You’d be ‘Crazy’ to Miss the Most Jewish Show on TV No One Is Watching


When you think of Jewish representation on TV, the examples are limited. Seinfeld obviously would be the first thing to come to mind, but apart from that, Jewish characters are usually only represented by stereotypes, with the dramatic exception of Amazon’s Transparent.

Enter Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a new show on the CW network created by and starring Rachel Bloom — who just racked up a Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice award for her portrayal of Rebecca Bunch, the show’s title character.

The show follows Bunch, a Jewish lawyer in New York. She’s successful but unhappy, and picks up and moves to West Covina, Calif., to find a new life after a run-in with her high school ex-boyfriend, Josh Chan, who informed her that’s where he lives.

The show tackles feminism and Judaism upfront — and quite loudly.

Also of note: the show can sometimes seem like a small-screen Broadway musical, where the characters burst into song — because everyone knows song is the best way to express feeling. Some standouts include “Settle For Me,” which includes the stellar lyrics, “Yes, Josh is a dream/but I’m right here in flesh and blood and self-hate,” and the impossibly catchy “Sex With a Stranger,” with its refrain “Please don’t be a murderer.”

While her initial move to California was a not-so-subtle effort to follow Josh, she is tasked with finding a new job, new friends and, most importantly, her happiness — something she never discovered in New York.

She dealt with anxiety and frequent panic attacks about her success and her life. She takes pills she finds on a bathroom floor. She tries to steal her therapist’s prescription pad only to get stuck in her doggie door. Dr. Phil even shows up in a cameo you will find funny and charming whatever your feelings about the talk show therapist.

Rebecca moving across the country and finding her own new life — where Josh just happens to live, and where he is also already in a serious relationship with someone else — also shatters the notion of the “crazy ex-girlfriend.” Sure, it’s the title, but it’s much more than that — as Rebecca sings in the opening credits, “that’s a sexist term.”

That bit in particular is very important, because it is a sexist term. Had the roles been reversed and Josh Chan moved from California to New York to find his One True Love in his ex-girlfriend Rebecca who was in a serious relationship, it would be — as every rom-com has led us to believe — Very Romantic or, alternatively, Super Creepy. But since it’s Rebecca doing the moving, it’s either totally OK, or she must be Crazy.

In an article in Time, Bloom discusses how the show flips the Bechdel Test — which requires that two women are on screen at the same time, having a conversation that does not revolve around men — on its head and examines how gender is treated. This is seen most vividly through Rebecca’s friendship with her rival-turned-office wife, Paula Proctor, a relationship that is truly at the heart of the show.

“If you watch the show,” she said, “you’re going to know very quickly that the title is a commentary, and that we’re deconstructing that label from a female point of view.”

She also noted that the show could be an educational tool for those who take the title in its most literal sense.

“Like, ‘Oh, when I called my ex a “crazy bitch,” I wasn’t considering that she was actually mentally unstable, and also I was a pretty bad boyfriend who led her to this place.’ Enlightening people is lofty, but definitely a goal,” Bloom said.

Judaism is used in the show more often as a plotline than a punchline like in other shows. (See: every joke Schmidt makes on New Girl.)

Sure, the show definitely can mine aspects of Judaism for laughs and certainly relies on neurosis, but it’s not just comments about how surprisingly small Rebecca’s nose is (though her boss does comment on that in the pilot episode, to his subsequent regret). There is a universal recognition in each situation.

In the same Time article, Bloom commented on the Jewish nature of the show and how it embraces typical Jewish characteristics, particularly that of survival:

“I grew up in L.A. and lived in New York,” Bloom said in the interview, “so for me, everyone’s Jewish. I’m Jewish, Aline [Brosh-McKenna, the show’s co-creator] is Jewish, there’s a Jewish sensibility to what we do. There’s a neurosis there, there’s a self-hatred, there’s an aspiration to assimilate, but at the same time, the aspiration to keep oneself an ‘other.’ We write what we know.”

Furthering that point, Rebecca’s mother, brilliantly played by Tovah Feldshuh, at one point reminds Rebecca, “our people are not about happy — our people are about survival.”

Actually, while we’re on that topic, let’s talk about her mother.

Mrs. Bunch comes to visit her daughter in a later episode, still not quite understanding why she had to move all the way across the country to find her happiness, and she storms through Rebecca’s front door asking where the bathroom is. Of course, this is done through a musical number whose opening bars sound like they would fit right into the score of Fiddler on the Roof.

Instead of pausing to let Rebecca tell her where the bathroom is, Mrs. Bunch continues to critique and question every move Rebecca makes — and gossip about why their synagogue is boycotting cheddar cheese after a bishop in Wisconsin made anti-Semitic comments.

In this song, you will find every question a Jewish mother has ever asked — with love, of course — and the familiar look of exasperation on Rebecca’s face is sure to resonate.

“I see your eczema is back/Are you using that lotion I sent you?” “Do you ever get a maid here?” “You call that a bathroom? There were no bowls of rocks or decorative soaps!” And the kicker: “Don’t interrupt me/Give me a moment to catch my breath/It’s the least you could do/You lived inside me for nine months.”

Before we formally meet her, Mrs. Bunch constantly calls/FaceTimes Rebecca. One time Rebecca answers, only to be bombarded with news about Rebecca’s “frenemy” Audra Levine (presumably Jewish), who got the promotion Rebecca could have had if she didn’t move, who got engaged to a hedge-fund manager, who has the life Mrs. Bunch wants for her daughter. There’s always an Audra Levine.

As Rebecca prepares for her mother’s arrival, she decorates her apartment with Chanukah accessories, including a menorah, dreidel, and a banner that reads “Happy Hanukkah.” Actually, she hangs three different banners that each spell the holiday differently — Hanukkah, Hanukah, Chanukah — as Rebecca ponders, “Which one of you is right?” A question everyone has surely grappled with.

A sampling of some of the best “Jewish Mom”isms:

  • When she finds a stack of condoms by Rebecca’s bedside table, Mrs. Bunch reminds her daughter, “You won’t get a husband this way.”
  • During a flashback to Rebecca’s ancestors in 1901 — in a scene spoken entirely in Yiddish — a mother says to her daughter as they are on a boat heading for America, “I know we are fleeing, but you couldn’t comb your hair?”
  • When Rebecca offers to pick her mother up from the airport, Mrs. Bunch turns her down, as Rebecca is starting to drive “like the grandma I’ll never be.”

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend returns to the CW Jan. 25.

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