Archivo de la etiqueta: Rachel Bloom

Rachel Bloom: musical comedy and spot on feminism

The day I fell in love with Rachel Bloom was actually the first time I ever heard anything from and about her. I was just  in the process of getting over my ex-boyfriend, so, naturally, I was looking for new music for my sad “I’m-over-you-and-I’m-not-sad-at-all” playlist to listen to on an infinite loop. I ran out of options quickly so, as any other lonely guy would do, I searched for songs with the word “dick” on their name and, without realizing, I was rapidly blasting “Pictures Of Your Dick”, by the one and only Rachel Bloom, non-stop. Little did I know that finding this merry tune will be just the tip of the iceberg on my quest to understand and embrace the numerous ways she navigates with her comedy.

For those who hadn’t had the joy of knowing Rachel Bloom, let me break it down for you. She is a comedian who started her career by doing musical comedy on Youtube (Please, don’t miss the opportunity to go to her channel to take a look of what’s she’s capable of) and now she’s the creator, writer and protagonist of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend TV show, which recently was renewed for a third season.

She is a feminist who uses musical comedy to make a point and to take a stand on what she really believes in. So, in order to understand her comedy, you will need to see it as a criticism and a satire of the society’s actual state.

The clever ways she  balances her feminism in perfect unison with her comedy is, actually, her greatest statement of all; in fact, Rachel Bloom’s best asset is her particular way she uses the deconstruction of tropes, and social constructs, as strong arguments against sexism. Traditional gender roles and moral values are just some of the topics she likes to toy with on a daily basis.

Rachel Bloom sees society as a one big musical. A staging where the performers live by the narratives they taught themselves to believe in in order to follow the rules the script has laid upon them. A play where some tropes could be just as harmful as labels, but that can also be subverted in the same way.

You will only need to take one glimpse on her trajectory to find three subverted tropes that are present consistently on all the things she does: The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Disney Princess and The Party Girl. Her most famous yet is, and thanks to her TV show, the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

This particular trope is pretty complex by itself, not only because it comes from a blatant sexist background, but because women are often labeled with it. You might have heard about this one before, it stems from the outdated idea that women are just emotional individuals that keep making rushed choices with their heart and not with their minds. So, by acting on it, they will always be reduced to this one-note characters that will probably be obsessed with the dudes they had a relationship with.

Rachel Bloom, on the other hand, makes the most of it by really going along with it. She constantly mocks this particular trope by going the extra mile by granting all these particular characteristics to her main character of the show, Rebecca Bunch (played, obviously, by her): she basically moves to her ex-boyfriend’s hometown in order to get back with him, but she’s convinced that that’s not the reason she changed cities.

Rebecca is obsessive, irrational and stubborn. She’s the best caricature of the trope we can get. That’s what’s really enthralling of the show, her character is so exaggerated and over the top that it becomes really easy to deconstruct it in order to identify the flaws behind it. That’s how Rachel Bloom rolls, by exaggerating the stereotype and waiting for the cracks to show.

Her Crazy Ex-Girlfriends are often saying to themselves, and to others, what men would like to hear in order to get back with them, after all, they are hopelessly in love and  very devoted to the man they love. It’s common that they have a really low self-esteem and their personality, and core identity, varies from man to man. They even upload pictures of their ex-boyfriend’s dick online as a form of personal vendetta.

With only two seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in, we are able to understand, as the audience, that women that are labeled as the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are, in fact, often constrained by all the high and sexist standards that society have placed on them from the very beginning.  In a certain way, they just acts on it.

Women have to be sentimental — and not tough—, because the gender role they have to fulfill demands them to be like that, but only in small doses and without being too loud, because, without any kind of supervision, it could probably transform into an obsession or, even worst, a direct attack against our very fragile masculinity.

The Disney Princess trope comes right from the same place. Society will always tell us that, in order to have a happy life, women have to become wives, not Crazy Ex-Girlfriends,  and the best way to do it is by drawing the attention of a Prince Charming by being feminine, elegant, selfless and sentimental. That’s why Rachel Bloom’s subversion of this trope is so delicious. Her Princesses are everything but what society likes to call “ladylike”. They like to curse while their sing, and they will certainly talk about poop and menstrual cramps without any decorum. They are, at the end of the day, regular human beings, not impossible standards to achieve.

The Party Girl has her origins on the darkest corner of masculine heterosexuality: the fantasies. This stereotype wants women to be sexy, sensual and carefree but without losing any trace of femininity and elegance. This particular trope can be very contradictory by itself, it asks women to be kind of slutty but without losing her prstine image or any respect from the others, especially from herself. You can also find this girl in any party waiting to woo over some random dudes.

In Rachel Bloom’s world, the Party Girl sings at the club about dying from cancer, throwing up a bile, threatening someone’s girlfriend to kill her and use her skin as a dress, or even flying her dirty panties as a kite, all of that whilst using a revealing outfit. As you can see, she’s anything but sexy.

This is what we really need right now, someone who is willing to use her platform to make strong statements about important topics visible,  with creative methods that can help people understand them in a more accesible way. Rachel Bloom is already getting ahead of everybody.

El concepto del amor ha cambiado en las series: Kimmy y Rebecca version.

¿Qué es el amor? Evidentemente es la pregunta que maneja nuestra vida, nos ronda continuamente y se encarga de muchas de nuestras decisiones. La televisión y el cine no son ajenos a desarrollar historias y centrar narrativas en todo lo que el amor representa (incluso me atrevería a decir que un 90% de ellas surgen y terminan en eso). Lo cual nos brinda una infinidad y enorme variedad de respuestas a esta pregunta, en la riqueza de la subjetividad y las diferentes voces que dichas perspectivas conforman.

No hace mucho, dediqué una entrada a tratar de entender las concepciones actuales del amor en la televisión. Gracias al desarrollo de personajes menos perfectos y más reales, con defectos y problemas, obtenemos relaciones difíciles y compromisos irreales con las personas que los rodean. Nuevas ideas del amor.

Ideas que son la tesis central de las series creadas, escritas y producidas por Rachel Bloom y Tina Fey: ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ y ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’. En ellas vemos a personajes ordinarios, con historias similares por contar: Kimmy se re-descubre después de vivir 15 años encerrada en un bunker, mientras que Rebecca intenta hacer lo mismo después de vivir una fantasía de lo que  ella creía que su vida debía ser. Ambas están buscándose así mismas, mientras enfrentan contextos nuevos y totalmente ajenos a ellas.

Ninguna de las dos tiene una idea de lo que significa el amor en sus vidas y siguen viviendo con una mentalidad un tanto infantil e inocente de lo que es la vida. Kimmy no tiene referente alguno aparte de lo que veía en la televisión antes de ser secuestrada, Rebecca, por otro lado, sigue enamorada -y atorada- con la relación de fantasía que vivió con su ex-novio en la preparatoria.  Las dos perpetúan lo que aprendieron en su contexto más cercano, lo que ellas creen que es correcto y necesario en su vida.

Ambas aún idealizan el tipo de amor que vivieron al crecer: el del cuento de hadas donde existe un príncipe que llegará a sus vidas para complementarse y vivir felices hasta el fin de los tiempos. Por eso Rebecca decide mudarse a la ciudad donde Josh vive, para tratar de recuperar esa sensación de felicidad que tenía cuando estaba con él, mientras que Kimmy se aferra a Dong y la chispa que alguna vez sintieron, aunque la situación en la que ambos se encuentran diga todo lo contrario.

KimmySchmidt_Kimmy_Dong-profile-smiles

Para Kimmy y Rebecca la felicidad se encuentra, en gran medida, en el amor de pareja, en la alegría que atrae a tu vida el hecho de estar con otra persona, de complementarse el uno al otro. Por ello dedican gran parte de sus esfuerzos a ser felices con sus contrapartes masculinas, a que ellos entiendan las razones detrás de sus actos (por más egoístas y maníacos que suenen).

Sin embargo, a lo largo de la primera temporada de ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ y las dos temporadas de ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ (La segunda acaba de estrenarse en Netflix) vemos cómo estas ideas preconcebidas cambian. Rebecca y Kimmy -después de varios golpes de realidad- confrontan sus problemas y dan la cara a su ansiedad, a los problemas que llevan arrastrando, a sus pasados y a sus nuevos presentes. Josh y Dong dejan de ser aquellos fines para alcanzar su felicidad y pasan a ser parte de ella.

El amor de pareja cambia  de ser un último fin a la parte esencial de una felicidad que no es inamovible ni estática, sino que se modifica constantemente. El concepto del amor crece y da entrada a otras formas de entenderlo: al propio, al de familia y al de los amigos. Nuestras protagonistas entienden que el amor llega de diferentes formas y en variadas presentaciones.

Para Rebecca llega en forma de su amistad con Paula, aquella persona tan importante en su vida como ella misma, su amor por la interpretación de musicales y su estabilidad emocional. Para Kimmy aparece en forma de Jacqueline, Titus y Lilian: su nueva familia, la que estará ahí para lo que necesite, su amor por ella misma que representa dejando atrás su pasado y su paz mental.

b739bf40-c564-0133-731f-0e8f20e97865

Como menciono en el post anterior, el concepto del amor evoluciona mientras los personajes comiencen a perfilarse a ser más reales, con defectos, dispuestos a confrontar sus miedos y estando abiertos a encontrar la felicidad en lugares donde menos lo imaginarían.

Sí, el concepto de amor en las series ha cambiado, pero eso sólo significa que ha evolucionado para aterrizar en un nivel mucho más real. Un lugar donde los príncipes y princesas pueden quedarse dentro de sus fábulas para dar paso a personas de carne y hueso con sueños, metas, miedos y defectos.

 

Mental Illness on Television: A real depiction.

TV has given us a lot of great stories to talk about, from extensive thesis of love to raw depictions of certain groups of individuals. Notwithstanding, mental illness had never been part of this particular interest before, until now.

2015, as I thoroughly explained before, saw the blossom of a new and greater TV era. Whilst characters, narratives and platforms improved subsequently their quality, with consistent achievements in their stories, actors, writers and producers sought for better and extraordinary ways to portray reality as real as possible.

Thus, we got down-to-earth trans characters like Maura  on ‘Transparent’, Sophia on ‘Orange Is The New Black’ and Nomi on ‘Sense8’, flawed and broken families looking for better ways to communicate with each other like the Rayburns on ‘Bloodline’ or the Gallaghers on ‘Shameless’, and even simple individuals looking for some peace of mind in their lives like Josh on ‘Man Seeking Woman’ or Sharon and Rob in ‘Catastrophe’.  Thereby, characters suffering from a mental illness  -a topic so typically overused when it came to mock people on TV- hit last year right in the bull’s-eye with their magnificent performance.

Mental illness is nothing to laugh about, nor its depiction on a TV show. With more than 450 million people around the globe suffering from it, it was only a matter of time for (american) television to get their act together around their faulty representation they have been managing on their narratives for so many time before.

Long gone are those bipolar characters whose only purpose on the story was to serve as a comical relief, or the clinical depressive  individuals who only made an appearence every now and then to remind the protagonists the dangers of self-medication.

Nowadays, we can learn about mental illness from well-constructed characters like Rebecca Bunch from ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ whose anxiety permeates and drives every aspect of her life (even in her show title), or Gretchen Cutler whose clinical depression merely cost her her job and love life in ‘You’re The Worst’, or Ian Gallagher whose bipolar disorder almost got him into jail on ‘Shameless US’.Yes, they suffer from a mental ilness but neither of them are limited by it or reduced to it in any kind of way.

When we first met Gretchen, in ‘You’re The Worst’, she’s a cynicall, carefree young woman whose only goal in her life is to get wasted every day. Indeed, Gretchen’s not a lovable character, she’s totally devoid of empathy and respect for others, something that, in a way, makes her even more real, that, later, on season two we learn about her mental illness and the ways she depicts it in her life. If ‘You’re The Worst’ were an entire different show, the writers could readily go with the easy way out and punish her actions with it, but, in this world, mental illness does not translate to some cross she has to carry, it’s really part of her life.

YOU'RE THE WORST -- "Born Dead" -- Episode 203 (Airs Wednesday, September 23, 10:30 pm e/p Pictured: Aya Cash as Gretchen. CR: Byron Cohen/FX

Gretchen’s clinical depression is that shameful aspect of her life that she has no control over,  whatsoever. So, when it hits her, there’s nothing she can do other than embrace it and try to live through the end of it. She knows it’ll consume her, but she also realize that it doesn’t define her. She doesn’t want to be saved, she only wants people to understand the situation she’s in and, for that matter, she doesn’t wallow around feeling like a victim. Even when sadness pervades every aspect of her life, she doesn’t allow people to feel sorry for her. She had already overcame it before and she’ll certainly do that again.

Whereas Gretchen welcomes her illness in a very familiar way, Ian Gallagher denys it constantly,  because they’re just in a whole different moments of their lives. Whilst we have the opportunity to met an already clinical depressed Gretchen we also have to witness the awful process Ian is in with his bipolar disorder. By being inherited, he does think his mental illness is a cross he has to bear and for a whole season we live through his suffering.

Ian Gallagher does not want to be ill and he doesn’t want people to treat him in that way or any special way, for that matter. As Gretchen, and everyone living with a mental illness, he didn’t choose to live with it, and he does everything in his hands to avoid reality, to extricate himself from his family and everything that constantly reminds him that he’s ill. Once again, we have a character who doesn’t want to be defined by his illness and who just wants to be himself. His old self. His sane self.

ian-bathroom

I could only imagine that Gretchen hadn’t had an easy time dealing with her depression, but the way we see Ian fight through it is just devastating. He can’t gloss over the fact that his bipolar disorder is, and always have been, part of his life and, by disclaming it, he’s not only running away from his problems, but stockpiling new ones too.

Finally, we have Rebecca Bunch, a.k.a The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a character whose constant insecurities and over-the-top anxieties manipulate her life in ways she can barely understand. After all, she didn’t only move her entire life to her ex-boyfriend’s hometown just because it’s a great place -no matter how many times she repeats that to herself- she also ran away from her problems, her old self and her ‘stable’ life.

In a show where fucked up lives are core, and central, to the writers agenda, Rebecca’s illness is the best depiction of all. Thanks to the magic of the musical-style narrative, we get to see how her anxiety consumes her day by day. Either with a catchy song about ‘Sexy French Depression’ or with a glorified anthem for self-loathing like ‘You Stupid Bitch’, we have the opportunity to understand Rebecca’s anxiety levels.

bunch

Rebecca, above all things, is in constant denial. She  doesn’t want to be seen as a crazy person -‘The situation is more nuanced than that’ she explains to us on the opening- and she’s continually reminding every single person that surrounds her, and, to some extent, herself,  that she doesn’t have a problem,  that she’s not ill and in any way ‘crazy’.

Each and every single one of this characters are on different stages of acceptance of their illness, but they certainly aren’t upstaged by them on no means. Yes, they suffer from it, but, at the same time, they’re looking for alternatives to cope with it, to deal with it.

In a world where representation and depictions on media are key to understand the world we live in, I found very refreshing the presence of this characters on their shows. Their portrayals are nothing but real and we must certainly ask for more individuals that people can relate to without that godawful feeling of being mocked.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Or how to do a great musical sitcom.

It’s well known that cinema and television have been blended since the dawn of entertainment -figuratively speaking-, to produce all sorts of musical theatre adaptations.  Nowadays, we’re pretty much used to watch musical numbers  on TV and on big screens.

From Barbra Streisand to  Idina Menzel, ‘Glee’ to ‘Smash’  -even a special musical entry on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’- we’ve seen a handful of musical stories, lovely voices and passionate lives grow, and thrive, in order to enthrall TV and film audiences.

For a musical theatre fan, as myself, musicals aren’t just a tawdry representation of a bunch of people bursting out in a song for no good reason. No, musicals are more than this. They are the most utter depiction of our exhilaration to feel and express something so big that simple words can’t. Music makes us feel the same way feelings make us think about music. Music and feelings are forever linked.

Just think about every broken heart you’ve lived. Every laughter. Every promotion. Every downfall in your life. I bet there is a song that reminds you of it. And that’s fine. That’s the most human thing to do.  Musicals delves into this very idea.

So, you could imagine how excited I was when I’ve heard that The CW was going to produce a musical-themed TV show starring  Rachel Bloom (Youtube musical geek). I was literally screaming to the TV out of excitement. And, dear lord, was I right about it.

‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ narrates the life of Rebecca Bunch, a twenty-something lawyer living in New York. She, as any other musical theatre fan, likes to see everything behind a musical lense. So, when her ex-boyfriend Josh reappears in her life only to tell her he’s moving away the next day to a city on California named West Covina (only 2 hours from the beach; 4 with traffic!), she, naturally, decides it’s a great idea to do so. Whilst singing a song.

1-CXG-2015UpfrontRescore-101215-v2_b370dd655_CWtv_720x400_e-940x528

From Rebecca’s point of view, every decision she makes is not (at all!) related to the fact that she’s still in love with Josh (at all!). Therefore, abandoning everything from her previous life to start a new one, in a city that she barely knows, it’s a totally plausible  thing to do within the context of her contrived yearning to do some changes in her life. The fact that her ex-boyfriend lives in the same city is just a simple (and very convenient) coincidence.

Thus, understanding this premise, we have the privilege to see through her life’s behind the scenes. Where  everything it’s perfectly (and wonderfully!) fine whilst all her cracks are hidden behind a riveting facade of happines and (false) confidence embedded with her constant need of self-deprecation.

crazy-ex-girlfriend

You see, Rebecca needs to sing in order to convince herself she’s doing the right thing; to assure  she has control over her life. Her constant need to burst out in a song is the only way she can accept the woeful reality upon her constantly smashing into her face. Singing is her way to become bystander of her own life. And that’s really the beauty of it. Music in ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ allows us to learn more about her than any other aspect of the show.

Rebecca sings about the smiling skies of West Covina whilst “this guy Josh” also happens to live there. At the same extent, she serenades her sweet “girl crush” on Josh’s girlfriend whom she only wants to lock in the basement with a soundproof wall and take over her identity.

crazy-ex-girlfriend-02

The introvert quirky lawyer, who doesn’t sings on a daily basis, is that part of Rebecca that everybody in the show knows. Not the real one. Her cracks won’t be visible to us until she (or any other person) start to sing out of nowhere. It’s really in that moment when we can quite see through her insecurities, fears, hopes and dreams. That’s when we’re allowed to poke around her mind.

Rebecca isn’t different from any of us, really. Whereas we all use all sort of mechanisms, to some extent, to run away from our realities and problems, she draws uppon music and long colorful sequences to quench all her demons. And on that precise moment is when we, as an audience, are capable to see  that the show is really hitting the bull’s-eye.