JNT 52.2 Featured Authors: Florian Zitzelsberger and Melanie Kreitler

JNT 52.2 Featured Authors: Florian Zitzelsberger and Melanie Kreitler

Making (Narrative) Sense: Introspection and Retrospection in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

     When I started watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I did not know what I was in for. People recommended the show to me because of my dissertation project, in which I analyze representations of mental illness experiences in narratively complex films and television shows. I quickly got lost in the whirlwind of the show, its catchy tunes and funny meta-humor. And as much as I wanted to talk about it in my dissertation, I could not see how a musical show could fit the avant-garde-ish canon of narrative complexity. That is, until I met Florian.

It was the spring of 2021, and I was attending the annual Northeast Modern Language Association conference virtually. Drained by months of screen fatigue and the time difference between Germany and the U.S., I lay on my couch, eyes closed, listening to people’s presentations. I may have been close to nodding off, but when Florian started presenting, my eyes opened again, I sat up straight, took out a notepad, and started scribbling. He talked about the connection between the musical and metalepsis in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, how the concept adds an additional analytical layer and helps us understand in a new way, and how, indeed, there is some level of narrative complexity to it.

When the panel came to an end and moved to the Q&A, I made myself presentable, turned on the camera, and asked his opinion about the show’s ending: What does he make of it? How are we to understand that the protagonist, who has been singing to us for four seasons, is cut off before she can sing a song she has written in the diegetic world? We continued our conversation in the chat and quickly moved on to messages and zoom calls. This is when I learned about Florian’s dissertation project that allowed me to see the complexity (and beauty) of the musical genre.

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My dissertation project on metaleptic moments in the American film musical is grounded in queer narrative theory and asks what the musical does, aesthetically, to counter an assimilationist representational politics and why the genre resonates so deeply with queer audiences. The discussions with Melanie that followed my presentation at NeMLA showed me that the argument I’m pursuing is much broader than I thought. Talking about how musicals, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend specifically, intervene in a number of cultural discourses (as opposed to perpetuating them, making the musical an allegedly “conservative genre”), I was convinced in no time that Melanie simply had to write about the show in her dissertation. And I’m glad to report that she did!

Our chance encounter and the conversations about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend not only resulted in our contribution to JNT, but also genuine friendship: The revision process of our article brought us together in Stuttgart, Germany, mid-way between the two institutions that Melanie and I work at. Our second in-person meet-up was in New York City, where we not only got to attend Broadway shows together, but also made our way to NeMLA 2022 in Baltimore. One year after having met at this conference, we chaired our own panel on “The American Musical at the Psychiatrist: Medical, Mental, and Musical Encounters.” This year, it was Melanie who presented her work on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, bringing our journey full circle. She mapped the show’s serial structure to the protagonist’s self-narrative of her lived experiences of mental illness. To me, this adds yet another layer to an already layered narrative and makes the show’s play with conventions of stage and film musicals all the more exciting – making me appreciate the show even more.

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a television musical series that can be located at the intersection of our research interests, in terms of both narrative form and representation. In our contribution, “Making (Narrative) Sense: Introspection and Retrospection in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” we draw on our previous research in a combination of close readings of instances of metalepsis in the show’s final episode and wide readings of the show in its serial format and complex narrative structure. We thereby position the potential of metalepsis to communicate moments of introspection in the show’s episodic and serial structure, which promotes a reading through the lens of retrospection. The underlying argument is that the processes of introspection and retrospection can become vehicles for audience address and that the ending of the show can become an alternate beginning for viewers’ understanding and a prolonged engagement. In this, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend invites its viewers, alongside the protagonist, Rebecca Bunch, to find their own way(s) through the show and decide for themselves what (narrative) sense to derive from it.

Talking and writing about the show over the past months has been an incredibly rewarding experience. It showed that the texts we are dealing with daily, and the shared passion we have for these texts in our research, are able to bridge disciplinary and geographical distances. It also made us appreciate the narrative and cultural work that the show does anew with every conversation we had. We hope to have translated some of that passion, fascination, and complexity to our article, and can only encourage you to follow us into the narrative and musical tour de force that is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

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