Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is Teaching Us It’s OK to Not be OK

The CW
The CW

How do you sum up a series like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, or a character like Rebecca Bunch? Like its final opening sequence says–you can’t. But in its final season, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is sharing what might be its most important lesson: that it’s OK to not always be OK.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is about as niche of a series as you can get: a musical series in rom-com format that breaks the fourth wall every chance it gets without losing any of its sincerity. It begins with New York lawyer Rebecca Bunch, played by series co-creator and songwriter Rachel Bloom, following her childhood boyfriend Josh to West Covina, California, to find a way to be happy. The first two seasons laid the breadcrumbs for Season 3, where Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s story was always going to lead: Rebecca’s borderline personality disorder diagnosis, treatment, and learning how to find happiness with herself.

What makes Rebecca’s journey so compelling is how imperfect it is. After her diagnosis in Season 3 there may have been the expectation that it was all uphill from there, but eventually she fell into old habits through her relationship with Nathaniel. By the end of the season she was pleading guilty for attempted murder as a way to make up for her past mistakes–which Season 4 quickly established was a very unhealthy and misguided thing to do. Since leaving jail Rebecca has committed to doing the work to do better, and be happy, but it hasn’t been easy. She left her job, ended things with Nathaniel, and watched as her friends have started to move forward in their own personal lives, feeling left behind.

What makes Season 4 work is how it frames Rebecca’s struggles as important steps for her recovery. There is no linear path to happiness or self-confidence. It’s full of wrong turns, speed bumps, and a litany of setbacks. It’s also weird, fun, silly, and full of all the bizarre twists and turns life should have.

It’s a remarkable thing to allow a character to fail, make mistakes, and continue to make the conscious decision to do better, especially in the context of mental health. In the series itself we’ve seen how the people around Rebecca are learning to change their lives for the better as well. Even Josh, the object of Rebecca’s obsession for the first two seasons, is getting the chance to seek help through therapy.

The CW
The CW

Unfortunately, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a rare exception. Mental illness is one of the most difficult topics for film and television to portray in a nuanced and healthy way. Even the recent Netflix hit The Haunting of Hill House, despite its deeply impacting portrayal of trauma, portrayed mental illness as the villain–something innate and sinister, and succumbing to it was at times pre-ordained and unavoidable.

Meanwhile mental health issues are increasingly prevalent. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 1 in 5 Canadians experience mental health problems or illness. Upwards of 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by mental illness or a disorder, and approximately 3.2 million children between the ages of 12-19 are at risk for developing depression. Seeing a healthy and positive representation of the effects of mental illness is not only healing, it may even be life-saving.

It’s here that I’ll admit my own bias. Watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been an incredibly moving and personal journey for me since its first season. “You Stupid Bitch” felt like a public broadcast of my internal thoughts. I had never felt so seen as during “(Tell Me I’m OK) Patrick” when Rebecca wondered if she had missed the day in school they taught you how to be a normal person. When Rebecca hit her lowest in Season 3 I was staring down what I considered to be the biggest failure of my career, even though logically I knew I was leaving a harmful and toxic job environment. It was difficult, almost impossible to see a path forward when I felt I was moving three steps back.

Seeing Rebecca hit rock bottom and begin her path to recovery was no small influence on me. Watching every step–and each misstep–Rebecca takes toward a healthier and happier state of being has encouraged me to keep moving forward, even when I fall back into old thought patterns and unhealthy behaviours.

To me, this is why Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s final season is a crucial endpoint to this part of Rebecca’s mental health story. The statistics are already there to prove that a significant number of people watching are facing or will face struggles with mental illness in their life. Having this kind of representation, showing the hard work it takes to live with mental illness–and the possibility to still inject joy into your daily life–is a value that can’t ever be quantified. Maybe it can help them recognize a need for change. Maybe it will encourage them to go back to therapy, because it’s never too late to change. Or maybe it could even save a life.

There is no easy, simple path to living with mental health problems. There will always be times when you make a mistake or feel stuck. But through honesty, having a support system, seeking help when you need it, and always finding the humour in life, there is a way forward. So yes, Rebecca’s story hasn’t been perfect, and she may not always be OK. But, ultimately, she will be. And you will be too.

 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW in the U.S. and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on W Network in Canada.