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Dream Ghost.jpg

'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' Review: When Good Storytelling Clashes With Real Life

By Emily Cutler | TV | March 23, 2016 |

By Emily Cutler | TV | March 23, 2016 |

You’ve all seen this week’s episode of Crazy Ex-GirlFriend, right? After nailing the plot twist last week, I was really hoping they would continue with the Rebecca’s-life-has-become-unmanageable. After discovering that she is both broke and the villain in her own story, Rebecca and her untreated/ possibly unrealized mental health issues were on another impromptu flight, and in the middle of an intensive 5 hour therapy session with Dr. Akopian. Oh, you don’t remember Dr. Akopian? That’s because she was only in one episode way back when Rebecca realized she might actually need the meds that she’d dumped upon arrival in West Covina.

But even that therapy session was a ruse given that the show pulled a self- confessed well worn trope: The Dream Ghost. Yes, with Dream Ghost Dr. Akopian’s help, Rebecca was able to revisit both her preteen and college selves, reinterpret the meaning of those turning points, reconognize that she both has love and is loved in her life, and that she doesn’t actually love Josh the way she believed she did. Whew. I’m feeling over-processed just writing that sentence out.

Which is my big problem with this week’s episode. For a show that accurately depicts how this kind of mental health issue manifests and how people with this kind of mental health issue behave, having all of Rebecca’s issues resolved in one sleeping pill and Bloody Mary assisted dream feels like a cop out. When you’re depressed the way Rebecca is, you do fixate on the magic key that you believe will make you happy, you’re in denial about why you’re doing the things that you do, you make impulsive decisions in the belief that that one change will solve your whole life. And while doing those things, you are a competent, caring, lovable person. The show has shown us the “crazy” part so well that’s it really disappointing that the breakthroughs resulting from crazy came in such an unrealistic way.

And I get it. Showing a person actively working through therapy week after week can’t even be called “storytelling” because there’s no narrative to it. Even if you could call it a story, it’d be a super shitty one. It’s boring, it’s repetitive, and it’s frustrating as shit to watch people struggle to work through issues only to have them repeat that same behavior the following week. It’s also exactly what happens in real life. If the show is going to continue treating mental health with the same level of honesty, next weeks episode would show Rebecca completely ignoring everything she learned in the past couple of episodes and again believing that she and Josh are supposed to be together. Because that’s absolutely what would happen in real life. Josh says something innocuous about Valencia, and Rebecca falls back into believing Valencia’s a witch.

I also understand that on a show that regularly breaks into song and dance, demanding a high level of realism surrounding mental health and its treatment is itself unrealistic. Good TV sometimes demands unrealistic devices. Monica and Rachel couldn’t live in that apartment even with Monica’s grandmother’s rent control; no group of people who have ever worked together have been as smart or ragtag as those on Aaron Sorkin’s shows, and someone would have murder Rick Grimes a long time ago. The difference is that there isn’t a long persisting stigma against living in New York, being erudite or sucking so bad (well maybe that last one isn’t true.)

But there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness. Specifically the idea that someone with a mental health issue just needs to pull themselves together and get over it. Isn’t in then inherently dismissive of the lifelong struggles Rebecca has had to have them flitted away in one cross-country flight? I’m not asking that the showrunners on Crazy-Ex Girlfriend sacrifice good storytelling for realism, but from what I’ve seen from them before, I expected that they can use realism in order to build better storytelling.

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