Not So-Squad Goals on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Rachel Bloom, Donna Lynne Champlin, Vella Lovell, Gabrielle Ruiz in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend The CW 2017

Rachel Bloom’s stunningly refreshing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, soon entering its third season, has been a whirlwind of ups and downs, but despite the tongue-in-cheek name of the show highlighting our main character Rebecca Bunch as a boy-crazy (literally) stalker, it’s her female friendships that take the starring emotional role in the second and most recent season. Rebecca Bunch (played by co-creator Rachel Bloom) has cultivated three extremely distinctive relationships with three women on the show, two of whom deserve much more than they’re given and one whose relationship has, much like the series itself, twisted and turned and shifted into something much darker than one might expect based on the show’s comedy genre.

One of the basic premises of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is that, for Rebecca, romantic relationships are toxic, especially with her ex-boyfriend from teen summer camp, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III). It’s even clear from the theme song of the first season that Josh is the center of her world. For those unfamiliar with the catchy tune:

I was working hard at a New York job, making dough but it made me blue. One day I was crying a lot and so I decided to move to West Covina, California! Brand new pals and new career. It happens to be where JOSH lives, but that’s not why I’m here.

And yet Josh’s residence in West Covina is exactly why she moved to California, which Rebecca shifts between keeping intensely secret and refusing to admit to even herself. Even her, arguably, more healthy relationship with Greg Serrano (Santino Fontana) was still admitted to be a “shitshow” in his poignant goodbye number before he left the show mid-season two.

Every one of Rebecca’s romantic entanglement eventually ends in personal embarrassment, disaster, or emotional distress. The flip side, and one of the greatest positive aspects of the show, is that Rebecca’s female friendships are highlighted as juxtaposition.

Paula Proctor (Donna Lynne Champlin), a red-headed middle-aged wife and mother with dreams of graduating law school, is Rebecca’s law office co-worker-turned-best-friend. Then there’s Heather Davis (Vella Lovell), Rebecca’s sometimes friend, sometimes roommate, sometimes remote observer, who serves as Rebecca’s listener, cheerleader, and voice of reason, depending on the situation. Finally, there’s Valencia Perez (Gabrielle Ruiz), originally situated as Rebecca’s archrival for Josh’s affections who, through a thrilling character arc, goes from being Josh’s “evil” fiancee to Rebecca’s confidant and wedding planner for Rebecca’s marriage to Josh.

The trouble with these arguably kick-ass female friendships is that the season arcs are far too invested in Rebecca-and-Paula’s relationship when really it is only a detriment to both characters. Unlike Rebecca’s romantic relationships, which are touted as starry fairytales by Rebecca, but are clearly meant to be seen as pestilential by the viewer, viewers root for Paula and Rebecca. Although their friendship is a main focus of the series, regrettably, the poisonous elements of their relationship are overlooked and swept under the rug.

In season one, Paula is the main cheerleader for Rebecca/Josh. She never calls Rebecca out on her unhealthy obsessive behavior towards Josh, and Paula even finds herself in a similar position when her own behavior spirals as she tries to help Rebecca win over Josh’s heart. She frequently uses her tech-savvy expertise to find confidential information for Rebecca about Josh and Josh’s family, and she even goes so far as to help Rebecca stage a fake break-in at her apartment so Josh doesn’t discover Rebecca’s lies. Her song in the last episode of season one, “After Everything I’ve Done For You (That You Didn’t Ask For)” illuminates everything she’s done and how she’s finally decided to take a step back from Rebecca’s personal life.

This seems like a smart move and one that will benefit both of them. Paula realizes how much energy and effort her investment in Rebecca’s romantic relationships has taken from her own personal issues. “It’s like I’m addicted to her life. It’s like the high I get from those vampire novels, or The Bachelor, or when I write a really great legal brief at work,” Paula confesses to her husband in 2×01.

Donna Lynne Champlin, Steve Monroe in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend The CW 2016Rebecca accepts Paula’s decision, and it seems as though all will be well. Instead, with life getting in the way, the two friends continue to grow more distant in season two. Rebecca loses Josh, then subsequently loses Greg, then loses even more of her sanity as she burns their belongings and drunkenly sets fire to her house. Paula, on the other hand, struggles with a pregnancy scare after being accepted to law school. With two other children to provide for already, she ends up deciding to have an abortion in order to be able to fulfill her dream of becoming a lawyer.

Because of their separate places in life, and their very separate problems, Paula begins to play the role of the forsaken friend. Her abortion storyline is one of the most well-treated of the season as she struggles to find time to tell Rebecca about her decision while Rebecca continues to steamroll over her with her own Josh-focused problems. Rebecca bulldozes Paula with her own issues repeatedly and then strains their relationship even further when Rebecca grows closer to Heather and Valencia. After their labored relationship reaches its peak, Rebecca and Paula do finally have an emotional and apologetic reunion.

What might have been best for both of them, though, would have been to go their separate ways. At the very least, they needed to realize how detrimental they were being to each others’ lives. Rebecca does realize that she’s being selfish in only being concerned with herself, and Paula feels bad about something that isn’t clear to me. Personally, I don’t blame her for distancing herself from Rebecca in response to Rebecca’s self-centeredness.

Their friendship is sidelined for the next few episodes as Rebecca deals with the new boss of their law firm, but at the end of the season, Paula-and-Rebecca come back in full force, vowing to get revenge on Josh, who has left Rebecca at the altar to join a seminary without a word to anyone. Rebecca, standing on the edge of a cliffside in her wedding dress, has to be literally talked back from the ledge by Paula one last time. “Stop it, you hear me? This is not your fault. You have done nothing wrong. Josh is the one to blame. All these men, they are the ones to blame,” she tells Rebecca.

While it’s true that the men in her life do hold some, or even most, of the blame, Rebecca and her compulsive lying and inability to communicate did cause part of the problem, and Paula’s words to Rebecca at the end of this season have them falling back into the pattern of fixation on Josh and absolving Rebecca of blame, two major problems that cropped up back in season one. For all of their growth, Rebecca and Paula are back in the same place, still focusing all of their energy on Josh, except this time in the form of revenge rather than romance.

“Josh Chan must be destroyed,” says Rebecca in the last few moments of the season, a disturbing smile on her face. Paula, as always, replies with, “What did you have in mind?”

It can be said that this is true of real-life friendships; not everyone you ally yourself with will be good for you in the end. But with the way that the second season is framed, with Paula and Rebecca’s reunion touted as a miraculous restoration of picture-perfect attachment, their relationship leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can only hope that the show doesn’t continue to gloss over this issue in the third season. There’s a chance for it to work out, for the storyline to prove that this is the wrong way to go about reinforcing friendship, and I hope it takes that opportunity.

In fact, my favorite part of season two was when Heather and Valencia served as Rebecca’s “girl group” of friends in Paula’s stead, during their friend-break-up. Their Spice Girl-inspired “friend squad” song, “Friendtopia,” is one of my favorites from the whole series. But in a series with 13 episodes, Valencia and Heather were only seen as Rebecca’s close friends for three of those episodes. The show only comes to these two lovely ladies when Rebecca needs something from them, and that’s a shame.

Why is Heather overlooked? She only appears, really, when Rebecca needs an ear that’s not Paula’s or a place to stay when her house burns down. I suppose this is a positive for Heather the character, as she is farther removed from Rebecca’s chaotic orbit, but a shame for the viewer (especially me) who adores her deadpan delivery and her ingenuous, genuine heart. She’s a much more positive influence on Rebecca than Paula, for the most part, and Rebecca helps Heather as well, giving her the opportunity to be the spokesperson for Ms. Douche. Their relationship is only positive, and yet it gets so little attention overall.

Similarly to Paula, Valencia–for a short period of time–has an unhealthy effect on Rebecca, but only while they work together to stalk Josh’s new girlfriend. But Valencia snaps out of it. Rebecca doesn’t, leading her towards a second relationship with Josh, a rush engagement, and the wedding that never came to be. A wedding which Valencia volunteers to plan for Rebecca, who is apparently useless at Pinterest. Like Heather, Valencia deserves more than to be relegated as Rebecca’s sidekick and fairy godmother. While I loved seeing her grow into a more caring individual, and one who has career goals of her own and who isn’t so focused on catty fighting over a man, she deserves more screen time.

One of the last shots we get from the second season is one of all four women standing on the edge of the cliff, staring vindictively towards the wedding onlookers, the sun setting in the background. It’s a powerful image. I do want these four ladies to be united, and I want to see their friendships grow. But more importantly, I want to see those friendships be healthy, or at the very least, I want to see the recognition that Paula and Rebecca’s friendship isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Loyalty, when it means unhealthy addiction and fixation on one specific idea or man, isn’t worth much.

Tara Olivero

Tara Olivero

Tara Olivero teaches English in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and honestly just tries to avoid having her life turn into a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Follow her on Twitter: @taraolivero.

One thought on “Not So-Squad Goals on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

  1. I feel like you’re missing something important. Paula feels bad because she sees Rebecca as a surrogate daughter a bit and is addicted to putting her storyline first. Maybe because her own is a mature, middle aged sort of mess.

    Heather’s character is played for laughs. She is the sardonic, unlikely voice of reason. She subverts the character when she chooses to be friendly rather than detached. That’s why it’s only positive. She’s usually there to serve Rebecca’s purposes.

    I don’t think this show is about female friendships. I think it proposes stock romantic plot lines and characters to subvert them, but really it plays with the idea of Rebecca bumping up against people as she finds her way to mental health.

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