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Crazy Ex Girlfriend, the Non-Romantic Comedy

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Crazy Ex Girlfriend is not here for your Rom Com nonsense.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how Crazy Ex Girlfriend is the best show you’re not watching, but to fully get into why, we have to dig deeper into spoiler territory. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is hilarious, heartbreaking and groundbreakingly feminist because of its attitude towards romance tropes and RomCom narratives — mainly, that they’re complete harmful BS, and need subverting as often as possible.

In the lead-up to this year’s season finale, love interest Josh bursts in on Rebecca’s therapy session and proposes to her. In Rom Com parlance, the key detail here is the proposal. He burst in and fixed all her problems. All the things she might need to see a therapist about are gone, because they’ve found true love and will live happily ever after.

Except Rebecca’s therapist, and we as an audience, are horrified. Josh’s proposal isn’t the breakthrough in Rebecca’s life, symbolically happening during therapy. That’s the tragedy. Rebecca was on the verge of recognising her own destructive behaviors, how she uses Josh as a mask for her own unhappiness, and the “romantic moment” ruined it. It crashed into her life, as Rom Com moments often do, and derailed any progress she made.

And that’s Crazy Ex Girlfriend in a nutshell. It’s full of Rom Com tropes that Rebecca (and, sometimes, other characters) buys into, and although it often comes off as a farce, we know, as we watch, that this is actually a tragedy, and it’s all going to come crashing down.

So, from the beginning, Josh and his girlfriend Valencia aren’t right for each other, but that doesn’t mean Rebecca is right for trying to break them up. And although Valencia can be horrible, she’s right to be, considering all Rebecca tries to do to her.

It appears that Rebecca has had a breakthrough moment she she realises that she’s “the villain in her own story” — that Valencia is the princess or the Rom Com heroine, and she’s the witch or the other woman trying to break them up. But Rebecca’s thinking is still constrained by tropes here. Valencia is the one who’s really right for Josh, she thinks, so she’s the villain trying to break them up. But Josh and Valencia don’t have to be right for each other for Rebecca and Josh to be wrong for each other, or for her actions to be unacceptably manipulative and cruel. It wouldn’t be any different if Josh did love her, and if she was the “heroine.”

A more blunt example is when Greg leaves. Actually, really, properly leaves, because the relationship is a mess, and he has goals elsewhere, and he needs to get out. It’s a love triangle where Rebecca ends up with nobody, because they’re all wrong for each other, and one guy actually walks out of the story for good, rather than his “departure” just being a way to cement their love. She runs to meet him at the airport, and he still leaves.

Even Rebecca’s Rom Com finances catch up with her, as her excessive spending on various schemes leads her to run out of money. She wants to live in a Rom Com world where dropping $10,000 on a ridiculous scheme is worth it in the pursuit of love, and for the first few episodes, we’re right there with her. Of course she can afford to do that. It’s a fantasy world. She’ll be fine. But she isn’t fine. She lives in the real world, and she has to face real world consequences for her recklessness.

This all comes together in the second season finale, where we find ourselves hoping that Rebecca doesn’t marry the man of her dreams. Her satisfied reprise about how she’s going to be happy from now on is absolutely tragic, because we know it’s all about to come crashing down, and we hope it happens sooner rather than later.

And when it does all go wrong, when a desperate Rebecca stands on the ledge that she sang hopefully over like a Disney Princess not long ago and almost jumps to her death, there’s not a single joke to be found. This isn’t farcical, this isn’t fairy tale. Rebecca has always had a serious mental illness behind her desperation for true love and Rom Com happiness, and the show is fearless and unflinching in exploring this. The show is full of Rom Com tropes at first glance, but it uses them as a lens to examine mental illness and the harmful nature of believing that happiness can come from the validation of others, or that romance can fix everything in your life.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

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