Why Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the Best Show on Television

21 October 2018

** Please note: This post DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS, so if you plan on watching the show and don't want anything ruined, maybe skip this one.  TW // mental illness, depression, anxiety

In honour of the fourth and final season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend premiering this past month, I bring to you my collection of thoughts as to why "CXG" is so, so, so important.

01. It unapologetically displays behaviours of mental illness with almost terrifying accuracy

As someone diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, as our hero Rebecca Bunch is in season 3 of the show, I was absolutely astounded at how authentic the behaviours and thought patterns are. What a relief! I've grown sick of the portrayal of mentally ill characters and how utterly ill-researched their suspected illnesses really were. As if there wasn't enough of a stigma against sufferers of all mental illnesses, the media can really exacerbate these already societally-conceived biases against the mentally ill. In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca has serious, and I mean serious issues, but she is still portrayed as highly intelligent, quick-witted, feisty, and full of love. Rebecca as a character is riddled with flaws, but still ultimately likeable, and even if her actions are often a bit...well, unorthodox, we are still rooting for her, even though at times I feel like I'm watching myself at eighteen making the same mistakes over and over again without learning a damn thing, but that's more of a me problem...

Not only is the representation so very important and needed, but it's also somewhat therapeutic. I, personally, as well as many other people I know who have watched the show obsessively, noticed a lot of mistakes Rebecca makes and noticed a similarity in my own life. It really put my own behaviours into perspective as we watch Rebecca's life slowly fall apart. It made me want to get better for myself so I don't get to the same dark places she ends up. But when she eventually does get better, it gives a glimmer of hope that no matter how bad things seem or how deep a hole you dig for yourself, there is a way out, and you can get better.

Probably the most authentic and evocative moment in the entire series so far is when Rebecca finally gets an accurate diagnosis. Anyone who has been accurately diagnosed professionally with an illness that just made your entire life make sense can understand exactly how Rebecca felt when she walked out of that doctor's office, knowing that everything in her life wasn't her fault, and why she never felt "normal". This moment rung especially powerful to me, having been diagnosed with the same disorder. Tears were streaming down my face as she felt so freed by finally having a name for the pain, as it was exactly how I felt given the same news. I had never seen anything like it on television before, and it really humanises the feeling of hopelessness associated with feeling abnormal your entire life with no explanation.

02. A diverse and loveable cast of supporting characters

Other than the representation of mental illness as an illness and not the fault of someone who is just "crazy", the inclusion of characters of a diverse range of races, cultures, sexual orientations, and gender identities is vital, especially in an era where people are finally able to be themselves more freely. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has one of the most diverse cast I have seen in a very long time, which is such a valuable asset for a television programme to have in 2018, and makes it more relatable to a wider audience.

Although our main character is straight, cis, and white, the main love interest, Josh, is played be a Filipino-American gay man (Vincent Rodriguez III is his name, and he rocks), which in itself is so important due to the Euro-centric and xenophobic stigma against Asian men being considered attractive (I will never understand). Seriously, try and think of a show or movie where a white woman is pining after an Asian man. Even if you can think of any, it is hardly ever seen. Even if there is a Caucasian/Asian relationship in some form of media, it is typically a white male with an Asian female. It may seem like a small, insignificant factor, but representation can be a dynamic tool in ending stigmatised racial stereotypes.

Besides our love interest, Josh, there are a handful of other people of colour portraying fun and interesting characters, including Valencia, Josh's saucy albeit seemingly bitchy girlfriend, and Heather, Rebecca's observant and addictively sarcastic neighbour. Even the extras in the background of public scenes and small characters such as vendors, office workers, and clients have a wide arrange of racial portrayal, which seems like a small gesture, but extremely important in the normalisation of racial diversification in film and television. Even Rebecca herself, while a white woman, is Jewish American, which is also not often found in mainstream programming.

If more shows or films pick up on this, the more we as a society will hopefully and ultimately become accustomed to racial stereotypes and generalisations can be slowly but surely obliterated. This won't inherently end racism by any means, but it is a baby step toward the end of a very white-driven entertainment industry, providing more work, opportunities, and confidence for marginalised individuals.

There isn't' just a voice provided for people of colour, there is also LBGTQ+ representation as well, including Josh's friend White Josh who is gay, and "comes out" on the show in the most hilariously passive, indifferent way, showing that being gay just isn't that big of a deal, and shouldn't be treated as such. And then there's Darryl, whose bisexual representation is most pertinent to me. His character's coming out song, "Gettin' Bi" totally annihilates bisexual generalisations

Something I've told everyone who is just starting Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for the first time is that nearly every character you meet you start out hating or disliking in some way, and eventually end up loving them, even if you think it's impossible. Every character is loveable in their own way, and add important elements of perspective and balance to the show's overall plot. I have never seen such substantial character development in any other show before, in every single recurring character.

03. The advice given to Rebecca from other characters is actually really good advice.

If I've learnt anything from watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, it's how some of Rebecca's destructive behaviours are ones that I, myself, do, or have done, a looooooot of the same things. Like. A lot. Although it can be argued that this is because I have the same disorder so obviously there are similarities, but it's not just people with BPD who can relate, and have related. 

The show features quite a few reality checks every now and then that, at first, are hard truths to accept. For example, Rebecca is very head-in-the-clouds and constantly looking for signs from the universe to tell her what choices to make. When bringing this up to her therapist, Dr. Akopian, she is quickly delivered the truth that signs are all simply coincidences that we search for deeper meaning in. Watching this episode seriously changed my life as well as my fellow sign-seeking friends who have seen it. We use the show's advice as an example of our own romanticised realities and bring each other back down to earth. This example alone has made me a much more present person, focused on the real world as it is and not the fantasy in our heads created by self-doubt, uncertainty, and the acknowledgement that we have to pave our own paths--because that can be scary!

04. It's not afraid to call out double-standards.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is inarguably written with an emphasis on feminism and issues regarding the treatment of women as well as the stigmatisation of women with mental illness (i.e. the show's name--using the pejorative to make a point). That doesn't mean, however, that they're not afraid to call out double-standards in all forms, even those exhibited by women about men. There's a great song called "Let's Generalise About Men", where the girls of the show are complaining about men (as most of us do), but it really emphasises why it's ridiculous to lump them all together, without doing so in a #NotAllMen obnoxious way.

There are quite a few makeovers in the show, which, of course, includes makeover songs! Although these makeovers are relevant to the plot, the songs typically try to convey that Rebecca's makeovers aren't really "for herself" as she claims, because it becomes clear later on that she is only trying to impress Josh or prove him wrong about her. This isn't to say that the vast majority of women do in fact change their appearance only for themselves, but that some women who are trying to gain the attention of men should just be honest with themselves about it.

Of course, the show calls out men as well, but those are double-standards we are fully aware exist and not really worth mentioning, but it is refreshing to have a curvy protagonist and see how she is treated because of her body

05. It helped me realise that I'm not alone

There is nothing more isolating than going through a mental illness you don't quite comprehend and have no idea how to control, feeling like nobody else in your life could ever understand.  Especially as someone with borderline myself, one of the most stigmatised and misunderstood mental illnesses, representation in the media is so, so vital. Not only does it spread awareness about unknown issues, but it also ensures that people like me who have had no characters or public figures to identify with, which can 

Because Rebecca isn't diagnosed until season 3, her symptoms of self-loathing, panic, and times of extreme denial can be relatable to almost anyone who suffers from depression and anxiety, not just the specific diagnosis of BPD. Although it can be difficult to watch Rebecca tumble towards a downward spiral at a rapid pace (perhaps because it reminds us of our own past mistakes?), it is somewhat humbling and reassuring that this is something common and relatable enough to be shown on television to a large audience. Even if the content isn't relatable for some, it provides a look into the world of someone suffering from mental illness, which can allow for more empathy and understanding towards people in their real life who endure these symptoms daily.

As you can see, CXG is more than just a funny show with cute songs, it means everything to those of us who have ever felt alone, misrepresented, and misunderstood. The bravery of the writers to talk about things that are uncomfortable, triggering, and misconceived is something I, as well as thousands of others with mental illnesses plaguing our existence each day, am thankful for.

Thank you for three wonderful seasons, and the fourth that will be concluding soon. We can only hope that this show starts a trend about having open conversations about mental health, bringing forth more representation of different races, sexualities, and genders, and giving a voice to those who don't have one. I know this show's legacy will live on past it's four year run, and I couldn't be more grateful that it was a part of my life.

x, Sarah

*All gifs credited to their respective owners. Found without original credit. If your gif was used and you'd like credit, please let me know, and I will add it to the post!

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