BINGE-R #27: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend + Battle Creek
CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 18 episodes now streaming
Late to Netflix locally but nonetheless unequivocally great, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is an inventive whirlwind that pits the blackly comic debris of a fractured life up against the madcap reinvention of Hollywood musical numbers; if La La Land wasn’t taken it would have been a great alternate title. “This is what happy feels like,” moans Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), a hotshot New York lawyer who freaks out when she achieves her goal of being made a partner. When the universe casually reintroduces her summer camp teenage love, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), Rebecca decides to thrown in her job (along with her anti-depressants) and surreptitiously follow him to California in a bid to right her life.
You can cite everything from Ally McBeal to Flight of the Conchords, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – created by Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada) – occupies its own very specific orbit from its opening scenes, let along the first episode’s standout tune “Sexy Getting Ready Song”, whose guest rapper abandons his verse to repent for past patriarchal wrongs. The songs match Broad City to Busby Berkeley, while the plot has loopy developments, an ability to build and sell a gag so that it ricochets back into humourous contention, and a running commentary on Californian mores.
Waltzing into a second-rate law firm in the inland city of West Covina, Rebecca is initially a target of suspicion for head paralegal Paula Proctor (Donna Lynn Champlin), who nonetheless soon becomes her chief supporter. That’s a recurring idea here: that little actually tethers us, and that change is readily available, even if it’s also destructive. The one-liners are blithe and batty – “what’s up with your resting Maggie Smith face?” Rebecca asks another character – but like the recent Amazon wonder Fleabag [review here], Crazy Ex-Girlfriend digs down into the excruciating depths of lying to everyone else as a means of successfully lying to yourself.
Bloom is a winning comedienne, and she plays well off the entire supporting cast, particularly Greg Serrano as Santino, Josh’s sardonic bartender friend who falls for Rachel, and Gabrielle Ruiz as Valencia, Josh’s yoga teacher girlfriend and the first cause of Rebecca’s many lurches into unbridled excess. The show is consistently unpredictable and it never ties Rebeca down with romantic-comedy cliches – she’s so good at real estate law that she barely has to work, while the direction is consistently alive to her character’s fantasies and failings. There are 18 episodes in this first season, and barely a blip amongst them. Start watching.
>> Bonus Binge: If you want your heroines with a bigger dose of anarchy, Stan has the first two seasons of the aforementioned Broad City, where Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson redefine the 20something TV experience.
BATTLE CREEK S1
Streaming Service: Stan
Availability: All 13 episodes now streaming
As Breaking Bad drew to a close, the creator of everyone’s favourite meth-and-morality saga, Vince Gilligan, had a lot of pull. He was able to launch a spin-off, Better Call Saul, and also get a green light for Battle Creek, a comic-drama based on an unproduced script he’d written a decade prior. But even reworked with co-creator David Shore (House), the show is an offbeat take on that old law enforcement staple: the mismatched partners. As well put together – and particularly cast – as it is, there are too many times when Battle Creek could be mistaken for a 1990s procedural. Last time I checked no-one wants to bring Nash Bridges back.
A small city in Michigan where – like Flint – corners are being cut, the underfunded Battle Creek police department can barely afford batteries for their Tasers. When the FBI opens a lavish field office and deploys a lone agent, Milt Chamberlain (Josh Duhamel), it riles local detective Russ Agnew (Dean Winters), who naturally ends up being his guide. Winters has a pugnacious, scrappy quality that’s not overtly charming (30 Rock fans will know him as Liz Lemon’s on-off boyfriend Dennis), while Duhamel gets to subvert his blankly handsome TV lead persona (Milt also comes from a small city: Monaco).
But their back and forth comes with an A and B crime of the week storyline, and while there’s a low-key quality to the criminal milieu that Breaking Bad fans will recognise, in this case it’s mostly played for laughs. The second episode deals with a man found drowned in a forest, his lungs full of maple syrup, but the investigation soon has warehouses being staked out. The wonderful English actor Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds) plays Russ’ boss, but she mostly delivers exposition and “Agnew – in here!” chewing outs. As amenable as this all is, along with the surprising variety of crimes committed, the series is a genial stop-gap.
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