Critic’s Pick: TV Picks: ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,’ ‘The Saint’
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (CW, Mondays), racheldoesstuff (YouTube), RachelDoesStuff.com. It’s still rare in network TV to find a show whose star is one of its creators, and all the more rare when that star was all but unknown beforehand. And even more so when the show turns out to be a star turn that makes it all seem so obvious in retrospect. That creator-star is Rachel Bloom of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” whose previous major television credits were as a writer on “Allen Gregory,” a cartoon you more than likely missed when it blew by in 2011; a writer and a voice on “Robot Chicken;” and, if we want to rope in streaming media, a voice on “Bojack Horseman.”
Her previous notoriety, such as it was, came from a series of highly polished, terrifically performed satirical music videos you can find posted on her Web site, Rachel Does Stuff, and similarly named YouTube Channel, including the “Santa Baby” rewrite “Chanukah Honey,” “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song,” “I Was A Mermaid and Now I’m a Pop Star” and some whose titles we can’t reproduce here, this being a family newspaper. A video for a song about Ray Bradbury, from whose title I can take only the words “Me” and “Ray Bradbury,” was nominated for a 2011 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation: Short. (You can find these songs and more collected in Bloom’s iTunes albums, “Please Love Me” and “Suck It, Christmas: A Chanukah Album.”) You also can find her “Robot Chicken” sketches online and some of her free-standing sketches (“Bernadette Peters Sex Tape,” “Paranormal Activity 3: Revenge of the Crew”) and a little bit of stand-up. Plus numbers from the show.
Given the NSFW tone of many of those videos, it’s not surprising that the series, co-created with Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”), originally was developed for premium cable at Showtime. But it makes a perfect fit for the CW, which has a historical liking for shows that put offbeat young women into offbeat settings (currently see: “iZombie,” “Jane the Virgin”). Here, it’s musical comedy, because: see above. (Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and “That Thing You Do” is the show’s musical director.)
Bloom plays Rebecca, a successful New York lawyer, who in a fit of dissatisfaction, follows a former not-quite boyfriend across the country; it’s “Felicity” — late ‘90s, represent! — with more pathology, and songs, a musical comedy about a stalker. (Which is, come to think of it, the only kind of show about stalking I’d care to see.) A stalker in denial, specifically, with an actual relationship with the unknowing object of her obsession (Vincent Rodriguez III, who, like the rest of the cast — notably including Donna Lynne Champlin, Santino Fontana and Pete Gardner — is excellent). At the same time, it’s a familiar tale of giving up the rat race for the slower life, the city for the suburbs, of seeing through the glitter to the gold, of working not for the Man but the people. West Covina, where Rebecca finds herself, begins as a two-word punchline but is, in some way, the paradise she needs.
The show doesn’t shortchange her craziness — that’s where much of the comedy lies, and obsession is a quality that Bloom can sell. (See those videos, which like many of the musical numbers in the series take a weakness and declare it, dramatically, as a strength.) But it does a good job of keeping Rebecca both obviously trouble and obviously attractive, a state of affairs that keeps the people around her confused as well. Bloom, hardly ever at rest, has the ability to tell different stories simultaneously with her eyes, her mouth, her body. It’s in the interest of the show, of course, to keep her this way; like Zeno’s paradoxical arrow, which never reaches its target, she’ll never get all the way to sane. Let’s hope she has a long time to not quite get there.
“The Saint: Seasons 1 & 2" (Timeless Media Group DVD). Before Roger Moore was James Bond, long before Daniel Craig was James Bond and even longer before the next Bond will be Bond, Moore was Simon Templar, a globe-trotting freelance agent of good, in six seasons of the British series “The Saint” — and this, not 007, was his defining role. (Moore was not the first Saint, either, nor the last. The series was created in 1928 by British-Chinese novelist Leslie Charteris, and the Saint has been played by George Sanders, Louis Hayward and Val Kilmer, among others. But Moore is the one who counts.)
A DVD set collecting the entire run of that series was released in May; the first two seasons, comprising 39 episodes and dating from 1962 to 1964 — the years in which “Dr. No,” “From Russia with Love” and “Goldfinger” were released — recently were issued in a separate package. Moore’s Templar, innocently roguish, is somewhat notorious for reasons that aren’t clear, given his general good cheer, lack of snobbery and ready helping hand. Perhaps he was just too cheerful for the times.
Although many episodes involve some sort of crime, or bad behavior, this is more generally the story of a man who can’t help mixing in with other people’s troubles, more akin to American series like “Route 66" and “The Fugitive” than it is to “Secret Agent” or “The Avengers” or a cop show. Violence, too, is limited to the occasional bop on the nose or fight on a stairway, while the sex, if you want to call it that, is almost chaste. The female characters, good or bad, tend to have independent minds, and because of the length and talkiness of the episodes, much to say. Every episode begins with a title identifying the location — London, Paris, New York, Rome, Miami, wherever, recreated with stock footage and on the lot of Associated British Elstree Studios, to which the intervening years have turned into sometimes amusing effect, but also it’s a nice glimpse into the middle of the past century.
With hair as big as the rest of his head, Moore — who was also the lightest of Bonds — is the sort of hero you don’t see much of anymore. Nowadays, they’re riven by self-doubt, hobbled by anger issues or haunted by the memory of something that happened to them when they were young. Or they have a fatal disease or a drug addiction. Templar may not be the most settled of men, but he’s a responsible adult and the coolest head in the crowd — Moore was in his unlined mid-30s when he began the role — and also very funny. In lovely, vivid, black and white. More seasonal sets to follow.
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd
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