As its name suggests, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a show about inappropriate attachments. The musical dramedy, which aired on the CW for four seasons until finale-ing this past April, stars its cocreator Rachel Bloom as Rebecca Bunch, the “crazy ex-girlfriend” in question, who follows her boyfriend of summer camps past, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), to, of all places, West Covina, California, to pursue him in adulthood. I remember seeing ads for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend before its 2015 debut and wondering how a show trading in such an obvious and well-trodden sexist stereotype—the insanely desperate woman-turned-stalker—could still fly in the 21st century. Little did I know then how the show would bend genres, turn tired tropes upside down, and develop a cult following comprised of so many of my dear friends. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend now stands as one of the most innovative shows to appear on television in the 21st century. I asked two of those dear friends, Summer Kim Lee and Iván A. Ramos, to write about their own individual and joint attachments to this recently ended, unforgettable series.
- Summer Kim Lee: An Embarrassing, Earnest Reprise for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
- Iván A. Ramos: On the Zany Pleasures of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
- Summer Kim Lee and Iván A. Ramos: A “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Playlist
An Embarrassing, Earnest Reprise for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
Summer Kim Lee
Watching Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s CW romantic comedy / musical sitcom Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I felt embarrassed the entire time. From its first episode four years ago to its last episode this past April, I felt embarrassed on behalf of the characters—but mainly embarrassed for myself. Something about my embarrassment moves just under the surface of recognizable styles and genres such as parody, camp, and musical theater. For me, this had to do with my embarrassment’s particular relation to the earnestness of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Before watching the show, I believed that embarrassment and earnestness were in opposition to one another. Embarrassment was useful in that it allowed one to access a certain kind of irreverent and decentered critique of oneself. Meanwhile, earnestness obstructed embarrassment with its direct, heavy sincerity. Embarrassment wanted to let things go, wanted the self to get smaller, so that an awkward moment could pass and hopefully be forgotten. But earnestness doubled down on the self and wanted to stay longer in that moment, to take more space and work it out. For me, this made earnestness into something undesirable.
Yet, in watching the show, it became clear that these easy oppositional distinctions between embarrassment and earnestness couldn’t hold. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend thoughtfully marries earnestness with embarrassment in order to grapple with questions of mental illness and how to live in relation to others, which might never feel like a sane thing to do. And it does all this, of course, in song. As it turns out—and as the show itself insists—“the situation is a lot more nuanced than that.”
Sociologist Erving Goffman writes that “often important everyday occasions of embarrassment arise when the self projected is somehow confronted with another self which, though valid in other contexts, cannot be here sustained in harmony with the first.”1 Embarrassment is the result of the self—composed of many different roles—getting exposed as split, multiplicitous, and dissonant, by one of its iterations showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Embarrassment serves a regulatory function in social life: it lets us know we ought to adjust ourselves according to the situation at hand.2 However, some part of the situated self lies in excess of social life and its conventions; that’s precisely what causes those everyday occasions of embarrassment to arise. Embarrassment exposes the work it takes to shore up the self, by showing just how many selves there are and, moreover, that these many selves exist for the purpose of aligning oneself appropriately with others, in ways however miscalculated or misguided.
Earnestness makes possible a certain kind of endurance, a means of inhabiting the conventional and the obvious.
Throughout the show, I felt embarrassed for Rebecca Bunch (played by Bloom), the protagonist, who, on the brink of making junior partner at a corporate law firm in New York City, instead makes an embarrassing but earnest decision. She decides to win back her ex-boyfriend from summer camp, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), by moving to his hometown, West Covina, California. Of course, the show is not just about Rebecca getting Josh back, and once this became clear, my embarrassment no longer felt second-hand, on behalf of another. I no longer just felt embarrassed for Rebecca, her friends, her frenemies, and her fake boyfriend (a Harvard man named Trent, played by Paul Welsh and possibly the creepiest man to ever tuck a turtleneck into his pants).
My embarrassment became something I felt more acutely for myself, and it was all tied up with the show’s music, its craziness, and my earnest fondness for both. In each episode, characters grappled with brutally relatable, specific scenarios in musical numbers cowritten by Bloom, Jack Dolgen, and Adam Schlesinger.
These parody songs spanned every music genre from musical theater to EDM. They touched on antidepressants, internet stalking, being sad at the zoo, and “period sex”: nitpicky subjects so random they make perfect sense together. Not only, to my horror, could I distinguish the Stephen Sondheim parody from the Andrew Lloyd Webber parody (I invite all judgment on me as a former musical theater kid and, like Rebecca, I strongly advise you to not watch the movie adaptation of Rent.) I was also completely drawn in and taken aback by the show’s earnest interrogation of what it looks, feels, and sounds like to be “crazy.”
In the theme song, which changes each season, embarrassment moves alongside the show’s craziness, giving way to a hectic outpouring of the self’s many incoherent, contradictory roles. In the Season 3 theme song, Rebecca plays four versions of herself as different pop culture personas. Each version sings the same song, but in four distinct music genres, arguing over what Rebecca wants: “You do, you don’t want to be crazy?” At the end of the song, all four Rebeccas are joined by a fifth, who turns out to be watching them in a video playing from her phone as she sits on the toilet. All five Rebeccas frown and shrug, embarrassed at their confusion, and, of course, their craziness.
I needed to grapple with my dismissal of the show’s earnestness and my unwillingness to admit I was affected by it. What’s wrong with wanting to take comfort in the durability of genre and narrative conventions? What if I want to stall before critique, before the moment of going in on something, and instead hold out in the hope that maybe this time pop cultural forms, genres, and representations are capable of doing something different?
Rebecca’s earnest views on romance and her repeated attempts to find love and happiness from her parents, from men, and from her job might be unrealistic or naive, but such views ultimately are about wanting to hold out for something different, this time. Rebecca’s ability to make life decisions gleaned from her deep attachment to music, film, and television keeps her going and sustains her when it seems like she can’t or won’t manage on her own.
Earnestness makes possible a certain kind of endurance, a means of inhabiting the conventional and the obvious. It offers a way to imagine yourself in roles in which you don’t belong, which don’t fit in every situation, because no one can actually live in such conventional and obvious ways. Earnestness emerges when, for instance, Rebecca takes a step back from her life and finds that she is, as she sings in a “ridiculously sinister” song, “the villain in my own story.” And isn’t finding yourself in the wrong role, in your own show, embarrassing to admit? Might earnestness be set up to always already be embarrassing when it is recognized?
Earnestness is a means of enduring—and it’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to recognize how much you might need earnestness to keep going. Unlike sentimentalism, earnestness neither promises nor provides emotional release or resolve, and it cannot be mapped onto the kinds of morality that sentimentalism aims to uphold. Earnestness is weighty and overwrought, it sticks and stays with you, sometimes when you really wish it wouldn’t.
In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, earnestness comes in the form of a musical reprise: the moment when songs—such as “You Stupid Bitch” or “Settle For Me”—come back slower and in smaller parts. As reprises, these songs create melancholic, yearning moments of transition, but also a return to what is familiar—without their previous levity and instead with a new need for resolution before the next song and the next scene.
When one recognizes the tune of a reprise—hears its familiar melody and its earnest desire to turn back, to revisit what can no longer feel the same—one might feel a little embarrassed at how it resonates. This is when I feel most embarrassed: listening to the earnestness of a reprise.
Rebecca’s diagnosis with borderline personality disorder during Season 3 marks a turning point in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. With her diagnosis comes the opportunity for Rebecca to talk with others—her therapist, her friends—about how she copes. She explains that she moves through her life by imagining moments in it as musical numbers. The show’s songs, and its self-awareness of its narrative arc, ratings, and viewership, start to come together for us as viewers: these moments are all in Rebecca’s head. However, what goes on in Rebecca’s head doesn’t leave her totally alienated from others. There’s a way for her to keep performing her many selves that doesn’t leave her, or us, alone.
In the series finale, Rebecca goes into her mind, represented as “an abstract theatrical space,” to sing “Eleven O’Clock,” a medley (and, of course, a musical theater metaphor) made up of songs from the show. She is surrounded by mannequins wearing the costumes she’s worn along the way. When Rebecca lets her best friend Paula, played by the truly amazing Donna Lynne Champlin, into this space, Paula tells her that she must share all the music she has kept in her head, and that her audience has already been waiting. This audience consists of the friends and frenemies (but no more fake boyfriends) that Rebecca has made in West Covina; they gather at an open mic to hear her play the music she’s written.
We never actually hear the songs Rebecca plays at the open mic. In the last scene of the show, Rebecca announces from a small stage, “This is a song I wrote,” as she takes a breath and leans into the mic with a nervous smile.
Yet, in this moment, we know it’s time to return to the beginning, because we already know the songs she’s written, and we know just how good they are. To watch the end of the show is to find yourself in the show’s reprise, sitting with what’s familiar—with those same songs you can’t get out of your head—but with a new feeling.
I love reprises. Yes, a showstopping 11 o’clock number feels huge, it takes up space. It marks a turning point for a protagonist—one that by the song’s end, the character’s arms outstretched, means something has been figured out and the next steps are clear.
But a reprise takes up much less space. Whoever is singing a reprise can usually be seen on a corner of the mostly darkened stage. Maybe a set change is taking place as they sing. The song is brief and transitional, perhaps forgettable, but it gives a sense that something has changed—we just don’t know what, not yet, and neither does the protagonist who is singing.
In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, my favorite reprises are of the song “West Covina.” It is the first song of the show, and, as the viewers hear an orchestra swell under the first notes sung by Rebecca, we—arguably with dread—realize the show is going to be a musical. It is the big opening number, which invites you into the scene of West Covina, with its strip malls, pretzel stands, boba drinks, mall goths in anime wigs, and ads for accident attorneys. Like Rebecca, I earnestly can’t imagine a dreamier place.
There are three reprises of “West Covina.” In the first reprise, Rebecca confesses to Paula that she’s come to West Covina to find Josh and fall in love. As a counterpoint duet between Rebecca and Paula, the reprise cements their friendship, with Paula enthusiastically agreeing to support Rebecca’s rom-com mission (as Rebecca sings that it’s time to kick her plan “into high gear,” Paula sings of “Julia Roberts and Richard Gere”). They face each other and sing, conspiratorially, and, of course, in harmony: “Yes also by coincidence / so random just by chance / who’d of thunk, it’s so remarkable and weird, right / it’s so cray that this guy Josh / just happens to be here.”
The reprise tells us what Rebecca has come to do in West Covina and that she now has someone in her corner. It’s embarrassing not only for its contrapuntal lyrics (seriously, “gear”! “Gere”!) but also for the friendship it earnestly starts.
The last reprise of “West Covina” is also the last song in the series finale, shared as another duet between Rebecca and Paula. Standing with Rebecca in her “Eleven O’Clock” set, Paula tells Rebecca that what she seeks is not Josh or anyone else. Rebecca already has what she’s been looking for: the many roles she’s created in her songs. Paula turns to Rebecca, in awe of her, and sings, “It’s not just some coincidence / not random / not by chance. / Who’d of thunk it / you’re remarkable / not weird or dumb or cray / What you need just happens to be here.”
When Paula sings “here” in this last reprise, she is naming a different place and time. This “here” is the place and time of the earnest reprise: it is Rebecca’s “Eleven O’Clock” stage, which is also the wrong place and time of embarrassment, given Goffman’s earlier definition. This “here” is where Rebecca stores the multiple roles she has played. It is the place she turns to in those embarrassing moments when she feels like there’s too many versions of herself showing up in the wrong place, at the wrong time. But when Paula tells Rebecca that what she needs just happens to be “here,” she lets her know that to have so many versions of oneself is not a sign of one’s inadequacy or failure in the company of others. Instead, it is a sign of one’s desire to reach out to others with a rich, varied, virtuosic account of oneself, with a story that might sound, well, “crazy.”
On the Zany Pleasures of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
Iván A. Ramos
In an era when prestige TV has become the norm and old studio models have almost imperceptibly returned (think of how many shows look so similar, according to their network or streaming service), Crazy Ex-Girlfriend refused to fit into any kind of recognizable mold or follow any familiar narrative beats. Instead, it pushed against the edges of its premise with ferocious formal abandon. I don’t want to detract from the fact that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was also very much a show of its time—from its feminist sensibilities to its caring and careful grasp of mental illness. But all of it was sustained by a pure (and un-derisive) commitment to the possibilities of the “zany,” as an aesthetic endeavor.
Indeed, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend harkens back to classic Hollywood comedies and musicals by committing to “zaniness” as the formal strategy best suited to its consistently absurd situations; this commitment is primarily exemplified by the show’s workmanlike dedication to making the audience laugh. After all, the show works not only because of its plot, but also because of its uncanny ability to exploit zaniness as the aesthetic capable of stretching out every single dollar from its limited budget to craft each episode (the scope, production values, and content of the show were ultimately, of course, restrained by the demands, standards, and limitations of network television, and the CW more specifically).
Whatever restrictions the show grappled with were met with a level of creativity that made almost any scene in a given episode devoted to that classic Hollywood achievement, “landing the gag.” To accomplish this, the show employed a technique adapted from the formidable showbiz traditions it so treasured: zaniness. Listen to the great film critic and painter Manny Farber talk about Preston Sturges, one of the most prolific directors in classic Hollywood:
Even in the movies these days, one is confronted by slow-moving premeditated affairs—not so much works of art or entertainments aimed by the intelligence at the glands, blood, and viscera of the audience as exercises in mutual criticism and good taste. The nervous tantrums of slapstick in a Sturges movie, the thoughtless, attention-getting antics combined with their genuine cleverness give them an improvised, blatant immediacy that is preferable to excesses of calculation and is, in the long run, healthier for the artists themselves.
This, of course, is exactly how one can and should praise the zaniness of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Zaniness appears in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as the formal trebuchet launching potentially farcical scenarios that then crash into one another; the show thus abandoned the weight of prestige in exchange for a stylistic rigor akin to that of the greatest screen comedies, like those of Sturges or Howard Hawks. In some ways, the show’s pacing is reflective of the protagonist’s recurring manic states (the result of her borderline personality disorder). But to confuse the ways in which the show might at times mimic these states with a lack of rigor would ignore the sheer discipline with which the series tackled its consistently dizzying speeds.
The understated ease with which the show accomplished such a feat perhaps made audiences mistake it for a light curiosity in the overcrowded landscape of “Peak TV.” But Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was, in reality, a sublime achievement, by artists committed to pushing gags to their breaking point with a dedication that humbly refused to betray its craftsmanship by shining a spotlight on it.
The show needed such zany commitment. How else to hold together all its themes, genres, and characters?
When I first encountered billboards, bus ads, and large posters across Los Angeles, in the summer of 2015, publicizing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s first season, I immediately became suspicious about what a show with such a title could be about. I wasn’t the only one. While spreading the gospel of the series over the years, I’ve found that many people mistakenly believe it’s called My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—assuming that the narrative is told from the perspective of a male protagonist being pursued by that terrifying figure of the cultural imagination: an ex-girlfriend whose inability to let go has driven her to become a mad, vengeful stalker.
And yes, the series starts with the premise that Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) uproots her life in New York to go to West Covina, California, after a chance encounter with Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), with whom she shared a romance-filled summer at camp during their adolescent years. But this description fails to capture what the show actually is. As conceived, executive produced, and written by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is well aware of cultural assumptions about crazy ex-girlfriends and the men who fear them.
The show uses the potentially off-putting associations of its premise to disguise all the things it actually is: a biting feminist satire concerned with female sexuality; a workplace comedy; a heartfelt show about mental illness, friendship, love, and, often, disappointment—all of it filtered through Rebecca’s imagination and her need to processes the world by turning it into that most divisive of genres, the musical.
But there is so much more. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is also a deeply generous ensemble comedy, featuring a cast of misfits who are each treated with reverence despite (indeed, because of) their oddness. But wait, there’s even more! This was one of the few shows to have captured the diversity of Southern California: a place where Latinxs, Asian Americans, and any number of other racial and sexual minorities share suburban landscapes—the same landscapes that another show would have confused for geographic dead-ends. The show was attentive to the relational possibilities of difference, and never smugly patted itself on the back for this. But I’m not done! Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was also one of the most astutely self-aware shows in television history, rivaling The Simpsons in its well-timed winks to its small but fiercely devoted following.
The show juggled all these genres, themes, and characters with admirable, screwball audacity, through its devotion to zaniness. It was thanks to this fiercely eccentric formal tone that the show achieved its madcap speeds, moods, and storylines.
In Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (2012), Sianne Ngai posits that the zany (alongside the interesting and the cute), might be “best suited for grasping how aesthetic experience has been transformed by the hypercommodified, information-saturated, performance-driven conditions of late capitalism.” Using Lucille Ball and Richard Pryor as prime examples, Ngai argues that “the zany more specifically evokes the performance of affective labor—the production of affects and social relationships—as it comes to increasingly trouble the distinction between work and play.”
While I agree with Ngai’s brilliant reading of the zany as an aesthetic mode that produces new kinds of “characters” entangled with post-Fordist modes of production, I am more drawn to how the zany is used in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as in Sturges’s work, to both facilitate and conceal the terrific work of landing gags, again and again and again.
Now, I must admit that, like many who have hesitated to watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I have never been particularly drawn to musicals. So, I was shocked when I found myself listening to the first season’s soundtrack on repeat. And not just the regular soundtrack, but a special edition in which Bloom, Brosh McKenna, and the other two primary songwriters, Adam Schlesinger and Jack Dolgen, discuss the musical writing process in between tracks.
I was drawn to their descriptions of the work that it took to craft every single one of those songs. They treated each one as a specific formal and thematic challenge, discussing jokes, ideas, and genres that fell flat upon first try and were reworked until they landed, abandoned if they failed. I’ve lost count of how many times I have listened to this version of the soundtrack.
Perhaps because of my status as a former wannabe filmmaker and screenwriter, I am still invariably drawn to the unpresuming devotion to process that these writers describe. There’s something almost surprisingly democratic in seeing creative achievement not as a matter of raw, God-given talent, but as the act of sitting down and hammering away at a concept until it works (the only other recent show that has embraced this kind of breakneck commitment—the confidence to breeze through almost extravagantly absurd plot developments—was The Leftovers).
The show’s biggest strength was a complete and utter lack of pretentiousness, in favor of something more interesting, more virtuous.
The inventive feats that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend pulled off reminded me of Farber’s writing on Sturges. Farber, after all, was a staunch proponent of a kind of filmmaking bent on avoiding the gilt culture of grand productions in favor of what he deemed “termite art”: works and performances that burrowed and chewed across the boundaries of its format without any sort of consideration or ambition toward “prestige.”
What Farber recognized in Sturges is the same zany energy that I see in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Just imagine that the show is the subject of Farber’s passage describing the filmmaker’s oeuvre as: “difficult to classify because of the intense effort he has made to keep his work outside of conventional categories. The high-muzzle velocity of his films is due to the anarchic energy generated as they constantly shake themselves free of attitudes that threaten to slow them down. Sturges’s pictures maintain this freedom from ideology through his sophisticated assumption of the role of the ruthless showman deliberately rejecting all notions of esthetic weight and responsibility.”
Farber goes on to argue that “his resourcefulness, intelligence, Barnum-and-Bailey showmanship and dislike of fixed purpose often make the typical Sturges movie seem like a uniquely irritating pastiche.” And indeed, like Sturges’s films, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend risked jumping off narrative cliffs, with its self-awareness and the unstoppable charisma of Bloom’s Rebecca.
Farber’s understanding of Sturges eloquently elucidates the show’s biggest strength: a complete and utter lack of pretentiousness, in favor of something more interesting, more virtuous. And if the show was interested originally in upending and satirizing the romantic comedy delusions that produce the specter of the crazy ex, it soon realized that any attempt to do so had to be grounded in the painstaking attention to detail of its ultimately virtuosic formalism.
One of the most accomplished aspects of the show’s zany aesthetics comes from its subversive understanding of the actor’s craft. A prevailing misconception about what constitutes “good acting” is that there should be a certain, discernable disconnect between what a character is saying and what they are thinking or feeling—that is, that good acting lies in the actor’s capacity to telegraph some sort of conflicting or contradictory interior truth. But Crazy Ex-Girlfriend favors a different approach, allowing emotion to run amok on the characters’ faces, in a way that would be almost cartoon-like if it wasn’t grounded in the emotional truth of its scenes.
For example: In a Season 2 episode, Rebecca takes Josh Chan home to Scarsdale for her cousin’s bar mitzvah; when her mother calls Josh “an oriental,” Rebecca (as played by Bloom) reacts with a loud and embarrassed “Mom!” and an exasperated, exaggerated facial expression. There is no attempt to mask the absurdity of Rebecca’s response to her mother’s equally absurd comment (earlier in the show, a character had remarked that—in an event populated by older white people—it is inevitable that Josh will be referred to as an “oriental”).
The show trusted even its most minor supporting actors to handle the lightning paced, joke-packed dialogue, without having to pad it with unearned layers of meaning. Indeed, one of the most impressive feats of the cast was their ability to smuggle the emotional truth of a line into moments of grandly self-aware delivery. The characters are rendered with an uncanny mix of absurd wackiness and gentle humanity; the genius of the performances was that they never turned to “emotion” to justify actions. Instead, they respect the action, the physical reality of each moment—from cleverly choreographed musical numbers to indomitable throwaway scenes.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was a show uninterested in thinking “outside the box.” Instead, it preferred to explore all of the minute details that made the box work, chewing around its edges with an intensity befitting a cast and crew deeply and respectfully invested in making sure that the gag had been pushed to its logical, zany, conclusion, and then some.
A “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Playlist
Summer Kim Lee and Iván A. Ramos
We had a really hard time choosing songs, and as a result of putting this together, our Spotify and YouTube algorithms have been completely derailed. That aside, by no means is this a compilation that gives all the hits (in our opinion, they’re all hits). We wanted to make a playlist that covers all the show’s music genres and themes, with a rounded sense of the cast and their different narrative arcs and shticks.
The tracks we have chosen run the gamut from essential songs that serve to drive the narrative forward (“West Covina,” “Settle for Me”), to its musical asides (“The Moment is Me,” “I Go to the Zoo”). We hope this playlist will not only resonate with fans of the show, but might also encourage those who, so far, have been indifferent or reluctant to watch (this includes our other friends who remain skeptical). Each of the songs we’ve selected also give a sense of the show’s deft balancing between sincerity and absurdity, self-loathing and self-acceptance, comedy and seriousness.
Rebecca’s songs have been some of the best. After all, without her interior life, the show wouldn’t exist at all. But the show’s breadth derives from the fact that the other characters have been given lives that, just like Rebecca’s, don’t “make narrative sense,” as Josh Groban sings. (Which reminds us, we also can’t believe we’re the makers of a playlist that includes Josh Groban.)
This playlist is also in some ways, for us, an expression of the kinds of ongoing conversations we’ve had about the show over the years, especially in its surprisingly rare depiction of Southern California, where we have lived, and where depression is shaped by sunny landscapes rather than East Coast bleakness; of suburban locales where the utopic and the banal come into contact in the everyday; and, especially, of cross-racial and -ethnic friendships. We’ve often joked that the piece that we would cowrite about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would be called “Nobody Knows We’re Friends” partly motivated by the show’s casual depiction of the ways in which Asian American and Latinx life-worlds come into contact along the famously unwieldy freeway corridors that define so much of life in a place like West Covina.
It’s not that the songs we selected are about this—the show rarely, if ever, attempted self-congratulatory gestures that brought attention to its commitment to something we could call “diversity.” Instead, the show and its songs lingered on the specificity of minoritarian existence, choosing to render it through almost imperceptible details, like the boba stand that was a recurring hangout spot for the characters.
For us, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend paid tribute to its SoCal setting in the pleasantly unexceptional, funny, at times antagonistic, yet always rewarding friendships that sprouted among its characters in a way that felt sweetly specific to the both of us, who have spent a majority of our lives in Southern California.
We’re not saying that the show is what brought us together, it’s that in our years of watching together remotely, always from somewhere other than the SoCal we call home, the show gave us moments of shared, conspiratorial recognition that we can only call friendship.
This article was commissioned by Sarah Kessler.
- Erving Goffman, “Embarrassment and Social Organization,” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 62, no. 3 (November 1956), p. 269. ↩
- Embarrassment is akin to shame, but not reducible to it. Whereas queer theorists describe shame as simultaneously constitutive and disruptive of the self’s identity, Nick Salvato points out that embarrassment is more situationally specific than identity would have it. See Nick Salvato, Obstruction (Duke University Press, 2016); Douglas Crimp, “Mario Montez, for Shame,” in Regarding Sedgwick: Essays on Queer Culture and Critical Theory, edited by Stephen M. Barber and David L. Clark (Routledge, 2002); Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Duke University Press, 2002); Michael Warner, The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life (Harvard University Press, 1999); Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Shame and Its Sisters (Duke University Press, 1995). ↩