Who knew the San Gabriel Valley would be the perfect place to set a musical? Aline Brosh McKenna (who wrote The Devil Wears Prada and the recent Annie movie) and Rachel Bloom (a comedy performer with a few viral music videos to her credit) thought West Covina had a nice ring to it, so they made it the setting for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which premieres Oct. 12 on the CW.
“We were looking for a Southern California suburb,” McKenna explains. “[Rachel and I] loved the sound of the name. But also I think it epitomizes the new suburb, because it has a lot of chain stores, but it’s also very ethnically diverse.”
That diversity is important to the show’s creators, who make sure that both the background actors (who play residents of West Covina) and leads aren’t all white, which is how Southern California tends to look in TV shows and movies. “It’s really important to us that we reflect West Covina’s diversity,” Bloom says.
Bloom appears fairly regularly on stage at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles, where her husband (Dan Gregor, who writes for the show) and another writer, Rene Gube, perform weekly. Bloom says that she uses UCB’s principles of comedy when she writes songs for the show. “The musical numbers are comedic sketches,” she says. “They heighten like the sketches, the music has to heighten like a sketch, too.”
That idea serves the show well, especially in numbers like “The Sexy Getting Ready Song,” an R&B-style slow jam that slowly ramps up the crazy as Bloom’s character gyrates in a candlelit room with a posse of Spanx-clad backup dancers. “I think our show is very much a mix of classic, really good romantic comedy storytelling and then a fucked-up, dark sketch comedy/alternative comedy side,” Bloom says.
And the comedy is dark, with Bloom’s character considering suicide in the pilot. But it’s also laugh-out-loud funny and somehow doesn’t push too far into depressing territory. If it doesn't seem like a typical sensibility for a major network show, let along a musical, that might be because it wasn’t originally intended for the CW — McKenna and Bloom made it for Showtime last year, but they passed on it, and in an extremely rare move in the TV world, the CW picked up another network’s pilot.
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McKenna and Bloom are adamant that the show’s tone hasn’t changed significantly in the switch from premium cable to broadcast TV. “[The CW] always encouraged us to go for it, push the boundaries, be as edgy as we want to be,” McKenna says, though she does admit, “We can’t swear and we can’t show any nude parts.”