Asian American men — according to last year’s online dating study, the least desired men of any race — just got another shot of positive PR. The only new series to debut in the fall for the CW network is “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” where a hot white/Jewish woman (Rachel Bloom) leaves her prestigious law firm in New York to move to West Covina to track down the love of her life, an Asian American named Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III).
Whereas ABC’s “Selfie” set up a premise where we weren’t sure week-to-week if Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) and Henry Higgs (John Cho) were attracted to each other, “Crazy Ex” is clear: The two principal characters did like each other. Heck, over a two-month period in summer camp between the 11th and 12th grade, Josh awakened Rebecca Bunch’s sexual identity (yep, they had sex and it must’ve been fantastic).
But at the end of that summer, while Rebecca clinged to Josh, he felt she was too weird and emotional and wanted to date other people. She was crushed. Ten years later, Rebecca’s about to become a junior partner in a New York law firm where she’ll make more than half a million dollars a year. But she’s not happy. She keeps running into an ad that asks, “When was the last time you were really happy?” and she realizes it was with Josh.
Coincidentally, Rebecca catches him walking down the street. He tells her he’s about to move to West Covina and to look him up if she’s ever in the area. So she turns down the partnership and moves to West Covina.
Rebecca meets a bartender, Greg (Santino Fontana), who happens to know Josh. In order to get close to Josh, she accompanies Greg to a dance she starts making out with him, all the while asking him about her ex. Finally, feeling he doesn’t want to get in her pants that way, Greg calls it off.
Rebecca won’t even admit to nosy co-worker Paula that she moved to West Covina to stalk Josh. When forced to face the truth, Rebecca’s horrified, but Paula, proving the best friend she’ll be in the series, reassures her that she’s doing it out of true love, so she’s not weird.
The first episode leaves you wondering how long it’ll take before Rebecca reunites with Josh, or will she hear “You just missed him!” for a long period of time?
I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a pilot so much. It was hilarious. Rachel Bloom, 28, is amazing. Besides being the star, she’s the co-creator of the show, one of the executive producers, co-writer of the episodes, and even co-writer of every song she sings (there are about two musical numbers per show). And she portrays Rebecca in a balanced way, so you’re not repulsed by her obsessiveness (quite a delicate balance, you can imagine).
In this week’s episode, she bumps into Josh in a market making out with his Latina girlfriend (Gabrielle Ruiz). Josh warns Rebecca to stay away from Valencia because she can get very angry about ex’s. But our resident stalker joins Valencia’s yoga class, offers to secure a space where she can hold her own classes and not give up 50% of her earnings, and wins her over. Rebecca develops a girl-crush on her and sings (presented as if she’s in a music video) “Feelin’ Kinda Naughty.”
“I wanna kill you/And wear your skin like a dress/But then also have you see me in your dress/And be like ‘OMG, you look so cute in my skin!’/I wanna lock you in a basement/But in that basement you would also be my personal trainer…”
After flirtatious kisses on the dance floor, Jessica starts making out with Valencia, which enrages her. When she learns that Rebecca and Josh were an item, Valencia wants nothing to do with her. In the end, Josh secretly has dinner with his ex, and it’s up in the air what will happen next, but our obsessive heroine reveals that she hasn’t given up on being close to Valencia.
What’s great about the series is that you have no idea where it’s going next. Bloom and her producers could’ve milked the “trying to track down Josh” story arc over a long period of time, but they resolved that in the second episode, built the Rebecca/girlfriend relationship and ended it, leaving themselves open to yet another new direction for the series.
I noticed that Bloom and her producers show Asian American extras at restaurants, and Rebecca’s client is a Mr. Mendez, which acknowledges the huge Latino population of Southern California. In interviews, Bloom said that was intentional. She grew up in Manhattan Beach and wanted to reflect the diverse population. In fact, “We always wanted the male lead to be Asian because I grew up with Asian bros, and I hadn’t seen that represented on TV.” OK, give this woman an award. Wow.
Here’s the frustrating thing: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” debuted with a lousy .27 18-49 rating and less than a million viewers. It went slightly up this week to a 3.0 but lost overall viewership. The saving grace is that the network has always had lousy ratings. As much as “Jane the Virgin” has gotten a lot of press and even awards, last season, it averaged a .48 rating and an audience of only 1.2 million.
So I’m not worried that this show will get canceled, but for what it’s offering, it really deserves better. Monday nights at 8 p.m. on Channel 5. Make it a weekly appointment.
Take That! Department: The critics hated “Dr. Ken,” but the public loves it. In its first week, the Friday 8:30 p.m. show outdid its lead-in — “Last Man Standing” starring Tim Allen — up from 1.2 to a 1.5 in the 18-49 demographic that advertisers value most. The following week, the Ken Jeong sitcom slipped to a 1.3 but held on to 93% of “LMS’” audience. Last week, “Dr. Ken” remained at a 1.3 and held on to 100% of “LMS.”
Tuesday, it was rewarded with a full-season order, an additional nine episodes added to its original 13. Now, its predecessor in that time slot, “Cristela,” also got a full-season order but wound up the lowest-rated 18-49 ABC show of last season and was canceled, but “Dr. Ken” is up 25% compared to last year and shows no sign of slipping.
Asians Equals Guaranteed Success Department: It’s an amazing time to witness, but the three shows that star Asian actors on ABC are all doing well. Besides “Dr. Ken,” on Oct. 13, “Fresh Off the Boat” got a full-season order and “Quantico” starring Priyanka Chopra got an additional six-episode order to its initial 13, just three short of a full 22-episode season.
Message to the networks: If you want a guaranteed success, have Asian actors star in your show!
On the Other Hand Department: Directly opposite “Dr. Ken,” NBC debuted “Truth Be Told,” a sitcom that deals with race. It focuses on Mitch (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who’s ¼ Indonesian but playing Jewish) and his wife Tracy (Vanessa Lachey) who’s “ethnically ambiguous” (though she’s said her mother’s from the Philippines), and a black couple.
Among the topics: Russell (the black man) telling Mitch he believes hostesses in Chinese restaurants fake Asian accents so the food will seem more authentic. When he says “thank you” in Chinese to one of them and she gives him a weird look as if she didn’t understand what he just said, he’s even more certain he’s right. In the end, as that same woman arrives at work, she’s heard speaking unaccented English to a friend and gives her car keys to Russell as if he’s a valet.
Earlier, when a white valet erroneously gave the keys of the car to Mitch, he got offended, believing the valet assumed his black friend couldn’t have such a nice car. No, the valet explains, there was a John Mayer CD playing in the vehicle, so he assumed the car was his. Mitch sheepishly admitted yep, that’s his CD in Russell’s car.
One of the reasons Mitch doesn’t want to hire a hot babysitter is because he’s white and she’s “ethnically ambiguous,” just like his wife, and he doesn’t want people to think he has a fetish. I thought the sitcom had potential, but the critics hated it, and it had the worst debut for any NBC show in its history, a .7 18-49 rating and only 2.6 million overall viewers.
Another Aggravating Contestant Department: The current installment of “Survivor” brings back players who’ve played the game once before but never won. Two Asian Americans returned: Woo Hwang and Peih-Gee Law. Both ended up in the same tribe and almost immediately, Peih-Gee came into conflict with Abi, a walking Latina stereotype who speaks with an accent and gets emotional over petty things.
When their tribe lost and someone had to be voted out, it seemed as if Abi was the obvious choice, but the group supported Peih-Gee and laughed at Abi, and Terry Deitz was the only one to comfort her and form an alliance with her. Somehow, along with Jeff Varner, they conspired to successfully vote out an aggressive member of the tribe.
Later when two tribes became three, Woo, Peih-Gee, Abi and Jeff were still joined at the hip. Despite having a 4-to-2 majority, Abi and Jeff sided with the two new members of their tribe and voted out Peih-Gee. Argh! I couldn’t believe it. How did the dumbest classmate in school become kingmaker?
Previously, I noted how much I hated the manipulative Vanessa on “Big Brother 17.” Abi’s the focus of my latest anger.
These bad news bears lost four weeks in a row and it looked as if the others were going to vote off Woo. Luckily, one of the newer members realized they needed Woo because he was physically strong and he could help better conditions in their camp. Jeff pointed out to Abi that he’s been loyal to her and Woo voted to cast her out twice. All Woo could say was that he’d be great in physical challenges and loyal to her from now on.
To my pleasant surprise, it worked and crazy Abi voted out Jeff, keeping Woo safe for another week. “Survivor” airs Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. on CBS.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at email@example.com. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.