Posted in Television

Television Tuesdays: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

 

I came to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend late. The first time I saw an episode I had heard some positive buzz from critics but it was my father that convinced me to watch an episode. He showed me 1×03, “I Hope Josh Comes to My Party!” It was… odd. One thing that immediately became apparent is that for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, context is very much necessary. If you don’t know the premise, the depth of character, the love and care that goes into the satire, then the show seems off-puttlingly bright and manic. But when I looked at CEG holistically, everything slotted together and I couldn’t help but respect, and like, what this small show is doing.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend just wrapped its sophomore season on the CW. Both seasons are available on Netflix.

Overview

When I gave Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a second chance I had just moved to California. I’m not saying that my relocation to the same area as main character Rebecca Bunch had that much of an effect on my perception of the show except, yeah, it probably did.

Rebecca Bunch was an up-and-coming lawyer in New York City, poised to make partner by the time she was 28. But when she ran into her high school crush / summer camp boyfriend Josh Chan wandering around the city, looking so happy and content about his decision to relocate back to the West Coast, she couldn’t help but think: maybe that’s what happiness is. Maybe the West Coast represented everything her life had lost – happiness, relaxation, sunlight. Sure, seeing Josh Chan sparked a reminder of her giddy teenage feelings for him, but he represented so much more. Seeing Josh again was hope.

Rebecca quits her lucrative job and moves across country on a whim. She arrives in California tense, and terrified, and so, so hopeful. The show cleverly uses dramatic irony as we, the audience, know that Rebecca is Not Okay. We watch her do some mental gymnastics to justify her move and lifestyle change. When you combine her forced optimism with her mentally performed musical numbers, things start to slot into place. This girl is barely holding it together. But you cheer for her regardless. That manic optimism is almost endearing, even as she makes some cringe-worthy decisions. You can forgive Rebecca lying to every new person that she meets, because you can’t help but be painfully aware that she’s also lying to herself.

The first season unpacks Rebecca’s decision to move to California and drastically change her life. She chases and idolizes Josh Chan, ingratiating herself into his circle of friends and attempting to befriend his girlfriend. She dates his best friend, even as she fixates on Josh. To Rebecca, the key to becoming as simplistically happy as Josh Chan is to be with Josh Chan. The second season delves further into Rebecca’s supposition that Josh is the key to her problems and also the strains that ‘true love’ can put on friendships.

Musical Numbers

Because the musical numbers of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend take place in the minds of the characters, they have the freedom to be ambitious and outlandish. Generally not more than two to an episode, the songs, like in all musicals, work to further the plot. They do double-duty, giving key insight to the characters while also providing scathing commentary or parody.

Some songs are better than others, which is only natural, but the ones that are good are amazing. “West Covina” gets stuck in my head regularly, and my roommate and I will sing it to one another. “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” flits through my head when I’m putting on make-up for a night out. And every time I think of the “Sexy French Depression” song I marvel at how well it nails perceived depression versus the reality. I’m constantly amazed by how thoughtful, creative, and stuffed with social commentary these songs manage to be.

Representation

The show has a fairly diverse cast and, at times it’s easy to let this fade into the background (which, in many cases, is how diversity should be implemented. Reflecting reality to the point that it’s odd when that reality of diversity isn’t represented) but the depth and richness of characters represented is worth talking about.

In season two we’re introduced to a new character at Rebecca’s law firm (played by Scott Michael Foster aka Cappie from Greek). In a meta song, “Who’s the New Guy?”, the characters ask, “Why should we root for someone male, straight, and white?”:

Rebecca, the heroine, is Jewish and the show explores her culture in different ways. Her love interest, Josh Chan, is Filipino. It goes on and on. Daryl, Rebecca’s boss, has a wonderful storyline in which he comes out as bisexual (his song, “Gettin’ Bi,” is annoyingly catchy). In an interview, creator Rachel Bloom said that she cast Josh Chan purposefully as an Asian bro, instead of his race being the byproduct of blind casting. Why? Because she grew up in SoCal surrounded by fratty Asian bros. It was her reality growing up and, to her, it was strange to not see that represented on screen.

At every turn, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend dismantles the trope of the crazy ex-girlfriend and puts out some scathing social commentary. Rebecca can be annoying and hard to root for, but she’s interesting, smart, and fun to watch. It’s not a perfect show, but it’s a good one, all while being a musical and a very funny comedy.

Posted in Television

Television Tuesdays: Sweet/Vicious

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Sweet/Vicious just wrapped its first season on MTV, but it only took half an episode for me to become incredibly invested. A cross between Veronica Mars and Jessica Jones, Sweet/Vicious is a vigilante show that focuses on campus assault.

There’s a scene about 20 minutes into the pilot in which the two girls, Jules and Ophelia, still strangers, drive away from a crime scene. They have a a body in the trunk of Ophelia’s car and they need to dump it, fast. To decrease the tension, Ophelia turns on some music. Defying Gravity comes on and there’s a slight hesitation where Ophelia may change the song but she lets it play. Ever so tentatively, the girls begin to sing along. Then, suddenly, they’re singing at the top of their lungs and you know instinctively, “oh shit, they’re friends now.” It’s rare to see a show establish friendship and camaraderie so quickly and easily but the show manages with that one pure moment of female bonding.

Overview

Jules Thomas is a beautiful blonde sorority sister who moonlights as a vigilante on the fictional Darlington University campus. After being assaulted at a frat party, fearful the administration won’t give her justice, she takes matters into her own hands. Jules takes it upon herself to strike the fear of God into any man on campus who has gotten away with assaulting a female student. Her hit list comes from the graffiti in a campus women’s room that tells others which men to avoid.

Ophelia Mayer is the green-haired stoner who becomes Jules’ literal partner in crime after accidentally discovering her secret identity. Ophelia is a genius who slacks off, secure in her hacking skills and her parents’ wealth. She sells pot out of the record store she lives above and in which her best friend works.

My favorite thing about this show is undoubtedly the way it portrays friendship. For as much as Jules and Ophelia are partners at times, they don’t actually know that much about one another. They’re radically different people brought together over this one set of circumstances and the show takes its time to befriend one another. They fight. They apologize. They care, they just don’t always know how to express it in terms the other can understand or accept. Ophelia works to relate to Jules, who is at her most vulnerable. The two are an unlikely pair but they’re obviously ride-or-die.

Harris, Ophelia’s best friend, is a gift. Played by Brandon Mychal Smith (Sam on You’re the Worst), he’s a law student who’s trying to discover the truth about the campus vigilante. He’s a driven, thoughtful person and a wonderful balance to Ophelia. Their friendship brings me joy, especially when they have their friendship anniversary celebration or he lets her sit on his shoulders to take a hit from her 6-foot bong.

Vigilante Justice

Sweet/Vicious can be hard to watch. Many of the ten episodes that make up the first season have a warning for viewer discretion attached as the show doesn’t shy away from depicting sexual assault. The show is unflinching as it depicts many ways that assault can happen – quietly, drunkenly, violently, between friends – but it never victim blames. We see Jules on the path to recovery and as she really comes to terms with what happened to her. The show obviously cares about its subject matter; nothing is done purely for shock factor.

I don’t necessarily know how to talk intelligently about all the ways in which the show handles sexual assault. But I do know that the show is thoughtful and it’s important. There hasn’t been any news yet about whether the show will be picked up for a second season, but do yourself a favor and watch it. The subject matter is serious, sure, but that doesn’t stop the show from being charming as hell. The show has a beautiful tone; it’s funny and absurd and smart. It may be hard to watch at times, but never at the risk of being good, entertaining television.

Sweet/Vicious is available to stream and on demand with MTV.

Posted in Television

Television Tuesdays: Atlanta

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Atlanta is the brainchild of Donald Glover. You may know him as Troy on Community or his rap-persona, Childish Gambino. I don’t know what, exactly, put Donald Glover on my radar seven years ago, but I’ve been lowkey obsessed with him for about that long. When FX announced its collaboration with Glover, I was excited. And seeing his show come into fruition, that excitement remains. I wasn’t sure what, precisely, to expect of this show. It’s nothing like 30 Rock, for which he wrote when he was still a student at NYU. Nor is it like his Derrick Comedy sketches. Instead, it’s something unique and new. Atlanta just finished its first season on FXX.

Overview

Donald Glover plays Earn, a broke guy living in Atlanta. He’s struggling to support his toddler daughter and bounces between staying with his girlfriend, his cousin, or at the house of whatever party he attended the night before. So much of Earn’s story revolves around the fact that he’s broke, but the show never pities him for it. Instead, it depicts the reality of trying to make ends meet.

When Earn needs a new job, he turns to his cousin, up-and-coming rapper Paper Boi. Paper Boi is wary about giving his cousin a job, especially since it’s been a hot second since they last talked. But he acquiesces and makes Earn his manager.

One of the things that I really loved about this season and I think worked well was the tendency to take one topic or situation and examine it closely. It happens again and again, from “Value”, to “B.A.N.” to “Juneteenth”. The examination and exploration of different themes gives the show a certain depth and perspective that most half-hour comedies don’t get the time or breathing room to play with.

At times, the show struggles as it moves from broad episodes about Earn and Paper Boi’s lives to these highly specialized episodes. If I had one wish for the show it would be for it to find a better way to integrate these two types of episodes because they are so radically different at times (especially “B.A.N.”) that they are hard to parse in the scheme of the show. Glover excels at creating these deep, interesting scenarios, so I hope they don’t disappear, but in the instance of “B.A.N.”, playing a little bit with the characters outside the scope of the fake show may have worked better in the Atlanta‘s favor.

I will be the first to admit that I’m not fully equipped to talk about the nuance of race on this show. But as an audience member, it’s riveting. Atlanta is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, preferring instead to play with perception. It delves deep into race and sexuality, especially how they’re viewed in the black community. In an early episode, Paper Boi shoots a man in a parking lot. Throughout the season, he must then ascertain if that’s how he’d like to be known. “Juneteenth,” the penultimate episode, is also an interesting look at black culture, shown from the perspective of a Afro-studies obsessed white man. Earn’s increasing alarm and disbelief with the tone deafness of this man is relatable and well-executed.

The episode “Value” deftly examines female friendships, especially when you’ve known someone for years but have grown in opposite ways. Earn’s girlfriend, Van, deals with trying to balance that familiarity and loyalty to your old self with new responsibilities. Van is a great character, overall. She’s a foil to Earn, in a lot of ways, but she’s always her own person apart from him. I think one of the reasons I like her, and the show, so much is because the show took the time to pay attention to her as a character, apart from her relationship to Earn.

Atlanta is still finding its feet, but it had a promising first season. The writing was phenomenal and the direction was well done. You can stream the first season on FXX now.