By Will Ferrer
There’s a scene in Marc Webb’s remarkable “500 Days of Summer” in which a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt softly sways through the streets of Los Angeles as Hall and Oates belt “You Make My Dreams Come True” on the soundtrack. It’s really a lovely scene – both for its eccentricity and its adorable seize-the-day happy-go-lucky magnetism. Animated blue birds chirp, Gordon-Levitt beams: What more could anyone possibly need?
Stretch that singular scene into a weekly television series and you’ve got The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” a comedic musical directed by the aforementioned Marc Webb.
Starring Rachel Bloom (“Robot Chicken”) in a star-making turn, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is actually a very close cousin to “500 Days of Summer.” It’s offbeat, it’s enjoyable and Bloom is just about as fascinating as they come. But in the musical pilot (the only episode available to critics), “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” feels less like its deeply emotional relative and more like the mere seed of an idea. A very promising seed – perhaps the most promising of any this season – but one that has yet to grow into itself, that has yet to realize what can make it anything more than an extended, albeit charming, display of song-and-dance.
Most of the fault here lies with series lead and so-called crazy ex-girlfriend, Rebecca Bunch (Bloom). After a chance encounter with a former summer lover in the Big Apple, the discontent Bunch up and moves to West Covina, California (two hours from the beach, four in traffic) on a whim, hoping that the re-appearance of her one-time lover (Josh) spells the end to her bout with depression. It’s a strange maneuver, but one that is not entirely unjustifiable in context – that is, until Bunch arrives in the not-so-beachside town of West Covina looking for man of her dreams.
Once in sunny California, Bunch rapidly descends into a broad and incomprehensible caricature. She lives by her phone (waiting for a text), follows Josh’s cyber-trail to a restaurant during work, and attends a party with Josh’s childhood best friend feverishly praying that he will be present. It’s admittedly absurd and, not surprisingly, the show’s writers (including Bloom) struggle to make this version of Bunch relatable.
Over the course of the episode, the writers attempt to explain her apparent madness with medication, an overbearing Jewish mother, genuine loneliness, and – most ineffectively – love, but no explanation sticks. Bunch’s actions are simply too abnormal to inspire genuine fondness. Thus, when Bunch uses and abuses a cute and eager-to-listen bartender, it’s really not all that humorous. It’s just dumb. So drastic is her inexplicable desperation, the affair even borders on casual misogyny – as if a life without a man is not a life worth living in the first place.
Contrast these murky gender politics with a fantastic mid-episode showstopper about the inherent sexism of beauty standards, and it’s hard not to be confused as to what exactly “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” hopes to accomplish. There’s a ton of potential for it to be something great – Bloom is a radiant screen presence and the writing is uncharacteristically hilarious for The CW – but, at present, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” lacks the emotional depth to be anything more than riveting popcorn fare.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
A previous version of this article erroneously listed Manhattan as the setting of “500 Days of Summer.”
Contact Will Ferrer at wferrer ‘at’ stanford.edu.