This blog post has been a long time coming. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend finished back in April, but I’ve been struggling to figure out what, exactly, to say about this amazing series now that it’s come to a close.
I’ve never seen a show that makes me feel so simultaneously seen and called out than Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. A musical comedy drama about RomComs and mental illness doesn’t sound like something that should work, but god, the show uses its irreverence and its music to really cut to the heart of so many things. Issues that can be so hard to define or understand in words are perfectly captured through the power of song parody, and the show is pretty unflinching.
I immediately connected with Rebecca as a protagonist. I vividly remembering texting my friend while watching the second episode, freaking out because Rebecca was genuinely slobbing out, in baggy old clothes, bare-faced with no bra. This wasn’t TV’s usual conception of casual. This was real.
Plus, Rebecca is the kind of desperate, anxiety-driven overachiever that is the perfect exaggeration of myself several years ago. In episode 2, she comments that she went to Harvard, but she “doesn’t like to bring it up,” and has it pointed out that she’s literally wearing a Harvard t-shirt in a yoga class. As someone who frequently wore a Princeton hoodie but would shy away if anyone ever actually asked about it, I felt that burn deep. Three seasons later, and I’m still feeling called out when Rebecca takes up knitting and declares her three rows of knots an “afghan” before quickly abandoning it.
Rebecca is amazingly rich and flawed. She’s allowed to be both beautiful and ugly, inside and out. We can see all the dark parts of her, and traits that in typical hands would lead to her being portrayed as the true titular “crazy ex-girlfriend” simply give her depth. She’s a flawed and troubled person, but not innately a bad one.
Weirdly, one way I related to the show over the years was in realizing the ways that I’m not like Rebecca, as well as the ways that I am. I’m the sort of person who hears a song like I’m A Good Person and feels called out, because I fear that I’m the sort of person who is performatively good but is actually terrible… and over the course of the show, I came to realize that feelings like that are part of my own struggles. I jump straight into the “You Stupid Bitch” mentality, always.
Which makes it so much better when you hear You Stupid Bitch and suddenly find that you don’t connect with it as much as you used to. It doesn’t ring as deeply, fundamentally true, and that’s a sign of personal progress, seen through playing joke songs on Youtube on repeat.
For the first two seasons of the show, Rebecca’s struggles were unnamed. She saw a therapist, and we knew she’d had medication before, which didn’t help her, but she didn’t have any diagnosed illness. In fact, I know some people criticized the show around the end of the second season for making her “generically crazy” instead of actually mentally ill. But instead, the show simply reflected the long and difficult journey to getting an accurate diagnosis. When Rebecca is diagnoses with BPD, we see how the checklist of symptoms has been clearly displayed throughout the series — it’s just that no one took the time to consider it until she hit rock bottom.
So the show deals with misdiagnosis, with the difficulty of getting the wrong treatment, and also the thrill of getting the right one.
But unlike a lot of stories about mental illness, it doesn’t end with Rebecca getting the right diagnosis. It doesn’t end with her starting treatment, or even with her a few months later, when she’s seen remarkable improvements. The show continues, exploring the difficulties with mental health that persist even after diagnosis or treatment, or even after a person feels mostly well. The show deals head-on with the frustration of never being able to let up on fighting it or give yourself a break. It deals with the frustration of playing life on hard mode and feeling behind others as a result. It deals with backsliding, and how recovery is never a straight line.
In the fourth season, we finally see a fairly healthy Rebecca who knows how to deal with her own feelings and issues, and is capable of expressing her needs. We also see a Rebecca who is just exhausted by all this sometimes, and who wants things to just be better, permanently, already. It’s so real. Rebecca works so hard at everything she does, even when that is incredibly self-destructive. She’s driven, so why isn’t she happy?
In the finale, Rebecca sings the heartbreaking song 11 O’Clock, where she considers how the entire four series of the show has been a complete waste of time. She doesn’t know which guy she belongs with. She doesn’t know what her happy ending looks like. She doesn’t know who she is at all. But the journey of the series was necessary to getting her to this place, where she can finally see what she wants and allow herself to focus on that.
Notably, the show doesn’t end with Rebecca being a big star or finding success in any way. It ends with her at a little open mic night, surrounded by people she loves, about to finally sing a song she wrote to others, instead of just inside her head.
God I will miss this show so much.