My interview with Rachel Bloom, the writer\producer\star of the American TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” kind of felt like talking to an old friend. No, I’d never met her before, but I watch her show every week and wrote about her three different times when I had my own pop culture column, The Weekly Schmooze. Plus, we’re about the same age, her husband went to the same sleepaway camp as my high school boyfriend, and it kind of seemed like if I had really pressed the point, we would have found people we both know, because that’s how Jewish geography works.
And really, it seems to me, that’s the reason “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has resonated with so many young American Jews and American expats in Israel: We feel like Bloom could have been in our Jewish Day School class. That, and her show is peppered with Jewish references that make us feel like we have some kind of inside joke with her. It’s what she called “specificity” in the interview, that makes Rebecca Bunch, her TV alter-ego, really come alive.
But that’s enough Jewish stuff for now.
The article that came of the hour-long interview
focused mostly on Israel and Jewish identity, but Bloom had some interesting things to say about other topics that some of her fans told me, via social media, that they’d like to read, so here they are:
Portrayal of mental health issues on the show:
“Never for a moment were we going to do the show without tackling [mental health issues]; it’s inherent to the show. When you’re exploring a girl who moves across the country [to follow a man she’s not in a relationship with]…this person would be mentally ill, depressed and have an anxiety disorder. I’ve had issues of anxiety and depression and I have used love as an escape. I’ve been love-struck for most of my life, partly because I wasn’t happy with my life and would use infatuation as a means of escaping that. The way love acts in your brain is equivalent to cocaine; it floods your brain with chemicals.”
Health in general:
“In the next season, I want to explore Rebecca needing a ton of moles removed. In California, everyone wants to be hot and tan.”
Diverse body shapes on the show:
“We just wanted to be truthful. Everyone is a person…It annoys me on TV when everyone is perfect and has perfect makeup. In the real West Covina there are people of all shapes and sizes. I met with a personal trainer [when starting the show] and he was like ‘we’ll get you ripped,’ and I said that’s not the show. She’s me, and she talks about Spanx, and if you’re super-skinny, you don’t need Spanx. It goes back to trying to reflect what you really are.
“Donna Lynn Champlin, who plays Paula, she’s a zaftig lady, and she looks like the character we had pictured. A couple of people thanked me for portraying a plus-size woman and not making any storyline about her trying to lose weight. Some of this stuff is inadvertent. We want to be as true to the character as possible. Paula doesn’t give a shit. She’s hot and beautiful and almost has an affair, because she’s secure in who she is.”
“Something that I love about America, and especially southern California is that we’re a nation of immigrants. When you look at the West Coast, it’s really diverse, in a way you don’t think about…When I was in high school, our homecoming queen was Japanese and the king was Chinese, and no one said ‘ho progressive.’ It just was…Every culture [in SoCal] goes to the same Applebee’s, and everyone has a fresh start, because no building was built before 1970. Everyone was there for a new beginning.”
“We wanted to do a fish-out-of-water story, and it felt unique to set it [in West Covina, California] and for the guy she fell in love with to be an Asian bro, a type I grew up with, and is the opposite of our neurotic Jewish character.”
“[Immigrant parents talk to their children about] progress, progress, I came here for you go make progress, why aren’t you progressing? That’s the pressure of being descended from immigrants.”
Rachel Bloom-Rebecca Bunch overlap:
“I would say she’s 80% emotionally autobiographical and 15% actual life autobiographical. On the surface, her life and path are very different from mine, but she’s very much based on how I react to things. She’s when I was at my worst and most depressed; she’s not me now.”
OK, fine, there’s more on Jewish identity and Israel…
“On the surface, my mother is nothing like the mother on the show. My parents are still together, my mother is not vain, she doesn’t go to synagogue…They’re not super-similar. I think Jewish mothers and daughters have very complicated relationships, and that part is true. Any Jewish mother and daughter would say that.”
Jewish references on the show:
“Well, you saw the JAP battle. I think we almost met our quota with that. We finished writing [season one] and we just found out about season two, but who knows? Being [in Israel] is very informative and connects me with Jewish identity in a way I hadn’t felt before. The show is very much an American Jewish show. I told our tour guide about it, and he said ‘God, that’s so Diaspora.’”
Experiences in Israel:
“I had this stereotype of Israelis being rude and blunt, and that hasn’t been my experience. Everyone has been welcoming and lovely, and I look forward to coming back here, even to do a show. I wanted to chillax and go to the beach, and it’s been an amazing experience. And the falafel, tahini and halva is a game changer. It’s so much better here.
“Jerusalem was so special, everything was so cool. Walking through the Old City was pretty amazing, and seeing all the sections, eating in the Muslim Quarter, that was awesome. Just walking through the different quarters and learning about the history, and how it really is a place for all three major religions. This place is so special…I could have spent weeks there.”