Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and the Problem With Bad TV Parents

The CW, home of both iZombie and Jane the Virgin, is proceeding with its mission to slowly take over my life with its great shows by introducing me to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a charming comedy that deconstructs and analyzes the offensive stereotype that serves as its namesake. It’s solidly written and acted, but best of all, it’s also a musical and the songs are consistently great. I really do enjoy this show, which is why it’s a little sad and a little strange that my first article discussing it will amount to a criticism. The criticism is targeted towards its latest episode, “My Mom, Greg’s Mom and Josh’s Sweet Dance Moves!”, and how it dealt with the subject of parenthood and how it continues what I find to be a problematic trend in television and movies. I don’t know if this counts as a revelation to those readings, but there is such a thing as bad parenting that goes beyond domestic violence, something the media tends to completely overlook because hey, love exists.

We’ve all experience this basic story. A main character’s parents comes to visit, reveal themselves to be horrible in some way, shape, or form (they’re negligent, they’re too controlling, they’re selfish), but in the end we find that main character learns they should forgive and respect their parents because all the horrible shit they do is out of “love”. You know who else uses that argument to justify their garbage behaviour? Abusive boyfriends. TV writers need to stop writing their parents as abusive boyfriends if they want us to sympathize with them.

Take Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rebecca Bunch and her mom for example. We know that a huge part of what led to her mental breakdown in the pilot was her mom’s abusive and controlling nature, a relationship that is so toxic that she would trivialize her own daughter’s suicide attempt as something to mock her for. In this latest episode when Rebecca’s mom comes to visit, we see firsthand what a destructive and cruel person she is in the way she treats Rebecca. She’s hyper-critical and hypocritical in how she discusses Rebecca’s life, she doesn’t respect her daughter’s boundaries (she asks Rebecca to proposition a client at Rebecca’s law firm for sex on her behalf), and she seems utterly incapable of accepting any wrongdoing on her part. And how does this all end? Rebecca stands up to her, and in the most cliché ending imaginable, her mother “respects” Rebecca’s courage and claims that all of her terrible and selfish behaviour was out of love for Rebecca. Bull.

There was also another subplot in the episode revolving around how Greg hates his mother for leaving him when he was younger, but it all turns out to be just Greg being an idiot for not seeing what a great mother she was in the end. The problem with this is different because Greg’s mom being a great person isn’t problematic in and of itself, but it severely diminishes the strength of Greg’s arc, because it was an arc that relied on the very relatable feeling of being trapped in life by circumstances outside your control. The twist in this case is that Greg actually could go to business school any time he wanted, he was just too proud to accept money from his amazing mother who has been nothing but kind to him. Weak.

The issues with these two plots all stem from an unwillingness on the writer’s part to portray parents as truly fallible, and I see this trend in so many other shows and movies that it has gotten sickening. I realize that a lot of the people writing these episodes are parents themselves, but there should be way more acknowledgement of the fact that sometimes parents are truly inadequate, especially when there are so many real life cases of this happening. You don’t have to strike your kid to be a bad parent, as seen in the case of Rebecca, whose mom is really just the worst. Even in just the case of Greg, having a negligent mother would have gone a long way in making his story that much stronger, but no, his mom is basically perfect and everything wrong in his life is his fault, and that would be fine if the show was a strict comedy, but it isn’t. This is a story where we were supposed to be on Greg’s side, a story that was clearly meant to carry dramatic weight, but the writers completely deflated it because they were unwilling to give Greg a bad mom. I don’t know about you, but I think comedies in particular need to be more willing to talk about bad parenting (that goes beyond the typical physical abuse), because it’s an important issue that needs addressing. I know that the next time I see yet another plot about an abusive “tough love” parent that “means well”, I’m checking out.

Quote of the Day:

“Scar is gone… but Zira’s still around
To love this little lad
Till he learns to be a killer
With a lust for being bad!”

– Zira, Lion King 2, “My Lullaby”.

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