‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ Star Rachel Bloom Is the Hardest Working Woman in TV
For the last four years, Bloom has been acting in, singing in, dancing in, producing, and writing songs for ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.’ Now it’s time to say goodbye—but she’s too busy.
When pitching the musical-romantic-dramedy she co-created with Aline Brosh McKenna, and which she stars in and co-writes the music for, Bloom revealed the four-season arc she had envisioned for the character of Rebecca Bunch, a lawyer who moves from New York to West Covina, California to chase after a crush from her childhood. Each season examines what it means to be a “crazy ex” through a different lens. The fourth and final chapter, which starts Friday night on The CW, centers around recovery and whether Rebecca can start over.
“I don’t know if they’d remember, but they know,” she laughs. “Try to get it out of David Nevins.” (Nevins is president and CEO of Showtime, which greenlit a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend pilot before passing on bringing it to series. It would later land at The CW.)
We’re speaking in Beverly Hills, where the cast is on a break from shooting for a whirlwind of press. Since this is the show’s final season, that means a lot of talk about saying goodbye. That raises the obvious question: Are you sad?
The mourning process began when the cast embarked on a live musical tour last spring. After a show in West Covina, Brosh McKenna delivered a speech about how hard Bloom had worked on putting the tour together. She burst into tears. Lately, though, there just hasn’t been time to cry.
“I know it’s the final season, but we have to make these 18 episodes,” she says. “So picture that I just got a deal at the CW to make 18 movies. It’s technically the end, but now I have to make a bunch of movies. So it’s actually far from the end.”
That also means there hasn’t been time to really contemplate or articulate the other obvious question she keeps getting asked: What’s next?
“The answer is I kind of know, but I can’t even have the energy to think about it,” she says. “Like I can’t even think about it, I’m so tired. My plate is so full with this season I can’t even entertain the thought. And any off time I have has to be spent relaxing and sleeping.”
“There’s this thing with Hollywood and business in general of what’s next, what’s next,” she continues. “And I think there is something to living in the moment where you’re at and what’s next will come. There’s obviously a middle ground, but I’m OK for the next couple of months living in the moment of where I’m at and just trying to make the show the best it can be.”
I start to follow up with a heady question about the journey to that headspace, or something, but am jarringly interrupted when Bloom sneezes. Twice. It is the most frickin’ adorable sound I’ve ever heard.
“I sneeze like a little kitty,” she says, apologizing. “My writing partner, Jack (Dolgen), says I sneeze like I’m going, ‘I’m cute! I’m cute!’ Which is not untrue.” He’s right, I tell her. It’s a very cute sneeze! “Thank you very much,” she says, in a theatrical Valley Girl voice. She suggests I make this the lede of the story, even scripting it for me: “As Rachel Bloom sneezes adorably into her hands, I wonder what is really ailing her…”
It’s true to character for Bloom to be hyper-aware that she is doing press and cognizant of how her story could be orchestrated, but at the same time remain unselfconsciously candid. (It is emblematic, too, of her greatest creative skill: to discover the cliche in a situation, expose it, and subvert it.)
She’s a person whose normal is chaos, and whose daily mission is to make order of it. Every moment of her day must be both compartmentalized and maximized, an endlessly repeating itinerary of Herculean tasks demanding her full attention and energy—things that most people would require an entire day or more to accomplish but are mere blips on her schedule.
So she’s adapted, mustering a superhuman ability to write, sing, dance, rehearse, act, do press, be a wife, produce, pitch, manage a staff, and, in this moment, be introspective all in a day’s work. But, in a change of pace from what we’re accustomed to—and again subverting the cliche—she’s explicitly human about it. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. And she’s not too vain to confess that.
Wednesday of this week was World Mental Health Day. To mark it, Bloom tweeted a photo published in The New York Times of herself and Brosh McKenna on set. Brosh McKenna is reclined regally in her chair, sporting a smart all-black ensemble and cropped leather jacket. Bloom slouches next to her in baggy jeans, sandals, and a ratty-looking sweater, holding a soda can.
“When we did the photo shoot for this article, I was at the end of my mental rope from doing back-to-back 16 hour shoot days while trying to write songs in between scenes,” she tweeted. “The last thing I wanted to do was look pretty for a photo shoot. So, I asked if I could keep on a comfy sweater and just lean into the fact that I felt depressed from being so drained.”
In a follow-up tweet, she continued, “I'm glad to have some pictures that kinda capture what doing this job sometimes is, which is feeling drained and panicked and still having to perform. I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to seem happy all the time and subconsciously see showing my fatigue as weakness.”
When we talk about her exhausting schedule, she’s eager to acknowledge the toll it takes, but also to make sure it’s clear that she doesn’t resent it at all. “I just know how special this show is,” Bloom says. “This is all I ever wanted to do. So I want to make it the best it can be.”
There are hundreds of themes, concepts, and perspectives to analyze when it comes to what makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend so unique and smart. But maybe the key to understanding the secret to this musical-rom-com-drama-satire-auteur-character-study is deceptively simple: it is honest. Like Bloom herself, there’s a purposeful, almost confrontational honesty to all the themes the show covers. Is it honest about mental health. It is honest about love. It is honest about femininity. It is honest about period sex. It is honest as it tackles genres—the rom-com, the musical, the office comedy—that are known, even celebrated, for eschewing honesty for fantasy.
“We’re exploring what makes us all really happy,” Bloom says. “Not what we think makes us happy, but what makes us actually happy, if that makes any sense.”
It’s certainly noteworthy, then, that the titles of this season’s episodes don’t start with the names of her lovers, as was the pattern in previous seasons—“Josh Is…” “Nathaniel Is…”—but instead start with “I.” “I Want to Be Here.” “I Am Ashamed.” “I Am on My Own Path.”
That this has been a four-year journey to agency isn’t lost on Bloom, especially at a time when centering stories around truthful female experiences is both exceptionally topical and extremely rare. There’s nothing inherently political about Rebecca’s story or Bloom’s mission, that of a woman who learns her potential as she journeys towards mental healthiness. Women have been grappling with that...forever. But there is something about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's unfolding over the last three years that does seem important and timely.
And while she hasn’t had much time to reflect on the show ending, Bloom is fully aware of how the act of creating a show that explores this character through different prisms each season has also changed the way she looks at herself.
Around the time she started pitching the show, she began to fall back into patterns of anxiety and OCD that hadn’t manifested since middle school. She sold the series to Showtime, and right around the same time, her boyfriend proposed.
“I spent eight months where suddenly everything was mine to lose and my anxiety came back in full force,” she says. “That’s when I got a really good psychiatrist. I got into meditating. I’m like, my bills are coming due from years of shelving my anxiety and thinking it will pass and not looking into it. I have to actually do something about it because now there are things on the line.”
That experience fed into the first season. There’s a scene in the pilot where Rebecca pulls up a webpage that says “How Long Can a Person Go Without Sleep?” In the year leading up to the making the pilot, Bloom experienced sleep anxiety, a fear that she’d ruin everything if she went to sleep. The rest of that year while making the first season was about gaining confidence, learning how to be a boss, and learning that she can’t please everyone at all times.
“Rebecca has borderline so she’s learning how to not to see herself as all good or all bad,” she says. “When you are in the public eye it’s also hard not to see that, too. ‘I’m getting a lot of likes on something or I’m getting nominated for awards, great! I’m doing well! Oh, I’m not getting nominated for awards. Never mind, I’ve gone to shit.’ So I think some of the facets of borderline personality sort of mimic what it’s like as you slowly enter the public eye. It’s this very black and white way of thinking. So the lessons have fed each other in really interesting way.”
As the seasons have gone on, Bloom’s own path has diverged further from Rebecca’s, making each season more of an acting challenge than the one before. I ask if she’s surprised by how she’s risen to those challenges. After a conversation in which we have both talked at lightspeed, barely taking a breath, she takes a beat, perks up, and smiles. “I’m really proud of myself,” she says.
We start to say our goodbyes when she notices my branded notebook. It’s from CBS, which also owns the CW, a promotional item for the CBS All Access series The Good Fight. “Ah, good to know where CBS is spending its money instead of on my show,” she says with a wink, glancing at my tape recorder and playfully shouting as she gets up to leave: “Off the record!”