“On a scale from Rachel Bloom to Rebecca Bunch, how pathetic am I?” I ask my sister.
The question perfectly encapsulates my relationship with the CW television show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which stars Rachel Bloom playing the character Rebecca Bunch. Prior to the show, Bloom gained traction on YouTube with songs like “F*** Me, Ray Bradbury”, featuring her signature comedic combination of profanity, absurdity, and biting satire. Her viral status gave her enough cred to make Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which started airing in 2015. In 2016, she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy TV Series. Afterward, she complained on talk shows about the 13-pound weight gain that followed. Her Instagram feed features shots of her in Spanx and adorable behind-the-scenes table reads. She constantly reiterates how lucky she feels to be able to do what she does. Her interview for Playboy is the exact balance of cute pin-up and uncensored character any dramatic liberal Jewish American (re: me) would aspire to. Subscribing to the modern celebrity mode of curated accessibility, Bloom is as much a persona as the character she plays. She translates her strange and awkward experiences into a funny, smart, sensitive medium.
When Crazy Ex-Girlfriend first started, I couldn’t believe my luck. The protagonist is an intelligent Jewish theater nerd who just wants to be loved, not to mention the fact that she’s brown-haired, brown-eyed, and curvy like me. And while she didn’t have the religious upbringing that I did, I can’t overstate the distinctive experience of being the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors—a nuance that I feel in all her religious interactions. My Facebook cover photo became a screenshot from the first episode and friends who had never even heard of the show understood why.
Season 1 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend filled the Glee-shaped musical comedy hole in my TV heart. But while I identified with Rebecca, it was mostly from a distance. In the first episode Rebecca makes an impulsive decision to move across the country to follow her former summer camp boyfriend, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III). I related to the manic nature of Rebecca’s reasoning, the overwhelming assuredness that everything could magically improve with this one big step. I’ve had illusions like that before. But Rebecca takes it to extremes that I never would, actually going through with the options that only run through my mind. Throughout the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I had an almost cathartic experience watching someone else make my bad decisions and suffer the consequences.
I recognized my feelings of inadequacy and inferiority in “I’m So Good at Yoga,” but I’ve never actually stalked my crush’s girlfriend. Every shameful confession in “Feeling Kinda Naughty” reminded me of my own girl crush obsessions, but I’ve learned not to indulge a friendship with someone who is my own projected fantasy. “Put Yourself First” perfectly expressed the paradox of simultaneously needing to meet the standards of sexy established by the patriarchy but also feeling like that’s super anti-feminist, and I … wait, no, that one I’m legitimately guilty of.
I watched the music videos from the first season over and over again, for the smart wordplay and for the female relationships that were so accurately portrayed and because I was able to laugh with Rebecca while she took risks and often made a fool of herself. The first season is also when Rebecca and Greg (Santino Fontana), the slacker bartender filled with self-loathing, begin their relationship. Greg discovers early on just how crazy Rebecca is, but that doesn’t stop them from messily falling for each other.
The season doesn’t end with them together. Josh breaks up with his girlfriend and Rebecca gets her chance to be with him. With the promise of her dreams being fulfilled, however, comes the threat of them being destroyed. Every relationship goal they hit opens the opportunity for Josh to discover the depths to which Rebecca sunk while she pined for him. This development should have upped the ante and made the show more fun than ever, but that tension is what ruined the carefree nature of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for me.
In the Playboy interview, Bloom describes the difference between herself and her character: “Rebecca Bunch is me at my worst. Rebecca Bunch is me at my most depressed, my most emotional, my most selfish. But even then – exaggerated.” That’s what originally drew me to the show: I was able to look at Rebecca and point to a line in the sand where my crazy ended and her crazy continued. I knew what was considered acceptable in the show’s universe and reveled in her continued self-delusion, safe in the knowledge that I could never be that bad.
Season 2 blurred that line. Rebecca’s relationship with Josh Chan is so different from her relationship with Greg because unlike Greg, Josh is totally oblivious. He doesn’t understand Rebecca’s ache for him, her need for love, or what she’ll do for both. He thinks she’s fun to be around and that they both like the same stuff. While Rebecca’s relationship with Greg was, accurately, “A Shit Show,” he knew her on an intimate level that Josh never understands.
Why did my own anxiety levels spike watching Season 2? Was it because it felt like reality intruding on fantasy? Was I identifying too much with Rebecca? Was it confirming my worst fears that while I dream of ascending to Rachel Bloom, I’ll inevitably end up resorting to Rebecca Bunch? Perhaps it was the first time I truly identified with a TV character. Not casually, like the brilliant unhinged Jewish ladies of Broad City with their millennial progressiveness; not aspirationally, like Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife, whose WASPy feminism helped me learn to make big girl decisions; and certainly not with the reluctance I’m drawn to Rachel Goldberg on UnReal, who’s an even darker portrayal of mental illness than Rebecca. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend maintains its silliness through Rebecca’s descent into darker places, but I still couldn’t handle that transition combined with how much I identified with her. At some point, it stopped being fun.
Now in Season 3, Rebecca finally reveals to Josh, in alarming detail, all of the secrets she’d been harboring since following him across the country. I’m hoping to get back some of the catharsis I’ve been missing since Season 1, to replace the insane nail-biting I’ve been dealing with instead. If Bloom as she presents herself in the media is her best self, and Rebecca represents her worst self, I keep trying to visualize the sweet spot that exists somewhere in between. The problem with wanting the same things for a character that I want for myself is that when she isn’t allowed to get those things, I neurotically start to wonder where I’m going to end up. At the same time, though, I can’t help feeling that this may be a sign to embrace my inner Rebecca. That’s how Bloom started the show to begin with, after all.