Chloe Gilke: Fifty Shades of Chloe

Sunday, January 31, 2016 - 4:23pm

I love the arts for a lot of reasons, but I mostly love seeing myself. For me, art allows innumerable points of entrance and reference, a million spots to get attached and relate things to myself or my life. Selfish young millennial that I am, I love appropriating other artists’ narratives into something that serves me.

When I watch something funny or weird or dramatic, I don’t just take it for what it is — I see shades of my own funny, weird, dramatic existence. I’ll watch an episode of “The Office” and think of the friendships (and crushes) that bloomed in the chilly upper-floor newsroom I spent three or five nights a week in. I’ll listen to “Caravan” by Van Morrison and remember silly nights traipsing through Ann Arbor like a band of hippies. I’ll listen to Courtney Barnett and that weird empty feeling that has been bugging me for the last month or two will be echoed through my earbuds and sound beautiful.

When I say that I love some piece of art, it’s usually because it speaks to me like this. I see myself. I know that art has its own merits and matters beyond what some narcissistic college student can relate back to her boring life. But, again, I am selfish. I’m writing a column with my name attached to the headline and picking and choosing the shit I think is important to talk about. And right now, I think we should talk about “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is The CW’s latest underrated TV masterpiece. The show has received a fair amount of critical acclaim, with leading lady Rachel Bloom receiving a Golden Globe and several laudatory reviews from The Michigan Daily. But the show doesn’t have the numbers it deserves. It’s on the brink of possible cancellation, and only a few of my friends watch it.

I loathe reading columns that are just extended advertisements for an underappreciated gem. Read/love/listen to/watch this thing! Accept my sublime taste in the television arts! But I’ll forgo my moral oppositions, because I am selfish and desperately want you to watch this show. Yes, you. I am speaking to you just like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” speaks to me. Trust me, you’ll love this show.

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is brilliant. Rachel Bloom is a true star — like Tina Fey’s wit and Chloe Gilke’s musical confidence merged into an extraterrestrial purveyor of joy. She manages to make Rebecca Bunch — a character who would be ridiculously unlikable on paper into someone you love and empathize viscerally with. Rebecca is a little crazy. She moves from New York City to West Covina, Calif. in pursuit of a guy she dated as a teenager. But, as the show’s theme song says, “the situation is a lot more nuanced than that.” She’s moving because the tumult of New York is exhausting. She’s tired of chasing greatness and climbing the corporate law ladder and ignoring the emptiness of it all. She wants to be happy and live close to the beach, and she could use a fresh start.

Reader, it’s hard not to see yourself in that. Whether or not your own psychological situation is as similar to Rebecca’s as mine is — frankly, we’re both a little unhinged and tend to pin our dreams and aspirations on a place or a person and hope they’ll be enough to make us happy again — there are a million points of entry here. She’s funny and joyful, like I’m sure you are. She’s sometimes clueless but also very smart and ambitious. She (and nearly every character on the show) loves to sing, and the show takes musical cues from the likes of Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Beyoncé and Billy Joel. Surely some of that appeals to you?

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is preoccupied with relatable struggles like making friends. It’s crazy hard to make friends, right? Rebecca is lonely and wishing she had a crew of people who love her, as I’m sure has preoccupied you at one point. I watch episodes like last week’s “I’m Going to the Beach with Josh and His Friends!” and feel both incredibly grateful for my own crew of friends and the selfish desire to demand more from them and wish that they could be like characters in a TV show and always hanging around waiting for their leading lady to give them a storyline. Rebecca desperately wants to be liked and to be loved. Like her show! Love her show!

If you care about romance, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has some great fodder for your desperate imagination. Rebecca’s object of desire, the dopey-charming Josh Chan, is sweet and supportive, and his and Rebecca’s scenes are especially tender. Where she’s a ball of nerves, Josh is happy as the California sunshine, and the sparks of their scenes together keep Rebecca going through the tougher parts of her life. When I watch the show, I remember all the rays of sunshine that I’ve loved, who gained even more light by my own desperate pursuit of their glow. There’s also Greg, the snarky third leg of the love triangle, who has an obvious crush on Rebecca, though she can’t see past her ideal love for Josh. Maybe my brain is fried from too much TV — but reader, I’m almost certain you’ve been in a situation like this. Either you’ve loved someone who can’t see you beyond a settling second pick or you’ve broken a few hearts. I can tell.

You may be uncertain about my recommendation, since I love and frequently write about depressing shows (“The Leftovers”) or procedural dramas about stoic lawyers who secretly love each other (“The Good Wife”). Rebecca Bunch may be a lawyer with depression, but I swear this show has appeal beyond my own selfish appreciation of seeing things I love and relate to. Rebecca is a dynamic female character unmatched by most of her network peers. Making comparisons to other TV shows is dumb, but I’d compare her to Amy Jellicoe on “Enlightened” or Valerie Cherish of “The Comeback” — she’s a little broken, but driven and sparkling and completely whole. The show’s balance of humor and primo plot development is like something you’d watch on HBO, maybe “Girls” or “Silicon Valley.” The musical numbers are like the funniest “SNL” digital shorts put to life.

As “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” enters the critical time when network execs decide if it’s worth keeping around or should go in the trash bin of shows that will inevitably be revived in 15 years, this is your call to watch the show. Watch “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” for the music and silliness. Watch it because you’ve been depressed and want to watch other people making a go at happiness. Watch it because you’re looking for someone like you, even if she doesn’t look like or act exactly like you do. Watch it because I’ve given my passionate, selfish recommendation.