ABOUT THREE-QUARTERS of the way into our phone conversation, comedian and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend creator and star Rachel Bloom thanked me for being the only journalist who'd interviewed her to use the term "cisgender."
The feeling was mutual. Bloom is performing Saturday at this year's Bridgetown Comedy Festival ("20 percent stand-up, 80 percent songs"), and she was the first person I'd interviewed who noticed and cared enough to comment on a word that, while commonplace to many—especially in a city like Portland—has yet to become more commonly used outside of progressive, trans-inclusive communities.
That Bloom is sensitive to this language choice speaks volumes, but it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone familiar with her work. "Getting into the nuances of language when it comes to gender and sexuality," she says, is a huge part of what she does on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which she considers a subversive treatment of "the bill of goods that women have been sold that [says] love can solve all their problems."
Bloom has a specific offender in mind. "When I saw the series finale of Sex and the City... at the time I'd been going through a kind of Mr. Big situation with someone," she says, "and when [Carrie and Mr. Big] got together, I was like, this proves my point that the obsession is worth it, and looking back at that I don't love that they did that, because it kind of just encourages fucked-up obsession and that's something we're keeping in mind in our show."
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend takes an entirely different tack: Rebecca Bunch, Bloom's onscreen doppelganger, moves across the country to live near an ex. Rebecca's a professionally competent but deeply unhappy person whose problems clearly can't be solved by the attentions of a much projected-upon ex-boyfriend, but that doesn't stop her from obsessively treating him as the solution to everything that plagues her. This is never framed as a great plan. It's a misguided effort, and unlike in Sex and the City, it reads as one. But while Bloom's show doesn't buy into the idea of the all-repairing power of love, it also doesn't demean or mock its heroine's very relatable, very normal desires. "This isn't like an SNL character movie where you're meant to laugh at her," Bloom says.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is also funny. And there are songs. So Rebecca Bunch's little shriveled heart travels in a world with a bright color palette populated by wacky characters; as in shows like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Jane the Virgin, darker themes are cleverly packaged in a seemingly lighthearted TV format.
Bloom says now is a good time to be working in television, which lately has seen an uptick in more diverse stories and shows made by and about women (like Kimmy Schmidt and Jane). She attributes this shift to the impact of cable's prestige TV pushing the limits of the broadcast networks. When I ask her why the same thing hasn't happened in the film industry, she says, "It's fear-based. No one wants to be the one who gets fired for a flop. It's over-careful to the point of being reckless."
Then Bloom refers me to a study on gender in entertainment conducted recently by USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. As a woman writer, Bloom is among 31.6 percent of broadcast television writers, according to the USC study. For film, only 10.8 percent of writers are women. This may be why the "love solves everything!" arc Bloom eschews crops up so often in movies—and it's why shows like hers are so important.