“I think there are a lot more people that love musical theater than one will admit,” Jayme Andrews told me just after a Comic-Con panel for CW show Crazy-Ex Girlfriend let out Thursday afternoon.
I’d stood in line with Andrews and Sarah Pohl, a couple from Los Angeles, and we’d gawked at the sheer number of people who snaked up and down multiple hallways, out the door and under a tent at San Diego Comic-Con International, all to see co-creator Rachel Bloom, showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna, and actor Michael McMillian talk about the final season of the musical comedy show.
A long line at Comic-Con isn’t necessarily news. Moreso, it’s evidence that Comic-Con isn’t exclusive to swords and superheroes these days.
It’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s first year at Comic-Con. In a way, it’s hard to imagine that it’s taken this long to get there. If Comic-Con is a coming together of a wide swath of fandoms, then it would make sense Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would have a spot for one chief reason: Theater nerds.
For the unfamiliar, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a television series about a lawyer named Rebecca Bunch (played by co-creator Rachel Bloom) who, on a whim, moves from New York City to West Covina, California after running into a high school boyfriend who lives there. She is obsessive in a way we later learn isn’t merely an uncomfortable stereotype of love-sick women.
In a 2017 interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Bloom explained the thinking behind the series:
“We wanted to take something that felt like a romantic comedy trope and then explore beneath it,” she said. “So, a woman gives everything up for love, partially because women are sold this bill of goods about how love will solve everything. But also, if you let love solve everything for you, you have a lot of problems.”
If you didn’t know that going in, you’d be forgiven for thinking the show just wasn’t going to work. If nothing else, who could pull off writing musical numbers every week that definitely don’t drag the show down?
What the past three seasons have shown is that Bloom and company can and do.
One of the reasons their songs are so successful is they’re strongly rooted in a love and synthesis of musical theater.
If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice songs reference everything from Chicago, Les Miserables, Mama Mia, Dreamgirls, the Music Man, Hair Spray, Footloose and even High School Musical.
“[The songs] always come to her brain as musical theater,” said showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna said during the panel, calling Bloom’s hold on the topic “truly prodigious.”
Bloom co-writes the songs on the show not quite as send-ups, but as an extra layer of meaning for what the song it actually about.
In season one, Rebecca and her coworkers at her law firm are trying to get class action lawsuit going against a landlord for not repairing the hot water in an apartment complex. In rallying the residents, they go full Harold Hill from The Music Man with “Cold Showers,” ginning up some absurd connection between cold showers and ending up on drugs. It’s ridiculous, in itself, and if you’ve know The Music Man, you know Hill made the same moves, linking a town’s lack of a boys’ band to delinquency and moral decay.
Or there’s “Angry Mad,” a Footloose-esque number where character Josh Chan just does a lot of martial arts moves to lines like “My heart is hurting and it feels… bad! Punching! Feeling! Crying!” Kevin Bacon’s rage dance around that warehouse in Footloose could probably be summed up in a similar collection of words.
That’s not to say all the references are to musicals, but Bloom takes the same tack whether she’s riffing on Bruno Mars, 80s power ballads or boy band-style pop.
Take “Settle For Me,” also from season one. Bloom frames the romantic advances of Greg (Santino Fontana) toward Rebecca, in spite of the fact he knows she’s interested in his best friend, as a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers number. Shot in black and white, complete with tuxedo and twirling— the contrast of what would otherwise be old-fashioned-sweep-you-off-your-feet-romance with resignation and a splash of self-loathing on Greg’s part is pretty devastating.
You don’t have to get all the references to enjoy the show, the way you don’t have to know that co-stars Vincent Rodriguez III, Donna Lynne Champlin and the aforementioned Fontana have all been on Broadway themselves. Fontana, who exited after the first season, was even nominated for a Tony in 2013 for Cinderella. You just know they’re good.
But that’s part of the sometimes-obnoxious joy of fandom— getting all those little (and big) references.
For Pohl and Andrews, the musical theater aspect has been one of the main reasons they watch the show. Pohl has a background in musical theater herself, and Andrews acts.
“Thespians feel like we’re these weirdos— but there’s this collection of weirdos who love the same thing,” Pohl said. “I love that.”
The final season of Crazy-Ex Girlfriend starts Oct. 18.
: We’re headed to the epic entertainment geekfest, and bringing you all the latest.
: Check out the highlights from the show.