Review: And they all live sardonically ever after on the intoxicating, daffy ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’
Although it features a scene of, um, er, very intimate waxing, there is an “Enchanted” quality to the CW’s new hourlong series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which premieres Monday.
Its whimsical daffiness that camouflages satirical moments of truth makes perfect sense, given the show’s roots. Its star, Rachel Bloom, is best known for a handful of hilarious viral videos, one of which is titled “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song.” In it, she performs a knock-off Belle, trilling her way through a very medieval town in hopes of finding the prince who will impregnate her so she can die in childbirth.
That was how screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “27 Dresses”) came to know Bloom, and together they came up with “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
Though live action, and far less pointed than the princess song, the series is fueled by the same sardonic effervescence, and it often requires Bloom to burst into sweetly stinging song. It’s an intoxicating if precarious concoction, capable of exploding or imploding at any moment, which only adds to the fun.
Certainly it should make Bloom a big star; even with the most wistful, wide-eyed gaze this side of Amy Adams, it’s not everyone who can anchor a story that is both a fairy tale and its deconstruction.
We meet Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) at summer theater camp, which she has managed to attend despite her mother’s insistence she go to mock trial camp and where, at 16, she has fallen in love with a boy named Josh. Who breaks up with her the moment camp is over.
Ten years later, Rebecca is indeed a lawyer at a high-powered New York firm where nervous ambition and bad lighting have sucked the bloom from her cheek and the joy from her life. In a bit of magic realism borrowed perhaps from sister show “Jane the Virgin,” signs begin appearing.
Well, one sign, a butter ad, asks, from many platforms, “When was the last time you were happy?” Finally one includes an arrow that points to the sidewalk below and the haloed form of, that’s right, Josh (now played by Vincent Rodriguez III). He’s delighted to see her (yay!), but he’s just about to move back home (boo!). Home being West Covina.
And so, of course, Rebecca follows him.
(Here we must pause and sigh and ask when, Lord, will we ever get a story about woman with a high-powered career who isn’t torn in two or a heartless witch? Not, alas, today.)
Released from the millstone of a six-figure salary (Rebecca’s mother badgered her into being a lawyer), Rebecca relocates, treating her new California town to a big number that is not quite as funny as it thinks it is. (Hey, guys, West Covina is not that bad.)
She gets a job at a local law office run by the kind of stale sitcom characters who refer to New York lawyers as “Jews” but that mercifully also includes Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), a “local” lawyer who isn’t buying Rebecca’s story of simply wanting to ditch New York for West Covina. (I have great hopes for Paula and Champlin, who is great.)
There’s also Greg, the promising and instantly smitten bartender, who is played by Santino Fontana, the voice of Hans in “Frozen,” if we needed further Disney princess affirmation and a better love object than ol’ Josh.
Like “Enchanted’s” Giselle, Rebecca is a stranger in a strange land, looking for love and expressing herself in the sort of cheerful song that isn’t quite as cheerful or as fitting as it seems. This is an extremely difficult and courageous thing for a television show to do — even the groundbreaking “Glee” relied on pop hits.
“West Covina” may hammer its joke a bit too long, but the pilot’s other big number, the “Sexy Getting Ready” song Rebecca sings as she prepares to finally see Josh, more than makes up for it.
If “Sexy Getting Ready” is where “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is going, I’m in.
But Bloom’s going to need a little more help as the show proceeds. She is able to keep words like “pathetic” and “deranged” at bay for the first hour through sheer force of will, but now that the concept has been established, the scripts will need to give her firmer footing and a little more room to move.
We all do crazy things for love, but fairy tales are always about far more than that. With any luck, Bloom and McKenna are ready to take on the world.
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-D,L,S (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sex)
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