The opening credits of the musical sitcom “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” now entering its second season, perfectly sum up the show.
And it’s not just because they recap the story — Rachel Bloom’s character sings about leaving a job at a fancy New York law firm for West Covina, California, which “happens to be where Josh lives, but that’s not why I’m here!”
It’s because, when the rest of the cast sings repeatedly “She’s a crazy ex-girlfriend,” Bloom interjects, “That’s a sexist term!” and “The situation is a lot more nuanced than that!” breaking up the campy musical number with some much-needed self-reflection. All of this while refuting the arguments many people have made against the show’s premise with two simple lines.
Strong Jewish comediennes have become incredibly popular these last few years, from Hannah in “Girls,” to Amy Schumer in a variety of sketches, to Abbi and Ilana in “Broad City.” Rachel Bloom has joined this esteemed company, coming a long way since her 2011 viral video “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury.” The graduate of NYU Tisch and Upright Citizen’s Brigade, an improv theater and school in NYC, is now producing, co-writing and staring in her own show.
Jewish female leads are the polar opposite of the manic pixie dream girl (MPDG), a term coined by Nathan Rabin to describe the (usually pretty goy-ish) “bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”
The Strong Jewish Heroine exists only for herself. She has no intention of helping a man through any of his infinite mysteries and adventures. She is self-created and self-actualized. And even if she doesn’t know what she wants, and lies to others and to herself, she doesn’t apologize. She is loud, abrasive and, yes, sometimes a little too much to handle.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is definitely in line with the other Jewish female-driven shows, but there’s one thing that sets it apart from the others (aside from the frequent, wonderful musical numbers): self-awareness.
When I started watching the show, I was worried that it would present me with a parody of myself. I have been, like so many of us, a crazy ex-girlfriend. And that is not meant to be derisive of people who battle with mental illness. It’s just that relationships and the chase after love and validation makes some of us, well, crazy.
The thing about the Strong Jewish Heroine is that she can sometimes be such a parody of herself that she seems crass and is hard to watch. But watching Rachel Bloom portray that all-too-familiar wait by the phone for a text or an email, I did not feel mocked. Seeing her take every breadcrumb of attention she got from a guy who obviously did not care for her and make it into a magnificent feast — that wasn’t cringeworthy. It was validating.
There’s something haimish and welcoming about the way Rachel Bloom portrays our beloved Strong Jewish Heroine. She makes the most ridiculous moments in the reality of being a woman strangely endearing. For example, there’s her “Sexy Getting Ready Song,” where she exposes the torture that is the female beauty regimen — blood, wax and tears. Then, there’s the crass but darling song about “Giving Good Parent,” or her over-the-top “I’m a Good Person” that so well brings to light the constant yearning for approval.
Be it through musical numbers or through fourth-wall-breaking interjections, every single episode of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is constantly criticizing and re-evaluating itself.
It’s these inherent contradictions that make this show so funny and poignant at the same time. Rachel Bloom’s character has the full Yiddish dictionary at hand (zilch, bubkes, kvetch) but her Jewish identity is a non-issue. Instead, the focal question is this: How can a smart, educated lawyer spend so much time preparing for a meeting with a man who is not even that into her? Love is, quite literally, a battlefield — and it’s all Waterloo on repeat.
In fact, it’s the most winning, clever, impossibly optimistic Waterloo you’ll ever meet.
Lior Zaltzman is the Forward’s Digital Fellow and a wearer of many hats. When she’s not tweeting from the Forward’s account, she’s creating illustrations, graphics and lists for the various Forward blogs. She can also make comics out of your bad dates in #OYDATE. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a BFA in cartooning. Lior Zaltzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @liorca.