It’s possible that you may not have come across one of the funniest and most innovative series to have been on our screens in recent years. It ran between 2015 and 2019 but, because it was on Netflix and was pretty much ignored in the media, it never received the attention it deserved in the UK.
Welcome to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Its themes: love, obsession, mental instability, addiction, and friendship. Its tone: comic/sad. Its genre: musical theatre. In every one its episodes, there were two or three musical numbers, some of eye-watering brilliance.
The series was created by Rachel Bloom – who also starred as the serially lovestruck, hapless lawyer Rebecca Bunch – and Aline Brosh McKenna. The majority of the songs came from the team of Rachel Bloom, Adam Schlesinger and Jack Dolgen.
Recently it has occurred to me that surprisingly few songs really make me laugh, as opposed to smile or think ‘Yes, that works’ as I listen. There have really not been that many songwriters who can put words and music together to perfect comic effect.
The team behind the songs Crazy Ex-Girlfriend belong near the top of the list. Like other writers, from Tom Lehrer to Tim Minchin, they often use musical parody as a way into a song. In the four series, there is almost no genre of music that doesn’t get the treatment: bubblegum pop, torch songs, movie tearjerkers, country, the Carpenters, Sondheim, rap, folk, and onwards.
Because the composers have a genuine and affectionate knowledge of different musical forms, the take-offs tend to be pitch-perfect; because they are funny writers, there’s great comic content beyond the style.
So when Rebecca Bunch has a Judy Garland/Celine Dion diva moment, the theme of the song is self-loathing (‘You Stupid Bitch‘). A jolly Huey Huey Newton take-off is used for a sexual confession (‘Gettin’ Bi‘). A tribute to the Supremes has a parental theme rarely covered by Tamla Motown (‘Maybe She’s Not Such a Heinous Bitch After All‘).
Also particularly worth a YouTube search are a jaunty tap-dancing number (‘We Tapped That Ass‘), a bit of Irish folk (‘Greg’s Drinking Song‘), some singalong pop (‘The First Penis I Saw‘) or some rap (‘JAP Battle Rap‘).
Rachel Bloom first made her name in 2010 with a song which has a strong literary message, ‘Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury‘. She had worked with Jack Logan, and Adam Schlesinger was brought in as the third musical writer for the series.
Here is where the story becomes unexpectedly sad. Researching for this blog, I discovered the shocking news that Schlesinger died in April as result of the virus. He was 52.
Tributes to Adam Schlesinger not only reveal what a loss his death is but also, along the way, how the three composers worked together to produce such an astonishing number of songs (Vulture magazine has ranked 129 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend songs).
My Friday Song – a difficult choice with such a wonderful and varied list to choose from – is funny and subversive, taking a parody of The Weather Girls’ ‘It’s Raining Men’ and turning it into a telling satrical take on gender stereotypes.
As Rachel Bloom once said, it’s a song that manages to be both feminist and post-feminist. What a series – I can’t wait to see what Rachel Bloom does next.