TV Review: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is still so a big deal

Rachel Bloom, creator and star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, won her first Emmy last week at the 2019 awards for “Antipressants Are So Not a Big Deal”, a riff on La La Land that’s about – well, the title’s pretty clear.

Almost every media article is talking about the fact Rachel Bloom announced she was pregnant at the Emmy’s. I’m not going to. I’m going to talk about the show.

Note the La La Land esque costumes

For those who haven’t watched the show, a basic summary: New York lawyer Rebecca Bunch moves to West Covina (just a short three hours from the beach!) to chase Josh, a boy she briefly dated in summer camp when she was twelve. Shockingly, it’s not really about the boy. Rebecca just might have some other issues going on… 

I know people who were put off watching by the title. Let me tell you now that none of the stereotypes of the show, including the titular one, stay as stereotypes by the end.

To appreciate Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, you have to appreciate how crazy the ambition for this show was from the start. For me the first season, aired in 2015, was such a surprising delight, and still, four years later, is incredibly distinctive.

Why? There’s the obvious elements that make this show: the feminism, the hilarious musical numbers, the awesomeness of Paula and Greg. But let’s narrow in.

Rebecca Bunch: She has friends

In an early episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, our heroine Rebecca begins singing in a childlike voice alongside her younger self. “We have friends,” Rebecca and her school-age self insist together in the obstinately cheerful chorus. “We definitely have friends”. Increasingly distant acquaintances (“The janitor!” “The grocery clerk!” “A friend of a friend from law school?”) are shoved in front of the camera as evidence of these totally stable and numerous friendships.

Naturally, we start to worry. We start to see a legacy of loneliness in Rebecca, from high school to present day. We realise how pervasive the need to appear to have friends is. All in a happy little tune. It is one of the show’s simplest songs, without engaging pop or country melodies, but within it we can see the season as a whole.

Because the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend revolves around denial.

Rebecca Bunch: She’s a good person

Take the song “I’m a Good Person”. In it, Rebecca insists she’s a good person and inadvertently that reminds us of all the ways she’s not:

“I’m a good person, yes it’s true

I’m a good person, so much better than you

(and you)

(and you and you and you).”

“I’m a Good Person”, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

The song kicks up a notch as Rebecca threatens a woman in the bar, her voice descended to a gravelly pitch: “Say it / Say it or I’ll gut your husband with a knife.” And then back to the cheerful ditty of “I’m a good person.” Oh, Rebecca. Yes, she’s crazy, but she highlights so many of the lies we tell ourselves. Ethics are not a competition. The stories told in rom-coms and Disney movies aren’t real. Rebecca doesn’t, really, have many friends.

And for all the denial, there is no moment of denying that this is what the show is about. An anti-hero. A woman struggling. An at-times terrible person, who does cruel things to people she believes she loves. 

Rebecca Bunch: She’s crazy

In the fifth episode, a minor character Rebecca has wronged in her frantic quest to prove that she is a good person asks her: “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Off the top of my head,” Rebecca replies, “I’d say low self-esteem, a lack of maternal affection and a genetic predisposition for anxiety and depression.”

That’s the type of show this is. It’s hilarious, but so much of that humour comes from darkness. From all the ways Rebecca realises and doesn’t realise how she’s falling apart. 

The first season is the lightest of the four: all these issues remain in the denial phase. We have the vicious self-hate of “Stupid Bitch”, a contender for the best song of the show, but not the bleakness of the second and third season, when Rebecca spirals further and further downwards.

The first season is also my favourite. In the darkest parts of the show’s later seasons I no longer cared about Rebecca’s drama-of-the-week shenanigans, I just wanted her to get help. The show needed, and earned, that bleakness. But in the opening season Rebecca is at a delightful precipice where we can half-live in her fantasies, half the reality. We can deny to ourselves how serious her problems are, and laugh along. 

Then the show turns and laughs at us, because doesn’t that denial make us just like her? What makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend work is how it reminds us how similar we are to its anti-heroine. And that, my internet friends, is a big deal.

The three songs picked here were the best for my argument, but definitely not the best of the show. Looking for the top 10 songs from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Find my thoughts on it here.

And if you enjoyed this post, why not follow Steeped in Fiction?

10 Books I’ll be reading this Autumn

Top Ten Tuesday can be found at That Artsy Reader Girl. It was born out of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This is my first time trying a book tag – I thought Autumn TBR gave the perfect chance to see what everyone else will be reading in the next few months.

Because I’m (mostly) optimistic, I’ll be starting with the ‘should reads’ and moving on progressively to the fun ones.

Literary 📚

1. Autumn by Ali Smith 🍁

I have somehow found myself reading Smith’s seasonal quartet out of order – I just finished Winter while on an incredibly sunny holiday in Italy. I want to get this one right.

Winter… was a mixed read for me. I think Ali Smith does some things very very well – most clearly theme and wordplay. But other elements, like pace and even to a degree character-building, risk getting lost in that focus.

Still, a lot of reviewers on Goodreads preferred Autumn to its sequel, so I’m hopeful. (Also, I heard Ali Smith talk in Cambridge once and she was very interesting & down-to-earth so the author is very much not dead in my book selection choices.)

Excitement level: a measly 😻😻 / 5 – and most of that’s the cover.

2. the witch doesn’t burn in this one by Amanda Lovelace

In a bid to read more poetry, I brought this box set of collected Faber titles on holiday. The tiny poetry collections make surprisingly good holiday reads. You can quickly decide whether you enjoy each poet – Wendy Cope’s first collection was particularly good fun. I also read Amanda Lovelace’s the princess saves herself in this one – a quick read, enjoyable yet emotional – so I might try her follow-up. I’m a poetry novice though so I’m up for any recommendations.

Excitement level: 😻😻😻 / 5

3. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (reluctantly)

I used to be a huge fan of Atwood. Recently she’s been getting so much hype that its off-putting – the way when you hear a song ridiculously often, in shops, on the radio, among friends, you just want to get away from it? Plus her last release, Hag-Seed, disappointed me. I’ll probably end up reading Testaments – that’s why it’s on here – but I’ll try to borrow it from a friend rather than buy firsthand.

Excitement level: 🤷‍♀️ WHO KNOWS MARGARET, WHO KNOWS

Sci-fi & Fantasy 🔮⚔️🚀

4. To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Ah at last a Becky Chambers book with a manageable title! Moving on to more fun reads here, this is likely the first I’ll dive into. My friend Sarah adores Becky Chambers. I found the rag-tag space adventure ensemble vibe of her trilogy, paired with excellent characters, lots of fun. It was like Firefly!

(Yes, there’s slightly less humour, but there’s world-building! And gay!)

This novella is set in an entirely different universe but I’m hopeful some of the same elements will shine through. Plus, Becky Chambers’ short story linked to on her website is a delight – you can read it here.

Excitement level: 😻😻😻😻😻 / 5

5. The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft

This novel is currently in the post on a verrry slow delivery.

*Gah*

The Hod King is the third in what I think will become a quadropoly (not a word?). Book one, Senlin Ascends, was such an unusual take on the fantasy genre. You can tell it was originally self-published in the best way – because it’s different from everything else on my book shelves, not because it’s in any way substandard.

What makes me enjoy them so much? I love how silly and pretentious the main protagonist Senlin is – I love the fact he is clearly written for us to partly laugh at him. Plus, Josiah Bancroft originally wanted to be a poet and you can tell it in how he builds the language. The real reason to dive into these books though is the world-building. The sequel unusually lived up to the promises of the first novel, so I’m excited for the third.

Excitement level: 😻😻😻😻😻 / 5

6. Sealed by Naomi Booth

I did a book swap with my friend Sarah: I gave her Embers of War, which I actually got signed by Gareth Powell at Edinburgh’s fantasy festival. She passed over Sealed, which she gave a 5* star review on Goodreads. The cover is fab, but I’m not that inspired by the premise yet. I’m not a huge fan of near-future dystopic / plague-ridden world’s generally. But here’s a positive review by Shoreline of Infinity if you are intrigued.

Excitement level: 😻😻 / 5 (Sorry Sarah)

Young Adult

7. Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell

aaaaaaaahhh

It’s about Deja and Josiah’s last season together at the “best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world.” It looks so incredibly sweet.

It looks like it is the book equivalent to a pumpkin spice chai tea. So yeah, I’m unashamedly going to read this one.

Urban Fantasy/ Romance ❣

8. Something by Courtney Milan.

I don’t really read romances. I usually attempt them and then promptly DNF. But I read and enjoyed Trade Me a year ago and sped through The Duchess War in one evening last week.

So if you have any Courtney Milan recommendations, let me know!

9. Ilona Andrews & Tamora Pierce, the entire works of…

I always do kinda high-and-mighty TBR lists in my head, but the truth is I will probably try out a bunch of new urban fantasy novels when I am feeling that vibe, then get impatient with them, and instead reread a bunch of old favourites. Ilona Andrew is actually releasing a new book this fall, which leads me to my final pick…

10. Iron and Magic 2 (title tbc) by Ilona Andrews

The reason this isn’t higher up is because Iron and Magic was the first Ilona Andrews book that I didn’t love. I became a little frustrated towards the end of the Kate Daniels series but those books were still really enjoyable. Iron and Magic though? It didn’t work for me. I’ll read the sequel anyway of course – I have a lot of faith in the authors (can you tell I love Ilona Andrews?).

Plus – a spark of hope! When they were writing Iron and Magic they were juggling four series at once – Kate Daniels, the Innkeeper Chronicles, Hidden Legacy and Iron and Magic. Hopefully now it’s narrowed down to (as far as I know) Iron and Magic plus the Hidden Legacy series. Hopefully they’ll be able to concentrate on making this one a win.

Excitement level: let’s give it a tentative 😍😍😍 / 5


What are you planning to read this Autumn? Are there any books you don’t plan to read but know you secretly will? Let me know in the comments below!

Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Carry On’ & how ‘Wayward Son’ needs to outdo it

Rainbow Rowell’s Wayward Son, is out on the 24th September. i.e. TOMORROW. Cue much flailing. Goodreads already has nearly 400 reviews for Wayward Sonbefore anyone has read it. Let’s just say: there’s a lot of excitement to live up to.

But I have… kinda mixed feelings. And to explain that, we have to look back at Carry On, the first novel fully devoted to Simon Snow.

The Good: Simon & Baz flailing charmingly

The best word I have to describe characters in Rainbow Rowell novels is “warm”. They’re gentle, they’re complex, and they feel real. I don’t read much YA anymore, but I still read her – in fact I ordered Pumpkin Heads yesterday, which I think will bring me up to date on, oh, everything she’s ever written (calm, calm).

As for the romance in Carry On? It’s fabulously angsty and just a touch unconventional: two gay magicians, one of which is a vampire, the other of which is a very messed up chosen-one. More importantly, it makes you remember how it feels to be so totally into someone and no hope of them returning it. A little pining doesn’t begin to describe it – this is a novel where every page pines.

rowell carry on 2

What Carry On does well, it does really well. If you focus on this novel’s heart, its on-point dialogue, which is definitely Rowell’s strongest form, and its quiet subversions of the ‘chosen-one’ fantasy genre, it holds together brilliantly.

The Bad: too much a fanfiction?

Yet.

Unfortunately, there is a yet. This isn’t the standard dismissal of Carry On as leaning too much on Harry Potter, even though it really, really, does.

It’s about what you miss when you do lean heavily on another work.

Fangirl, the book which brought Simon and his vampire love Baz into the world, was an absolute favourite for me – partly because it talked about fan and geek culture in a way that was new to mainstream YA.

Carry On feels a lot more derivative. By avoiding describing a wizarding school exactly like Hogwarts, Rainbow Rowell seems to simply… not describe it. The fantasy world is pretty far in the background for a lot of the novel, the interesting political analogies in J.K. Rowling’s work are largely ignored, and I can’t help feeling this strays a little (a lot) too close to borrowing, not really from Harry Potter, but from the tropes of Harry/Draco fanfiction.

The hair is different though. I give you that.

Which is great in a way. Shoutout to the mainstream-ing (is that a word?) of fanfiction, and an appreciation of all the interesting writing that happens within it, predominately by young women. But… shouldn’t Rainbow Rowell then have written this as a fanfiction? Or at least a freebie on her website? I realise the economic restraints, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling that ‘inspired by Harry/Draco fanfiction’ here means ‘would have worked better as a Harry/Draco fanfiction’.

The way magic in Carry On relies on idioms and songs is a cool idea, I totally give that, but a lot of fanfictions introduce cool ideas. And if it had been written as pure Harry/Draco, it would have allowed Rowell to use the fantasy world she’s clearly echoing, rather than assuming every reader’s knowledge of it without every really acknowledging that…

*Retreats back from rant*

The waiting-for-awesome-to-come: Wayward Son

If you focus on the fun, flailing-in-pine romance in Carry On, none of that really matters. But the more she writes in this world, the more I want it to be a world – a fully developed one, with all the characters as well characterised as Simon’s awesome best friend Penny.

Carry On is warm, and gentle, and frequently hilarious. But I’m hoping in Wayward Son we’ll see the world and the wizards pushed way past J.K. Rowling’s domain. Because all of Rainbow Rowell’s talents plus an intriguingly explored fantasy world? I’d be the first to sign up.

Carry On: ☺️☺️☺️ / 5

Wayward Son: ?????


Let me know what you think on this! Am I being too harsh? (Hush, there’s no such thing. It’s… positive criticism?).

Either way, have some lovely quotations from Carry On and drawings of the dashing pair as a reward for putting up with my cynicism.

 “Just when you think you’re having a scene without Simon, he drops in to remind you that everyone else is a supporting character in his catastrophe.”

“I know Simon and I will always be enemies…
But I thought maybe we’d get to a point where we didn’t want to be.”

aghhhhhh the feels

Oh, and this my first proper post on this blog! So give it a browse & let me know what you think 🙂 If you liked this post you can follow Steeped in Fiction – there’s a button on the sidebar 😍

Credit to Salri on DeviantArt for the Harry/Draco art and go to dancingwithdinosaur on Tumblr for more beautiful drawings of Simon & Baz.

Find Rainbow Rowell talking about Wayward Son here.

Welcome to Critically Consumed!

I’ll be here analysing fiction while drinking the glorious beverage that is good ol’ English Breakfast tea.

*waves to the world*

*sips tea*

What will I be discussing?

I’m a pretty eclectic reader and Netflix-consumer, but character-based fantasy and sci-fi are my favourite jam.

Mostly, I’m searching for fiction that reads like something you pick up for fun but has depth that lasts. An intriguingly imagined fantastical world added into the mix? I’m exceedingly happy.

When will I post?

I have a tendency to start creative projects and then find that they… um… disappear. So I will be posting every Tuesday evening on schedule.

If you don’t hear from me then, you can barge up to my website-door, knock loudly, and leave an angry Tripadvisor review about deceiving opening hours.

Who am I?

I’m pop-culture-consumed girl in my twenties.

To give you a flavour of my tastes, here’s some of the books I’ve read this month:

What will I post? Here is a guide to the next three Tuesdays:

  • TV Review: after Rachel Bloom’s Emmy win for Season 4’s La La Land parody “Antipressants are so not a big deal”, “Why Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is still so a big deal”
  • Ilona Andrews: my brain vs. my heart” on what keeps me coming back to their books (and fantastic author’s blog!) every time.

If you’ve read to the bottom of this, you’re clearly awesome, so type in your email & my next post can slide into your inbox 🙂