What Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s bizarre, brilliant musical comedy nails about mental illness, womanhood, love, and more.
After four whirlwind seasons of career changes, revolving love interests, and tears, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s titular Rebecca Bunch has reached the end of her movie.
But she hasn’t, really. In the show’s season finale, Rebecca rebukes the notion of “ending up with someone” romantically and utters a line her season one self could never have dreamed of: “Romantic love is not an ending … It’s just a part of your story, a part of who you are.” And when she sits at a piano before a room full of her closest friends and proudly announces, “This is a song I wrote”—a line that co-creators Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna have had planned since the show’s inception—fans across the world reached tearfully for the tissue box.
It doesn’t matter that we’ll never hear that song—it only matters that after years of the show touting Rebecca’s passion for musical theatre and poking fun at her lack of musical talent, she’s started attending music lessons and earnestly pursuing something she loves. It doesn’t matter that we’ll never know when or with whom she finds romantic love—it only matters that she has finally found love in West Covina after all: for her friends, for her music, and for herself. Rebecca Bunch could end up anywhere after Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s season finale, and that’s incredibly empowering.
From the offset, this show has been about bringing a vitally fresh perspective to the tired, misogynistic archetype of the “crazy ex-girlfriend.” In season one, Rebecca abandons her life as an obscenely well-paid New York City lawyer to fly across the country in pursuit of Josh Chan, a boy she briefly dated as a teenager. The Josh she’s chasing, however, is a Fantasy. She hates her job, has a long history of mental illness, and romanticizes this boy as the magic cure-all.
But the show doesn’t judge Rebecca any more than it absolves her. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend shines brightest when it truly lives up to its name in season three, following Rebecca as she schemes, stalks, and nearly destroys herself and everyone around her in the aftermath of being left at the altar. One of the show’s most powerful moments comes when her father accuses her of being crazy, and Rebecca simply agrees, saying, “Lil bit.”
The show is never afraid to let Rebecca be crazy. Nor is it afraid to give the behaviors we so often flinch away from, especially in women, a specific name: borderline personality disorder. Mental illness representation this honest and precise is a delightful rarity. We follow Rebecca as she dips through episodes of depression and mania, receives her diagnosis, attends therapy, and begins medication. We see her attempt suicide and the road to recovery that follows. The work Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does to combat the stigma around mental illness is phenomenal.
And mental illness isn’t the only underrepresented story Crazy Ex-Girlfriend brings to the table. Diversity is a quiet fact of life for a show that once featured zero straight white men on its roster of principal characters. (Sorry, fans of Greg and Nathaniel.) Darryl’s flashy, rocking bisexual pride anthem is just as impactful as Valencia’s peaceful relationship and eventual marriage with Beth, and Maya’s no-fanfare expression of her bisexuality and attraction to women. The show dodges a stereotypical catfight dynamic between Rebecca and Valencia—who both begin the story romantically interested in Josh—and instead makes female friendship the beating heart of the narrative.
As a woman of color, a mentally ill person, a member of the LGBT community (and frankly, as a California resident and massive theatre geek), I felt seen in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I still sometimes find myself amazed that a show so seemingly tailor-made for me exists, but in reality, I am far from alone—this show has impacted countless viewers. For four incredible years, Rebecca’s struggles and triumphs have been our own. And I am so proud of where she’s ended up.
The final few episodes see Rebecca struggling to choose between Josh, Nathaniel, and Greg. For once, we can’t say that she’s chasing a fantasy, or that none of them would be what she hopes. Josh has grown up and is ready for a committed relationship, Nathaniel has devoted himself to being a good person, and Greg has gotten sober and found his passion. As Rebecca finds when she goes on three amazing dates with three amazing guys, any one of them would be a loving partner.
Which is why her choosing none of them is so significant. Someday she’ll be ready for romance, but actively working on her mental health (and Rebecca learns that putting in the work is a lifelong process, just like Paula eating healthy after her heart attack) has taught her that today is not that day. Rebecca chooses herself. She chooses her music, which has always been her conduit to the self. No conclusion to this spectacular show could be more satisfying, more heart-swelling and tear-jerking.
All this praise, of course, is not even to mention the zany, genre-savvy comedic genius of the whopping 157 musical numbers that have made Crazy Ex-Girlfriend so culturally iconic. What other show could have given us a colourful, La La Land-inspired dance number about how “Antidepressants Are So Not a Big Deal,” a three-minute summary of the Beach Boys’ entire career, or a scathingly satiric girl-group bop on the male gaze? Who else could have held a live concert that stirred a full theatre of cosplay-clad fans to smile and sing along to lyrics like, “You ruined everything, you stupid bitch”?
It’s a bittersweet parting, for sure. As sad as I am to bid the residents of West Covina farewell, I’m also grateful that the showrunners wisely abstained from dragging our beloved Rebecca Bunch through any more needless love triangle (or quadrangle) melodrama. After years of heartache, it’s time to set Rebecca free to find herself—not through the camera lens of this show, but between the lines of a music staff.
God knows she deserves that freedom. And hopefully, long-time viewers have learned by now that they deserve it too.
Written By: Elaine Nguyen
Edited By: Keshav Kant