing a show where most of the songs are actually good.  Not, "aw, that beloved TV actor is singing, so I'll give it a pass" good, but objectively good.  And their skill at genres is so dead-on it feels like they're showing off.  Their 90s boy-band goof, for example, feels informed by not just liking that genre of music (and the videos), but knowing way, way too much about the music theory and production techniques behind it.  And just on and on and on from episode to episode -- a real blast for music nerds.

Further attempts to jog my own memory led me to "I Gave You a UTI", which reminded me: oh, right, representation is awesome.  Yes, even a cis white het dude who's playing life on the "super easy" level like me benefits from (1) letting people who aren't 20-something white dudes in backwards baseball caps into the dream factory, and (2) letting them tell their own stories, instead of shaving off anything that might alienate, well, 20-something white dudes in backwards baseball caps.  For me, this results in scenes that are completely new to me, but completely understandable.  I have 100% never seen a scene about a guy awkwardly bragging about giving his girlfriend a UTI.  I can 100% believe that it actually happens, and as presented here, that's just hilarious.

And that comes up over and over again -- the show seems at its best when it feels informed by Ms. Bloom's experiences.  It honestly feels a little weaker when putting the spotlight on its male characters, and frankly that's fine, as most of those are stories I've kind of seen before.

Not everything about the show is hunky-dory.  Like many comedies, it takes some time to find itself.  It starts out feeling very rigid and sitcommy, like they've set themselves a very strict structure: Rebecca does something crazy to try to infiltrate Josh's life, it almost goes catastrophically wrong, they do something clever to avert disaster, and Rachel comes out unscathed and not really much the wiser.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

That's adequate and amusing, but the show really begins to shine when it develops all the characters in its ensemble and gives Rebecca something to do other than her one-track pursuit of Josh.  The world expands, the storylines get more varied, and we get to see Rebecca being good at her job as the show edged into an unexpected-but-fun Chinatown angle.  It reminded me of, of all things, Dollhouse, which opened with six rather straitlaced and repetitive episodes before expanding out, exploring more of its world and the unsettling implications of its premise.

And it can be a hard watch, at times, when it really digs into Rebecca's instability and self-destruction.  But it's also a kind of cavalier quality, on the show's part, and diving into cringe humor lets it get to interesting scenes.  Early on, there's the scene that turns into "I don't think I can make out with a girl who's crying," and that was another of those refreshing moments of "I'm absolutely sure this happens in the world, but I've never seen it in film or television before."  And, like with (again, of all things) Freaks and Geeks, diving into the agony and awkwardness makes the momentary triumphs hit a lot harder.[1]

There are so many other things to like along the way.  In a lot of ways, the show feels like a strong argument that a progressive and inclusive outlook is just good for storytelling.  This is a show where, yes, most of the central characters are white, but outside of that, the cast looks more-or-less like LA.  And that, in turn, means that they can set part of the show at a giant Filipino family's wedding preparations, or show Christianity in an earnest and respectful light, or happily dive into a central character realizing he's bisexual and navigating his first same-sex relationship.  (Granted, "Getting Bi" was one of my least favorite songs of the season, but the line "Shut up!  He looks like Tom Selleck!" balanced the scales for me.)  Every time they step away from the cis-het-white-rich beaten path of Hollywood casting, they find fun stories to tell.

Anyway, all of this bodes well for the later seasons.  It got past a sitcommy start, and now it's built West Covina into a rich setting, full of varied and amusingly awkward stories.  Let's see where it goes next.

For next week: oh, god, I'm backlogged on everything -- at this point, two books and three movies.  So much to write...

[1] Side note: it also avoids the grimdark emo of "Everything everywhere is AWFUL, and our hero doesn't give a fuuuuuck" -- instead, it just closely and accurately observes a lot of painful real-life scenarios, from struggling with mental illness to caring for a fatally-ill parent.

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Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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