I have to say, even though people had recommended it to me multiple times, I didn’t anticipate Crazy Ex-Girlfriend becoming one of my favourite shows. At first glance, a show called “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” sounds like it should be stereotypical and misogynistic, and I’m one of those soulless people who don’t especially like musicals, so before watching it, I found the premise quite bizarre and unappealing overall. And to an extent, it is bizarre – I recently bullied one of my fellow welfare reps into watching the first episode with me, and she came away very very confused. But stick with it, because the title is misleading, and it’s possibly the most nuanced portrayal of mental health that I’ve ever seen on television.
The show centers around Rebecca Bunch, a high-flying New York lawyer in her mid-twenties with an overbearing mother, who seems to have sacrificed friends, love interests, and happiness for the sake of her career. In the first episode, immediately after being offered the promotion of her dreams, she bumps into her ex-boyfriend Josh Chan, who she dated for a few weeks at a summer camp when they were both fifteen years old. He mentions how he’ll soon be moving back to his hometown of West Covina, California (“only two hours from the beach, but four in traffic”), where, or so he claims, everyone is ‘happy’. Deep down, this ignites something in Rebecca. Soon after the encounter with Josh, she rejects her promotion, packs her bags, and immediately flies out to West Covina to start a new life, and, although she’d never admit it, to win Josh back.
So far, so perplexing. Obviously her venture does not work out as well as she’d hoped – Josh has a suspicious girlfriend, her new-found friends start to wonder why such an accomplished lawyer downgraded her career to work at a tiny West Covina firm. In the first season especially, there are several moments so awkward it is hard to keep watching. And at first, it seems like we’re going to watch Rebecca embarrass herself every single episode until she finally persuades Josh to take her back, and thus achieves the happiness she’s wanted for so long.
But the show slowly begins to develop into something more. A less thought-out and intelligent sitcom would have passed her behaviour towards Josh (and as the series goes on, towards other romantic interests) as merely ‘quirky’. Yet slowly but surely, we as viewers, Rebecca’s friends and family, and Rebecca herself all begin to realise there is something deeper at play here. Without giving too much away, her mental health reaches an all-time low in Season 3 of the show, and she is finally given the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD. We see her going to therapy and getting the support she needs, holding herself accountable for previous behaviour, and most importantly, receiving love and affirmation from her friends throughout her recovery.
Borderline Personality Disorder, now more commonly referred to as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, is so infrequently depicted at all in media, yet alone depicted in the sensitive and realistic way it is portrayed in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. You can tell that the writers of the show consulted medical professionals and psychologists while writing Season 3. Therapy, medication, relapses, and recovery are all normalised, treated extremely carefully and without stigma.
Aside from this, the show also features incredible LGBTQ+ representation, and helps break down toxically masculine stereotypes – Rebecca’s boss Darryl’s focus on being an excellent father is particularly heartwarming. He also comes out as bisexual midway through Season One, in one of the most realistic portrayals of bisexuality I’ve ever seen on television. And despite the sometimes heavy subject material, the songs help lighten the tone of the show, and are as humorous as they are heartfelt, on topics ranging from patriarchal beauty standards to anti-depressants to falling in love with a casual partner.
Overall, while the premise of the show might seem incredibly bizarre at first glance, I really would encourage you to look past the title and give the show a try – all four seasons are on Netflix and we’re in national lockdown, so what better time is there to binge-watch something new? Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is possibly the best depiction of mental health I’ve ever seen in media, and I don’t say this lightly. The lovable characters and far too catchy songs are just a wonderful bonus.