Rachel Bloom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s creator and star, has commented before about the fetishization of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe—namely, depressed, beautiful, fragile, even childlike women. They’re the perfect level of vulnerable to play into the worst predations of masculinity and have famous enough images to be admired by some women. This fantasy, romanticizing dangerous, sad, destructive things, is the mindset that fuels the show’s plot and infects the otherwise rational mind of its protagonist.
If anything, it’s selfishness—and a predilection for buying into a worldview that reinforces this selfishness. In the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes parody in “All Signs Point to Josh… Or Is It Josh’s Friend?” Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) inhabits the idolized center of male attention co-opted from Monroe by Madonna and Nicole Kidman. Wearing the “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” rocks, gloves, and Marilyn bob, Rebecca lives out her delusion in a song where the male dancers aren’t just fawning scenery, but the voice of reason.
Of course, we find out at the end of the song that they’re all gay, and thus immune to her babyish charms.
White Josh (David Hull) himself has become a queer voice of reason in the show’s second season, deflecting the straight drama around him while continuing to nurture, with Darryl (Pete Gardner), Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s healthiest relationship, and the song similarly critiques the straight characters’ judgment when Hollywood fantasies of sex and love are on the table. As long as a fairy tale or rom-com romance is available (like the ones straight people have had sold to them by mass entertainment since, well, forever), normally sane individuals continually make terrible choices.
Greg (Santino Fontana) and Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) are also caught up in the dream of perfect love, but both have been buffeted by their incompatibility with Rebecca’s preconceptions. The show’s queer characters have already had to face their sexual realities in a world of prejudice—which, the show seems to argue, allows them to face love more maturely. The polyamorous trio dampening Rebecca’s cold-open fantasy relationship is a direct rebuttal to her romantic reveries, as are the backup singers’ professorial asides during “Love Triangles.”
“When you do comedy music, it’s a different headspace than if you’re just doing music,” as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s music producer, Adam Schlesinger, formerly of Fountains of Wayne, recently told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re mostly thinking: Is something going to distract from the joke? You don’t want anybody to mostly be thinking about the music at all. It’s the straight man of the joke.”
Schlesinger’s well versed in creating musical comedy, writing everything from the 2011 Tony Awards ceremony’s “It’s Not Just For Gays Anymore” to eight songs for Stephen Colbert’s television special A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!
The music here is a straight man, and so, despite their sexual orientation, are the ten elbow-patched and bespectacled geometricians singing alongside Rebecca. The period jazz sets the mood for us to see Rebecca’s stubborn stupidity in a clearer light. It’s a parody of a persona invented for the male gaze, but Rebecca’s been so obsessed with perfect love that she’s legitimately bought into it. Just like the girls you knew in high school that fetishized Monroe’s studio image.
The in-song meta-discussion between Rebecca and her backup singers is as hilarious as any song the show’s had, hitting in the center of its strengths: the cleverness, the puns, the dissection of musical culture. The growing frustration of the singers trying to teach her “man-math” culminates with Rebecca failing to count, admitting to having a learning disability, and embracing the “sexy little baby” guise.
That this bleeds into her conversation with her therapist, Dr. Akopian (Michael Hyatt), is just another of the slippages between Rebecca’s fantasy life and her reality, ready for another round of consequences as she continues to repel even the least mature around her.
Akopian’s post-song diagnosis—fitting that this song takes the place of her opening up to her therapist—highlights both the mental health concerns and romantic fallacies that serve as the foundation of the series. While Greg and Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) face obstacles to overcoming their respective alcoholism and self-esteem issues, Rebecca hasn’t had to face any roadblocks that she couldn’t weasel around with zany antics.
When that day comes (and if the episode’s last scene tells us anything, that day is coming soon), the show’s challenge will be allowing its main character to grow beyond a lovesick caricature—a much different caricature than the ones it parodies, but a caricature nonetheless.
Jacob Oller is a writer and film critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, Playboy, Roger Ebert, Film School Rejects, Chicagoist, Vague Visages, and other publications. He lives in Chicago, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and struggles not to kill his two cats daily. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.