Both FXX’s Man Seeking Woman and the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend deal with mental illness. But one does it better.
Early on in the pilot of CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) is shown dumping her prescriptions down the sink of her West Covina house with a smug smile on her face. I remember watching this moment with hope the show would explore more character complexity like this and not be reduced to a one-note musical.
Instead, after watching more than half a dozen episodes, I discovered the show to be the overly-attached-girlfriend meme come to life.
While the show does make great strides when it comes to diversity (Filipino love interests, bisexuality), the show does little for the “crazy” behind its female lead. It’s mostly hard-to-watch episodes of Rebecca humiliating herself, supporting a stereotype without much depth (although Clarence lauded her “You Stupid Bitch” scene as a watershed moment).
Just around the time I bought my ticket out of West Covina and Rebecca Bloom’s story, I started watching FXX’s Man Seeking Woman. Starring Jay Baruchel, Eric Andre, and the fantastic Britt Lower, MSW follows your run-of-the-mill dating and 20-something Millennial storylines, but through funny goggles. For example, in the first episode of the series, Josh’s sister Liz sets him up with a troll. For real. What I love about this show is that despite its highly absurd moments, it feels like a more accurate depiction of modern dating and, compared to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, mental illness.
Granted, none of the characters in MSW claim to be crazy or suffer from anxiety or depression, but so much of the show feels like it’s shot through that lense. When you have anxiety, everything feels heightened as do-or-die. You immediately think the worst, and each week holds a Soup-Du-Jour worry of the moment. That’s a little bit like MSW. Each week is a new episode with a new, outlandish, ultimately insane situation. In the past, Josh has been surgically conjoined to a girlfriend, been bullied to couple up, and attended a wedding, literally, in hell.
In February 10’s MSW episode titled “Honey,” Josh discovers that his office crush is dating none other than Jesus Christ himself (played affably by Fred Armisen). Non-anxious people would feel pretty crappy about their crush seeing someone else, but through ultra-uptight spectacles, the stakes are even higher. Your crush isn’t just dating a great guy, she’s dating the best great guy of all time. In this case, there’s no way Josh can match Christ (on the reverse, one of his exes also dated Hitler, who he, too, could never live up to).
While it’s doubtful creator Simon Rich designed this show as a spot-on, comedic representation of mental illness, I suspect that he based it on another idea: That dating can make people nutty, and with 50 percent of the population being single, that makes most people fit to be medicated.