With her musical romcom Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, co-creator and star Rachel Bloom has brought a smart, flawed, funny, normal woman front and centre. She tells Hazel Davis about Rebecca Bunch, the science of love and the truth that some women are just arseholes.
This might not sound very feminist but if you’d met him and seen his copious (several pages) notes on Girls, you’d understand why I value his opinion.
He watched Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (at my bidding) and said, “The JAP rap battle still renders me useless with awe and respectfully tearful.” (This is the guy whose take on Fleabag was, “Good to see a guinea pig on telly.” Like I said, valuable.)
The whole series – currently in its second season on Netflix – makes me feel respectfully tearful. Here is Rebecca Bunch, a clever, funny, basically decent person doing a disastrously stupid thing (she moves from New York to nowhere-town West Covina, California to stalk her ex – that’s not a spoiler; it’s all contained in the ludicrously catchy theme tune). With songs in it.
Oh my. The songs are absolute works of art. Close to the bone (I watched Feeling Kinda Naughty through my hands) and socially biting (Women Gotta Stick Together), they’re the opposite of what songs usually are in comedy shows.
Aside from the fact that Bunch is a refreshingly normal-sized woman on telly who sometimes looks absolutely stunning and other times looks proper rough, CEG joins a group of comedies where people are decent. We’ve gone off the idea of a bad guy. It’s the Parks and Recreation effect. Everyone’s decent, even if they sometimes do ridiculous things.
The comedy racist guy next door has been replaced by the comedy surprising liberal next door. Even dopey Josh, whom Rebecca hotfoots across the country to track, is basically nice (although season two isn’t over yet).
“I used to fall in love easily and let myself be driven by obsession. There is no ‘noble pursuit of love’. It’s our bodies trying to reproduce.”
I caught up with co-creator and star Rachel Bloom just before Christmas and just before a 10-day vacation. And I remembered not to cry and tell her how many times I watch her YouTube songs. Go me.
How much of you and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna are in the characters?
It’s such a mix of our sensibilities. We wrote the pilot line by line together. But it’s more emotional extrapolations of the way that I or Aline would react in those situations. They’re things we want to do because we’re flawed and human.
You did the pilot for Showcase and they dropped it. WTF?
They loved it and suddenly they didn’t love it. It happens. We gave them a pilot that was true to what we’d written but it didn’t feel on-brand for them.
How easy is it writing a second series with a successful first under your belt?
We’re going into the second season with a lot more confidence. We know we can do this and people really like it. There’s a different level of expectation.
Your characters are mostly likeable. Is this deliberate?
I think it’s very easy to be mean. There’s a thing in improv called Yes And… [basically the opposite of saying, “No, but…”]. It’s just a lot more interesting to find arcs for characters who are empathic. It doesn’t feel true to life not to.
How many seasons are there going to be? Is it finite?
In our heads it’s four. Every season has its own little arc and is different from the season before, but we pitched the overall arc when we pitched the show. When Aline originally approached me, she wanted to write a film.
“Every woman is a spokesperson for female comedy. All I can do is speak to my own experiences. All you can do is be truthful.”
Does comedy make it easier to present difficult issues, such as mental health, alcoholism, etc?
Because we are a show that allows for heart, we kind of find the comedy in the truth of life. If anything there’s a fear of being too preachy or schmaltzy. We had someone come in to talk about what AA is really like, for example.
It definitely feels like a fresh approach to, well, everything.
The thing that feels most groundbreaking is looking at love scientifically. Now that I have a healthy point of view of love I can see it as a partnership and not coasting on the initial obsession. I used to fall in love easily and let myself be driven by obsession. There is no ‘noble pursuit of love’. It’s our bodies trying to reproduce.
What shows do you love?
I am so behind on current TV. But I love Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, 30 Rock. Breaking Bad does what you do when you write a comedy sketch. It turns Mr Chips into Scarface and it doesn’t deviate from it. I love the attention to detail on Arrested Development. UK-wise, I think Catastrophe is great. Extras is amazing. I like That Mitchell and Webb Look and I keep meaning to watch Fleabag.
Do you do much live performing these days?
Most of my time is taken up with the show so I have been on hiatus but I’m performing live in the new year, a lot of dates all over the US. It will be a mixture of music and standup.
Do people treat you like a women’s comedy figurehead/spokesperson and did you anticipate that happening?
Every woman is a spokesperson for female comedy. All I can do is speak to my own experiences. All you can do is be truthful.
Do people think Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a show ‘for women’?
It’s for everyone. The main people who love it are couples who watch together. Gay guys really love the show and Jews really connect with it too.
Did you ever think the name might be off-putting?
It never occurred to us it would be a problem. Fat Pig is a play about male abuse. That’s a name that’s clearly meant to be deconstructed.
Are you worried that the ‘crazy stalker’ angle portrays women in a negative light?
I am happy to portray women in a negative light. Rebecca’s actions should not be emulated. The last bastion of feminism is that a woman should be an asshole.
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Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".