Monday, June 29, 2020

Top 10 Songs From Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 4)

I typically write this after I've had about a year to listen and process and fall in love with that season's tunes, so it's time to pull this one together! Every season I start off thinking, "This has some good tunes but it's not as good as last year," and then end up falling in love with all the songs anyway. So here are my top 10 from the final season.

...Okay, I cheated and included 11, because I wanted to include two songs that are joke songs even within the CXG framing.

10 (Tie). Apple Man/How to Clean Up

For some reason, Apple Man has maybe gotten the most plays of all the season four songs despite not being an actual song. It's parodying those cheesy character songs in musicals that serve no purpose and just let a character actor goof around, and this is exactly what they all sound like. It's just so weird and funny to me. Rachel Bloom has said this is the song that gets stuck in her head the most.

How to Clean Up maybe got the biggest belly laugh from me this season. Josh is living on his own for the first time ever and doesn't know how to keep his place clean, so he asks Daryl to help him. We get the beginnings of a perky inspirational montage song, only to then learn that cleaning up is actually really, really straightforward.

No best lines for either of these, they're too short.

9. Sports Analogies

This one was in competition with "The Group Mind Has Decided You're In Love" for this spot, but this one won out thanks to the joy of listening to Scott Michael Foster leaning into his inner crooner and the hilarious visual gag of them Dean Martin-ing hard with a cigarette and a drink in EACH hand. This one doesn't require a lot of context, it's a pretty self-contained joke (and kind of one-note, thus being further down the list) but, again, love that crooning.

Best line: "We're American men, we like all sports except for soccer."

8. No One Else Is Singing My Song

I have always loved how compassionate this show was toward its characters while also not giving them a pass on bad behavior just because of their own mental health issues. This song is all about the tendency to see our own insecurities and problems through the lens of "Nobody else could possibly understand what I'm going through," while in actuality a lot of difficult feelings are a lot more universal and relatable than we think, and if we allowed ourselves to believe that instead of holding onto our individuality, we might feel less alone. It's a funny and occasionally needed reality check for me.

Best line: "It's logistically impossible, I am super unique."

7. I Want to Be a Child Star

This episode has my favorite throwaway joke in the whole series ("Boy? Boy? Why are you crossing?") and this insanely catchy tune, in which we see a little of Rebecca's obsession with following specific narratives to the letter reflected in her half-brother, who is determined to be a big name child star... including the stereotypical young adult meltdown, spiral, rehab, sex scandals, and attempted comeback. It's just such a cheerful energetic tune, and the kid's hopeful "Someday I will achieve my dreams" vibe cracks me up. It's framed and performed with the same innocent idealism as, say, Little Orphan Annie sings about finding her parents someday, but... with a very different context.

Best line: "I want to squander everything I've worked for and spiral out of control!"

6. Time to Seize the Day

This is one of the most relatable songs of this season for me. Like... Some months, this is every day getting ready for work. In context, Rebecca has been the subject of some nasty online writings and is now terrified to leave the safety of her home. She keeps psyching herself up to leave, but, wait, no, she has to clean the fridge first. And then maybe she needs to order a new fridge. And then maybe she needs to look up some facts about sting rays. And then before she knows it, it's nighttime, she's missed her chance to go out with friends, and she doesn't actually feel better. It's SUCH a familiar routine and thought process, which is always a little startling (and sometimes comforting) to see reflected in someone else.

Best line: "Just take one step forward, two steps back, now two steps forward, four steps back, five more steps back and now I'm back in bed."

5. I've Always Never Believed In You

I really loved Paula's plotline this season of re-establishing a healthier relationship with her kids, only to immediately have to say goodbye to one as he goes off to do great things she honestly never thought he was capable of. This song is not only a heckuva powerhouse anthem, it's also funny and down-to-earth and a good reminder of how people can surprise us and grow into much better people than we ever knew. And I love how it is honest about parents' fears for their kids and taps into Paula's awe at who her kid is now along with the regret for not having more faith in him so she could be there through his transformation. It's such a heartfelt moment tinged with humor and it always makes me tear up a little at the end.

Best line: "The moment you were born, they placed you in my arms, and I looked into your eyes and thought, 'Well, there's a murderer.'"

4. Love's Not a Game

White Josh didn't get nearly enough musical numbers in this show, so it's super fun to watch him take on this Guys and Dolls parody in the show's next-to-last episode. It's just a fun number with fun costumes and a cheerful recognition of how skeezy it is to get your entertainment from your friends' lives... and how many of us do it anyway. Only thing that could make this song better is some tigher choreography, which I desperately miss -- a lot of this seems like some sort of weird freestyle. But that's a minor nitpick in an otherwise really fun song.

Best line: This time it's a tie between "Is nothing sacred to you, lady sir?" and "Josh should be wary of parasails!"

3. I Hate Everything But You

The decision to re-cast Greg as Skylar Astin in season four is a controversial one, but I really love it for creative reasons, and that was solidified by this song, which is So Very Greg that it made it much easier for me to see Skylar as Greg rather than just a new character. It taps so beautifully into the grumpy old man/edgy teen crossover vibe Greg always had, but I also like this sweet undercurrent where Rebecca and Greg have the potential to bring out good things in each other through this contrast in their personalities. When their relationship worked, it WAS because Rebecca's enthusiasm inspired him and his grumpiness grounded her. That can also go off the rails (as it has many times for them) but this song feels like the truest version of their relationship. Plus it's just really fun to sing along with when you're driving home cranky on a long commute after a stressful day.

Best line: "I hate the phrase 'Love conquers all' and I hate that it's true, 'cause I wanna not hate things when I'm with you."

2. Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal

This one took inclusion on a survivor playlist to really sink in for me, but once it did, WOW, did it. This show really excels at destigmatizing mental health issues and normalizing taking care of yourself, and this song is the epitome of that for me. While obviously medication doesn't work instantly or for everyone and the journey of finding one that does work can be exhausting, the stigma of "this is weird and I'd be embarrassed to tell anybody about it" stands in a lot of people's way, and the joyful embrace of medication with singing! And dancing! And bright colors! is so good at cutting through that perception. And some days I just need to be reminded of that. This song feels like a musical theater ensemble giving me a big comforting hug, and I have to admit I cry a little bit most times I listen to it.

Best line: "Some say that in the past we didn't medicate everyone -- cool, witch trials and the crusades sounded like so much fun!"

And before I get to my #1 pick, some honorable mentions, as always!
  • As mentioned above, "The Group Mind Has Decided You're In Love" was in the running. It's such a funny takedown of the weird fetishizing of LGBT couples.
  • "Eleven O'Clock" and "The Darkness" didn't hit as hard as Rebecca's serious ballads have in previous seasons, but they're both good and were in contention.
  • "Gratuitous Karaoke Moment" goes in waves for me where I love it and then waves where it dies down. When it works, it really works!
And now, my #1.

1. Don't Be a Lawyer

Yeah, yeah, besides "Anti-Depressants..." this is everyone's favorite from season four. But that's because it's great! Lawyers are held up in so many narratives as The Best of All Possible Professions, so it's fun to see someone tackle the fact that, really, most lawyers are doing pretty boring things, and hardly anyone is able to make big bucks AND use law to change the world for the better. But, like so many others on this list (season four really brought it with the upbeat songs, huh?) this song is just so upbeat and fun and cheery singing about the soul-sucking nature of the profession. It just puts a smile on my face every time I listen to it, and even more so when I watch it and get to enjoy the choreography as well. So good.

Best line: "There are so many other professions that don't turn you into Jeff Sessions."

Well... that's my top 10 from every season, folks.

Next up, I guess, is making a giant Flickchart-style ranking of every individual song.

So that's what I'll be doing for the next... quite some time.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday Update!

Another smattering of thoughts from throughout the week. Is this a sustainable blogging pattern? Maybe not, but maybe!

It's easy for me to be pacifist because I also believe in a deity that can dole out justice. So I can do what I need to do, I can persuade and fight and not have to take a life. I'm not sure where I would land on that if I didn't. I think it would be reasonable to believe in taking the lives of a few to save the lives of many -- I think I'd feel more urge to engage with the trolley problems of life. I'm trying to parse out how that affects (or should affect) how I think about violence in protests and/or war.

I checked out my old home church's Sunday morning sermon this week, just out of curiosity. As I'm cleaning out the old pieces of hurtful theology that goofed me up, I've felt a little bolder about being able to go back into those spaces without hurting myself. I am pretty good at sensing when something's going to touch upon old wounds, though, and this week's sermon pretty early on hit on some mildly triggering stuff, so I "noped" out of there after about 5 minutes but I wanted to chat about it VERY briefly here...

The analogy being used for our relationship to God was the potter/clay one, and was used in such a way that it conjured an image of me just... being just a big gross blob of nothing with literally no value until God twists us around into whatever shape he feels like. And I think I know what they're getting at, but it's a framing that encourages me to dissociate my spiritual self from my non-spiritual self, that pushes me to see myself as a hideous husk that fortunately gets to wrap myself up in a pretty cloth that is God. But any second that cloth slips, the hideous husk remains. It is nearly impossible for me to hear these analogies and not hear again the message that the very core of my being is seen by God as useless, disposable, ugly, gross.

The potter/clay analogy is Biblical, of course, so I'm not comfortable hand-waving it away, but I always think of it much more in terms of that old story about the artist who was asked how he made a particular elephant sculpture: "You just chip away everything that doesn't look like an elephant." That there is a core piece of us that God already sees (he made us in his image, and something of that must remain), something valuable he is fighting for, and when he changes us and grows us it's because he's clearing away the pieces of us that cloud who we really are, who he made us to be.

That tiny reframing makes a difference because it means that we are not fighting our own nature when trying to follow God. We are instead fighting for it. And it means I'm not trying to reject my feelings, my experiences, my melancholy, my introversion, my relationships. I am trying to full realize them as they were meant to be, without being clouded by the guilt or pressure or fear of "doing things wrong" that obscure so many pieces of my life.

I hadn't processed out exactly why that sermon intro bothered me so much until just now, but that's it. It was an instinctive reaction against that idea I've wrestled against for so long: That the enemy is me.

You know what I've realized stresses me out more than it should, given how mundane it is? Paperwork. I have an innate ability to screw up simple paperwork, and as my job has gotten more paperwork-heavy over the years, it's stressed me out more and more.

I'm still ruminating on that Sunday sermon and the way I've reframed that sense of identity. I feel like it all comes down to the question of am I, at my core, evil, and God covers it up? Or am I, at my core, good, and sin covers it up? Which is my true self and which is the modified version of it? I feel like the doctrine of original sin, which was taught to me with great emphasis growing up, leans toward the first one, in which case of course you can't trust yourself -- you're evil to your core and there is nothing good in you. But I don't think it has to be taught that way. We are, after all, created in God's image, and what on earth does that mean if we are also simultaneously created evil? I think perhaps my parents might say we begin as evil at the core but then can be truly transformed into our Christlike selves which is also the deepest part of us, but too often that transformation gets painted in a way that still encourages us to deny our deepest wishes, fears, hopes, and emotional responses, not because they're returns to bad habits, but because they are us and we are evil.

This reframing matters to me. It matters whether my Christian faith as it matures will lead toward better hiding who I am deep down or better revealing of who I am deep down. It matters whether I as a Christian of 20 years will be better at covering up my feelings vs being better at understanding my feelings. It matters whether I'm just piling on layer after layer of new paint vs scraping away the old ugly paint to reveal what's truly underneath. One leaves me in despair and self-loathing. One inspires me to move forward toward what I was created to be.

Moving from one side of the political spectrum to the other is often framed by those who didn't move in terms of that person becoming an "angrier" person. I think largely because they suddenly get passionate (and sometimes, yes, angrier) about things that their previous community didn't prioritize so now it feels like they're getting "all worked up over nothing."

But I want to take a moment to acknowledge the effect that moving further left has had on my art consumption. Deliberately diversifying my film, TV, and book reading as a part of that has brought me a great deal of joy. I love finding a new story that I feel like I can connect to in a way I know I wouldn't have before because it was dealing with experiences outside of my own. I would not have adored Black Panther and Blindspotting and Sorry to Bother You (2018 was a powerhouse year for mainstream African-American cinema!) five years ago the way I do now, but now they reach me. I would not have appreciated the quietness of Tomboy five years ago, or fallen in love with how Steven Universe plays with gender expectations. I was not as wildly delighted for the Spanish-language West Side Story or the Deaf West musical productions when they first happened as I am now. I feel like my art consumption has grown richer and deeper and more challenging and more beautiful.

It's so surreal sometimes to hear things like "the Left just wants to be outraged at everything all the time," because I associate my beliefs so strongly with this new growing feeling of love and joy at realizing the world is not all about me. (And then of course I try to take that belief into the rest of my world as well as I try to connect with those unlike me and understand what it is important to them and try to support them as best I can.)

I feel like I used to have a lot of non-judgy Christian friends. Then as we all got older, either they all got judgy of me or they stopped being Christian, and now I'm just... alone.

Friday, June 19, 2020

So Everything Is Crazy Now

It's been... quite a few months. Between the pandemic and the protests and everything else the world's been throwing at us, my mental state has just been gone since my last blog, but here are a handful of random thoughts and experiences, stuff that hasn't felt like I had the spoons to do a full blog on. This may be my blog state for a little while.

I'm immunecompromised, and so the pandemic has been scary, but it's been way scarier to see people I've previously thought of as friends fighting really hard against my safety. The few times I've felt okay enough to be like, "Hey, um, so this affects me," they have responded with essentially, "That sucks for you, but freedom is more important." Knowing that not wearing a mask is more important to them than my life is... not something that stops being scary when the virus itself stops being scary.

As churches have been fighting to open up, there's a part of me getting angry about it not just because they're endangering people but because most of the reasons have been essentially "Fellowship isn't easy on Zoom," and when I tried to say "Fellowship isn't easy at church" I was told to it isn't about me and that I should stop being selfish. So I guess what that means is that it really is just me personally church isn't about. That it will always be about everyone else (to the point of endangering people's lives) but never me. Obviously this is a strong reaction and not entirely fair, but I truly struggle to see this and think anything other than, "I will never matter to a church."

The protests and the calling out of the racism entrenched in our country has been a whirlwind of emotions too. This wave has been different from past ones in that it's reaching places and people that didn't seem to be on board before, and the social media response has been loud and overwhelming. That is great in that it may lead to some actual change, but it also means I have had to be careful about what I'm reading about it for my own mental health. And then if I take a step back, I feel guilty for even being able to tune it out, not everyone can, and so it's a constant journey of trying to be a good ally and not turn a blind eye while also making sure I take care of myself so I CAN be a good ally. Some days it's easier to balance that and acknowledging what I am doing and can do, and other days I feel weighed down and then guilty for feeling weighed down. (Incidentally if any other white folks are feeling that too and want to talk about it without making POCs responsible for your emotions -- feel free to talk to me. I don't feel like I can do much these days but I can cheer you on and give you water so you can head back on out to do the work.)

I was fully an "I don't see color" person until shortly after college. I was very well-intentioned, I just didn't get it. My Christian university even did a year-long focus on diversity in its chapels and I just. didn't. get. it.

I have one particularly embarrassing memory of speaking up in a class to posit that doesn't talking about racism so much just lead to more racism? I think for me it was tied to the fact that I had always thought of the non-white people I knew as being like me, and being told, "No, they're not, they experience racism and you don't get it" forced me to mentally put them in an "other" category because our experiences were so different, so I felt like that must be wrong if it was encouraging that. Turns out I needed to find a way to resolve that within myself in a way that didn't invalidate other people's experiences. But the answer I got in that didn't clear it up for me, hand it would be another year or two before I realized, "Oh, wow, I SUPER missed that boat. Ooooooof."

I've come a long way from that kind of thinking but it means as I run across a source that would have convinced me then, I hold onto it, because I can hope maybe it'll reach someone else who is in that same place now.

Anyone remember that Internet game Pandemic, later re-branded Plague Inc? I feel like the game needs to be updated to include the fact that too many people in the US apparently think you can fight viruses with freedom. We're the anti-Madagascar. The easiest to get into and take down.