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Crazy? Depressed? Obsessed? Then hey gang – let’s put on a show! A show about an unhappy lawyer who upends a cushy Manhattan life in a delusional move to West Covina (where?) to revive a decade-old romance! Oh yeah, and let’s make it a splashy musical! What’s not to love, right? Since being pitched to (and rejected by) most networks, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been hailed for its ambitious production, oddly charmingly characters and insightful, if uncomfortable look at modern life and love, all set to giddy song and dance numbers. The New York Times called its Golden Globe-winning star, co-creator and writer Rachel Bloom “the kind of unspoiled voice the industry should be cultivating.” The Times did its part, naming Crazy Ex-Girlfriend among best TV shows of 2016.
Crack open the That Explains A Lot file, and you’ll learn Bloom was exposed to musical theater from a young age by a piano-playing mom and a grandfather who was an amateur director and standup comic. “The first song I learned was “All I Do Is Dream of You” from Singin’ in the Rain, and soon after that I started to get up and sing at family functions.” Until she was 18, her musical diet consisted solely of show tunes.
The passion that led her to perform “Adelaide’s Lament” from Guys and Dolls in a seventh-grade lip-syncing contest, along with a penchant for sweat pants and self-administered haircuts did not grease the path to popularity. In fact, she recalls ages 11-13 as being some of the most miserable of her life. Ah, the joys of being a theater geek. But that experience sparked something that down the road led her to turn the genre she loved on its ear. Bloom noticed the pop culture embraced by her peers glorified teen-hood as something glamorous and mysterious, versus the awkward, messy horror show it so often is. She gamely pursued singing and dancing lessons and at first, a musical theater degree at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Once there, she discovered sketch comedy, joining the school’s Hammerkatz troupe. Sketch writing was a revelation, teaching her discipline and certain rules of comedy. She performed with Upright Citizens Brigade to hone her skills, along with her point of view.
“I fucking hate the word ‘cute’ when it comes to comedy, especially in musical theater, because ‘cute’ usually means predictable and not laugh-out-loud funny or soft,” she told the Dallas Observer in 2014. She believes if you’re not being honest and vulgar (two qualities she thinks can’t be separated), then there’s no point. For Bloom, the magic isn’t in the genre’s glamorous illusions, but in ripping them off like a waxing strip (just Google “The Sexy Getting Ready Song”). But Bloom was “going there” in her own music comedy videos long before going there on the show, using pop culture to skewer itself. She began posting numbers like “You Can Touch My Boobies,” “I Steal Pets,” and “If Disney Cartoons Were Historically Accurate” online. But it was her Britney-esque “F*** Me, Ray Bradbury,” a raunchily heartfelt tribute to her favorite science fiction writer, that changed everything. It garnered three million YouTube views, and got her a job writing for FOX’s Allen Gregory and eventually, brought her to the notice of The Devil Wears Prada screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, who approached her about co-creating Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
The show was created for Showtime, but sold to The CW, which required commendably few cleanups for network TV. But Bloom believes being offensive for the sake of being offensive is lazy and narrow minded. The show largely uses its more outrageous bits to unmask feelings people really have, and deftly employs pop tropes and glitzy music sequences to reflect the heightened emotions we assign to those feelings in our own heads. In the process, it’s also managed to cultivate one of TV’s most diverse and talented casts and bring new generations to a genre they might otherwise reject.
Is Bloom a Sally Bowles for Gen Y? Who knows? But Crazy-Ex has no doubt given her momentum, and it’s exciting to ponder where her smart, fearless, nut-job sensibility might take her. So kids, don’t fly your freak flag at half-mast or hide your jazz hands behind your back. They may get you laughed at for a while, but as Bloom herself found, “I remained myself and the world got cooler around me.”