These days we believe that following our hearts is a choice to be celebrated. We share inspirational quotes about “just-going-for-it”, try to make ourselves happier and wiser by changing towns, and share how #blessed we are with family, friends, or, often enough, photogenic avos-on-toast.
In our pursuit for meaning and happiness we take cues from TV shows and films in assessing what to wear, if we should have sex on the first date, what a good job is or what happy family feels and looks like.
We devour stories of major life changes, “Eat, Pray, Love”, “Wild” or any self-help book, and rage-quit to be greeted by tons of likes on Facebook for taking the step into the unknown. We “fail and fail better”, we hope that love conquers all and that there is a happy-end to our struggles after which everything gets better.
So the premise of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (aka CXG) is simple, almost rote, in the age of millennial quest for meaning and happiness: A super-over-achieving young woman in late 20s leaves a soul-sucking job in a big city to move to a sunny small town to follow her dreams, after an accidental meeting with a teenage sweetheart.
In West Covina, California, she meets a delightful bunch of people, including her sweet-heart’s grumpy intellectual bar-tender friend and a motherly colleague stuck in a loveless marriage, whose hearts she steals with her wit and whimsy. There is also an obstacle in the alluring shape of sweetheart’s girlfriend to be overcome. There are musical numbers, drawing from Cole Porter, Beyoncé and 90s hits. There is tap-dancing and singing posters of babies and pop-cultural references.
Surprisingly for the age where TV shows are made by numbers based on audience reactions, there is the emotional honesty and truth.
Unlike manic pixie dream girls of popular culture, Rebecca Bunch, CXG’s driving force, is deeply and obviously unhappy and somewhat unstable. Despite her professional success and Harvard-then-Yale education, she is clueless about life outside of confines of academia and top law firms. She is also delusional about herself. In her quest for happiness, brought on by a contemplative butter commercial, she makes horrible choices that prove hurtful to her and those around her. Her friends are also stuck in unhappy lives and are often making it harder for themselves to move on. The songs, are smart, funny, painful and relatable – they are about facebook-stalking, sex with strangers, being a bitter cynical-loser and other realties of modern life.
In that way CXG is almost unique in breaking the typical pop-culture narrative that there is only one problem keeping us stuck – be it work, disease, unhappy marriage or lack of money. As it shows in Rebecca’s case in almost 20 amazing episodes, it is often just us, fulfilling deep-rooted needs for self-destruction.
The show balances the pathos and pathology with piercing whip-smart humour and manages to be both empathetic and brutally honest about characters and their, often flawed, motivations. For those into arm-chair psychology, it offers thoughts about anxiety, depression, overbearing parents and all nasty things that cause smart young things to find themselves stuck in soul-destroying jobs, harmful relationships and other socially acceptable self-destructive paths. Thankfully it is never preachy, but friendly and open in tone.
Honest approaches to the gruelling task of completely turning around your life are necessary now, given that even social networks, which used to offer a hope for honesty in our atomised society, have mostly become popularity contests. Deep rooted unhappiness is not pretty and often makes you awful to be around and makes you do awful things. The path away, from is not a parade down sun-lit boulevard with swaying palms with a destination in sight, it is more like a crazy tumble through twisting alleyways and cul-the-sacs with a faulty map. Like Flaubert in Madame Bovary, CXG perfectly shows the pernicious side of allowing expectation based on pop-culture and Instagram to guide you through it.
There is no doubt that CXG will be a cult show, after its amazing one and a half-season run. The remaining half of a season two will to be aired from January, and then we can only hope that there will be enough sense to allow Rachel Bloom (who flawlessly portrays Rebecca) and Aline Brosh McKenna (of Devil Wears Prada fame) to finish the project, originally conceived to run over four seasons. Ratings have been low, but the fact that CXG is now available on Netflix will hopefully make it a wider known success.
So – please please PLEASE – watch it! Especially if you want to turn your life around in 2017 and run off to a pursue a teenage love!