A show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend actually being good representation for people with mental illness? That sounds, well, crazy. But it's true.
The CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which just completed its third season, tackles the subject of mental illness in a real and honest way, while managing to be a comedic musical at the same time.
The show's main character, Rebecca Bunch, isn't perfect. She struggles with obsessive tendencies and sometimes hurts the people she loves. This is the reality of mental illness -- it's not attractive or aesthetically pleasing, as the show parodies in the song "Sexy French Depression":
The premise of the show is as follows: Rebecca quits her job as a New York lawyer to move to a small California town all because her ex-boyfriend, Josh Chan lives there. Rebecca then does things that would cause people to call her a "crazy ex-girlfriend," hence the show's title.
As we all know, women are often referred to as "crazy" by their exes for behavior the ex may have seen as too emotional or demanding. This means that, for mentally ill women, the stigma of being called "crazy" is particularly unique.
While Rebecca's flaws are often highlighted through her actions, the show doesn't make her out to be a monster either. That's because the show understands that people with mental illness are neither flawless nor completely flawed. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend makes Rebecca human, which is what other TV shows should have been doing all along.
Another choice the show gets right is portraying everything largely from Rebecca's perspective. Sure, that might seem like a given since she's the main character, but the way Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is written gives the audience access to Rebecca's thoughts, allowing viewers to see the process leading up to her actions. One of the first episode's initial scenes offers a realistic portrayal of a panic attack. A memorable song from the show (NSFW due to language) is a ballad where Rebecca sings to herself about how "stupid" she is, and how she ruins everything. This represents the negative, self-deprecating thought patterns that can accompany mental illness in a very real way.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is also important because it shows Rebecca getting help. Over the course of many episodes, her journey in and out of therapy is chronicled. She attends both group and one-on-one therapy as part of the process. Rebecca's therapy experiences represent the fact that mental health is a journey. People usually don't just reach a stopping point in their mental health. It's a series of ups and downs and Rebecca's complicated relationship with therapy exemplifies that. In the most recent season, her therapist, Dr. Akopian, sings a number entitled "This Session Is Going to Be Different," a nod towards the complications Rebecca has had:
Season three, which had its finale on February 16, broke major ground with mental health representation on TV. Rebecca actually gets a diagnosis for her personality disorder. TV characters who are portrayed as being mentally ill rarely have an actual diagnosis. They usually are just shown being sad or anxious all the time at best and are a poorly written straitjacket-wearing stereotype at worst. Instead, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend not only has Rebecca receive a diagnosis but actually shows the process of it as well, including her struggle with accepting it.
The song "A Diagnosis" (video above) is a happy, shiny portrayal of how Rebecca thinks her life will automatically get better once she hears what the doctor has to say. However, this is not reality. Rebecca's diagnosis is not what she anticipates it to be, and she has a hard time adjusting. Again, this reflects the idea that progress in mental health is a long process. Things do not automatically get better just because someone gets a diagnosis or is prescribed medication or even makes a change in their lifestyle.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not what the title would lead you to believe. It's not making fun of the behavior women exhibit that would make someone call them "crazy." Instead, it's an example of the good that can come from having people with mental illness portray characters with mental illness. Rachel Bloom, who plays Rebecca (along with writing and actually creating the show), has experience with mental illness in real life.
Overall, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a smart, funny, real look at what it's like to be mentally ill. It's the mental health representation that's so long been lacking from TV, and it's well worth your time. The catchy tunes don't hurt either.
What do you think?
Do you love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Do you like what it brings to the table for representation of mental illness? Have a favorite song from the show? Let me know in the comments below!