If I’m going to invent blog post series for myself to write about, then getting to talk about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a serious perk. I’ve been wanting to do a nerdy take on dramaturgy in this show for a while, so let’s go. I’m going to start with a song and it’s reprise – ‘The New Guy’, as it’s a) ridiculous and b) delightful.
So TVTropes.org, as well as being an internet black hole of delight, has a wonderful concept of lampshade hanging which basically means drawing attention to the thing that’s happening with a nod and a wink to the audience. This whole number does that by playing with the idea that they are singing in a musical TV show, while of course not doing that. The joke of using TV cliches ‘do we really need a new guy so far into the season’ ‘is this some desperate move to help our ratings?’ to call out attention to Nathaniel’s arrival as a protagonist and potential match for Rebecca.
Each time the tv phrase is used it is immediately explained away, so the season becomes fall, our ratings ‘our terrible ratings on legalscores.com’ – each time the song offers an excuse, it gets funnier and more ridiculous. It is essentially a list song, and not for nothing, it’s very short (1 minute 50) – it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Maybe the most painful and closest to the bone joke is ‘Why should we root for someone male, straight and white?’ (There’s a #feministkilljoy number to be done on the fact that calling attention to the fact that we know he is male straight and white doesn’t do much about the fact that he is those things, and he’s very much at the centre of the story from the beginning).
The thing that Crazy Ex does so well – and it draws on the musical to do so – is layering of songs, tropes and information. So this song, a series later, gets reprised again when Rebecca is trying to win over her friends (who now, are themselves friends with Nathan) to remember when they were originally distrustful of the ‘suspiciously good looking in ways that normal people are not’ ‘new guy’.
Rebecca calls back to the original song (even though she wasn’t there when it was sung): using exactly the same tropes of mentioning the TV lingo and then pulling back ‘there was that scene’ ‘and by scene I mean’… ‘just because now he became a season regular, by season regular, I mean he eats bran in the Spring’. At the end of the song, Rebecca sings (having vaguely convinced her unwilling colleagues to turn against Nathan) ‘he’s an evil sociopath who has tricked you into liking him, why else do you think I’m singing this reprise’. So now we have this double layering, where it’s not only the TV show but the fact of it being a musical that is being offered as the joke – Rebecca can’t get out of the mention of the reprise, ‘and by singing this reprise I mean, whatever, just don’t think about it’.
Crazy Ex Girlfriend has a remarkably loose relationship to the structures of the musical – there are numbers which are clearly imaginary yet also seem to happen in real time; numbers which are plain old dream sequences; numbers where the characters know they are singing; songs which anyone in the vicinity can hear, or not hear… in short, it breaks every rule about consistency within musicals. Songs happen, sometimes dance happens, and it’s all kind of okay and makes some kind of sense without having to have internal consistency.
Think about other special TV episodes of musicals, if you’re old enough to remember Buffy ‘Once more with feeling’ and if you aren’t go and watch it immediately, it’s a delight, the ‘hook’ is that the demon has tricked the town into singing. Scrubs’s musical episode has someone with a brain tumour (so people only sing in her presence). But Crazy Ex does something very different with song and structure that I want to look at over the next few weeks.