When it comes to TV’s cracking musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,Alison Carr is as devoted to Paula Proctor (aka the best – and worst – best friend you could wish for) as Paula is to the show’s leading lass.
When Sarah Millican’s Binging feature on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was published, I was about five episodes in to the series.
As such, I was well through the phases of watching it. You know, going from ‘Netflix says I might like this’, to ‘WTF? It’s got songs?’, to ‘WTF, it’s got songs!’, to ‘I love this and want to watch it as fast as possible while at the same time never wanting it to end.’ Those phases.
Rachel Bloom (who also stars as Rebecca) and Aline Brosh McKenna have created a programme quite unlike any other. And for all Rebecca’s shilly-shallying between Josh and Greg, for me, it’s her relationship with co-worker Paula that is truly the heart of the show.
Paula is the best friend Rebecca could possibly have, and the worst. She encourages her to act on her worst ideas and is an enabler who gives terrible advice. But she has a big heart – as big as her collection of (amazing) animal jewellery – and it’s all born from a well-meaning place.
At first the pair are pitched as enemies. But when Paula uncovers that Rebecca has moved to West Covina in pursuit of her summer camp crush, she jumps at the chance to match-make. And I mean jumps, feet first, all in.
“Ms Champlin, if you’re ever in England, look me up and teach me how to Time Step.”
Who doesn’t want a friend like that? A friend who buys you your favourite doughnuts and drives to collect you after a crappy day on a Party Bus. Who encourages you to be brave and face your fears, who throws a rock through your window if you ask her to, or imports an Armenian tracking device to help you out. I do. I’d love a friend like that in my corner.
This devotion to Rebecca, as zealous as it is, is allowed to come from somewhere real, and somewhere often quite sad. Paula sees Rebecca as the daughter she always wanted and latches on to her pursuit of Josh because she’s so desperately lonely and unfulfilled herself. She craves adventures, romance and stand-up sex in showers of classy hotels.
She escapes her unhappy marriage by living in a fantasy world of Twilight and two and a half star rom-coms, so when Rebecca turns up having taken the plunge and ditched her old life in pursuit of love, it is quite literally all of Paula’s dreams come true.
But when Rebecca tries to move on from Josh, Paula clings on for dear life. Her reasons are selfish: she’s terrified that without him the pair will have nothing in common and no longer be besties.
Sure, Paula’s reaction isn’t ideal (understatement) but that’s what makes her such a great character. She’s funny, loving, smart and kind. She’s also frustrated, misguided and sometimes out-and-out wrong. She’s human.
Donna Lynne Champlin as Paula makes me laugh and cry, then bowls me over with her belter voice. She sells it, from lip-quivering gospel diva to sultry jazz crooner to a demented Mama Rose in the finale. Also, when I was reading everything I could about her online, (what? Not in a weird way. It’s a lot more nuanced than that) it said that, as well as being an award-winning stage and musical theatre actor, she’s also a National Tap Dance Champion.
I can barely breathe that makes me so happy, because I might write plays for a living, but deep down in my heart I’m a jazz-hands song and dance gal. And tap. I long to tap. I have the shoes (no, really). So Ms Champlin, if you’re ever in England, look me up and teach me how to Time Step.
I don’t know what series two holds for Paula. She’s sworn off the advice-giving, but I can’t see that lasting long. I’d like her to explore her own potential. I’d like her to sing more songs, wear more hats (they’re the new tattoos), rock increasingly bejewelled necklaces. And on top of that, I’d like her to tap dance.
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Alison is a playwright and would-be tap dancer. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.