“Let’s generalize about men.” No, this isn’t a conversation starter — even though I could go on for hours. It’s actually a hit song from the CW masterpiece “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Yeah, believe it or not, something good came out of the CW network: a musical dramedy that follows a quirky female lead named Rebecca Bunch, a Jewish lawyer with an affinity for singing her feelings, internalizing her anxieties and chasing an emotionally unavailable love interest named Josh Chan.
Rachel Bloom directs, produces and stars as the lead in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” with the intention of advocating for contemporary issues, primarily mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, around one in five, specifically 18.5 percent, of Americans suffer from mental illness each year. These stats deserve some authentic media attention, and Rachel Bloom provides that in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
Bloom has said that she herself has experienced mental illness, and her history with that drives her advocacy in the show. The protagonist of the show, Rebecca Bunch, has a wide variety of mental health issues including depression, anxiety and most recently, borderline personality disorder.
A persistent stereotype that surrounds both women and those with mental illnesses is that they’re “crazy.” This terminology stigmatizes mental illnesses in two important ways. First, it does not draw a distinction between being emotional and having a mental illness. Second, it suggests that those suffering from a mental illness are crazy, which simplifies the actual illness and hyperbolizes its behaviors.
Rebecca Bunch has her fair share of mental health issues, as well as a history of personal trauma, but she is portrayed as someone who anyone with mental health issues wants to be perceived as: human.
She is troubled and flawed, but she is also thoughtful, intelligent, funny and passionate. She ironically counteracts the “crazy ex-gf” label she’s been given by acknowledging her own mental health issues, but dealing with them in a way that is actually realistic and inherently imperfect.
She is sometimes unwilling to see a therapist, and occasionally neglects taking her medicine, because taking charge of one’s own mental health is hard. It requires accepting that one’s thoughts aren’t “normal” — which is something that everyone, but especially those with mental illnesses, want to be. Sometimes it takes a breakdown for Rebecca to re-evaluate her behaviors. Sometimes her unhealthy behaviors escalate until they crash and burn and make her re-evaluate them, and create some beautiful music in the process, such as this rendition of “You Stupid Bitch”:
Rachel Bloom counteracts the “crazy” stigma by depicting Rebecca Bunch as both an empowered woman and a woman who suffers from mental illnesses as realistically as possible. The show is comedic, but it does not make a joke out of mental health, nor does it offer a quick fix. It gets dark. It offers audience members the opportunity to think critically about Rebecca’s actions and the thought processes that motivate them. It encourages us to drop “crazy” out of our vocabulary and focus our jokes on something more appropriate than mental health.