I can’t say enough good things about Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. As the only hour-long musical comedy on network television, it’s breaking all kinds of new ground. Perhaps most notably, it’s been celebrated for the way it handles mental health, and for subtly changing the way we see Asian American men on TV. Vincent Rodriguez III plays Josh Chan, the hunky-albeit-naïve love interest of Bloom’s delusional protagonist, Rebecca.
“I think Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is definitely one of the game-changers in that way,” Rodriguez tells me over Skype. “The fact that I’m Filipino, they embraced that.”
Josh was initially sketched out vaguely as “Asian bro,” but once Rodriguez was cast, his Filipino American identity served as the inspiration for Josh’s ethnicity.
“One of the writers on staff was Filipino. [Rene Gube] plays Father Brah, who is my character’s kind of big brother/best friend/advice giver, and Rene oversees the Filipino topics and dynamics within the script,” says Rodriguez. “And when it came up in the script that I had a family and Rebecca was trying to get invited to Thanksgiving, that episode was the first time a Filipino family had been depicted on network television. And that’s something we didn’t realize we were doing.”
The choice to specifically code Rodriguez’s character as Filipino also made sense to co-creators Bloom and Brosh McKenna, who both grew up in Southern California, home to roughly 25 percent of the Filipino American population in the US.
Bloom and Brosh McKenna’s funny but dark story centers on Bloom as zany New York attorney Rebecca, who, after bumping into her boyfriend from summer camp, Josh (Rodriguez), on a Manhattan sidewalk, decides to drop everything in her life (including a big promotion) and move across the country to try to achieve “true happiness” in unlikely West Covina, California—where Josh just happens to live. Upon arrival, Rebecca dumps her depression and anxiety meds, befriends paralegal Paula Proctor (Donna Lynne Champlin), and makes an endless series of aggressively poor life choices in her unwavering pursuit of Josh. (As the season two theme song will remind you: “She’s just a girl in love and can’t be held responsible for her actions!”)
Many of the show’s musical numbers exist only in the characters’ imaginations. From Rebecca’s “adorably obsessed” perspective, Josh is the center of the universe, a superbly dreamy heartthrob. In reality, of course, he’s flawed—you could also make the case that he’s clueless, self-centered, and lazy—or in Rodriguez’s words, “underdeveloped.”
As Josh, Rodriguez has performed in boy band-esque numbers, as well as a season three Magic Mike-type episode in which Josh is employed as a go-go dancer. But the third season presented a new milestone for Rodriguez: his first credit as an assistant choreographer, working with Emmy award winner Kathryn Burns on the Gene Kelly-inspired “I’ve Got My Head in the Clouds.” Before landing his big TV gig on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rodriguez spent a decade in New York working in musical theater, honing his skills and repeatedly being turned down for the bigger parts at auditions. Today, he still lives and breathes the stuff. Before I can even ask, Rodriguez blurts out that he loves Hamilton, and tells me he listens to show tunes every single day. He even teaches youth theater classes alongside his acting. Despite his successful transition from stage to screen, he says he still looks forward to one day making his Broadway debut.
And it sounds like it could happen. “Rachel and Aline, I think they’re having discussions with the New York community and the Broadway community to do Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Broadway,” he says. “I don’t really know a whole lot more than that, but I know they’re talkin’ about it. It’s not impossible!”
In addition to casting Rodriguez in a leading role, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend makes a decent effort at a racially diverse lineup, and a stronger one at depicting a diversity of experience onscreen. There’s Rebecca’s slightly older best friend, Paula, a mom and wife whose boredom with her own life and frustration with her husband (who is a dipshit) and her children (who are wild animals) prompts her to live vicariously through Rebecca’s spontaneous, unhealthy choices. There’s also cool and unmotivated Heather (Vella Lovell), Rebecca’s biracial college student neighbor; Valencia, Josh’s long-term girlfriend, played by Mexican American actress Gabrielle Ruiz; and “White Josh,” a gay guy with amazing abs who typically dates older men.
“I’m really happy to be on the show in the way that I am and I’m glad it means something to people, and that it’s a part of the positive change that we need to see in our media and how we portray life,” Rodriguez says of the show’s diversity. “’Cause we really need that right now [with] what’s happening in our political landscape and our entertainment landscape and the job landscape in the entertainment industry.... I have the most amazing bosses. I work with the most amazing creative people, and most of them are women. And I’m totally down for that and happy and proud to say that. I think it’s thrilling!”
The most meaningful relationship on the show is the growing friendship between Rebecca and Paula. As Paula, Donna Lynne Champlin is a bona fide star; her hysterical rendition of “Maybe This Dream,” a parody of Sleeping Beauty, also showcases her killer vocal range. But the show’s comedic music videos have consistently taken on other genres, with spot-on stylistic spoofs, silly lyrics, and masterful choreography that not only push the storyline, but also pay homage to a multitude of music icons and genres. From the days of disco, to ’80s rock, to the Spice Girls, to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” the references are numerous. (A recent favorite from the season three premiere is an “It’s Raining Men” parody in which the girl gang hilariously sings “Let’s Generalize About Men!”)
This month, while the show’s actors and fans anxiously wait for the CW network to pick the show up for a fourth and final season, the cast will embark on an eight-city tour, starting with two sold-out Crazy Ex-Girlfriend live shows right here in Portland. Rodriguez tells me the tour sold out in more than half the cities in just 12 smooth minutes, and that he can’t wait to get out there and sing right into his biggest fans’ sobbing faces. In addition to performing Josh’s songs live, he’ll also sing backup.
“Anytime we do live shows, oh my gosh. It fills the air,” he says. “It’s just gonna be insane, ’cause all of us are just gonna have a blast and celebrate this music, so I can’t wait! Like, can I go there now? Can I catch a flight to Portland?”