In a room comprised entirely of green screen, Rachel Bloom stands on a platform, her blue gown and long dark wig blowing in fan-created wind. She's performing a group number with...well, no one. A monitor for the crew reveals she's acting opposite herself, dressed as an Eminem-style rapper. Famed music video director (and No. 1 Taylor Swift supporter) Joseph Kahn watches the take and yells cut. Her hand movement is too similar to the Carrie Underwood-esque country artist she performed as the day before. Let's try it again.
This is day two on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's season three opening credits sequence and it's like nothing the show has done before.
Showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna tells E! News that each year has gotten bigger and bigger, moving from season one's animated sequence to an eight-hour day for season two to this 20-hour, two day behemoth being undertaken. In fact, the day we visit set was supposed to have been a hiatus day. Bloom, ever the champion of the show she co-created with McKenna, writes and stars in, has graciously arranged for on-set massages for the crew. Because in a season that's upping the show's ante, the theme song has to really stick the landing.
"The challenge with this season was it's a lot about her trying to have revenge, and then it's also sort of about how revenge doesn't make any sense and doesn't lead anywhere great. I mean, the more you think about revenge, it's a remarkably inutile thing because you don't really end up with anything, so it's actually not really satisfying. And she tries different ways to get revenge, and ultimately it's not very satisfying," McKenna explains. "So we wanted something that would cover that idea, but then also the idea of progressing past that. So a lot of different ideas were discussed. Like more than the previous two seasons put together."
Bloom elaborates: This one, at first, our instinct was ‘Well she sees herself as the Glenn Close in this revenge movie.' But this season is actually quite propulsive, plot-wise. It's actually our most propulsive season. There's a lot of change. And so we worried that that theme song would, at a certain point—not to give anything away— would expire or seem regressive or not make sense anymore, really. So then I had a thought which was like, ‘Well, part of her problem this season is she doesn't know what story to tell herself.' Because this revenge narrative can only last in the short-term. You can't really tell yourself that for too long. So the idea of she's a character who relies on external things to define who she is, it was like, ‘Oh, well, what if is this is the season where she's stumbling around for anything to grab on to and hits this.'"
So what did they land on? An exploration of how popular culture—pop music, in particular—portrays what it means to be crazy, in all of its fractured, different positions. Bloom assumes four familiar personas: the aforementioned male rapper, the country starlet, the pop diva, and the male rocker. "If you think about the ten songs that spring to mind with ‘Crazy in Love,' they're all different, so we're just sort of boiling them down," McKenna explains. "The idea is, like, if you're a woman and you're trying to negotiate how quote-unquote crazy you can be, you're just bombarded with conflicted messages. And somebody like Rebecca, who's a sponge for that sort of thing, you know, it's her trying to sift through the culture's messages when all these people can't agree with each other."
"Obviously, pop music is never meant to be the most nuanced portrayal of what people are like, but you hear the word crazy used over and over," Bloom adds. "It's probably the most common word used in pop music, and if you're like my character, who's trying to live her life by those things, it would be very confusing to get guidelines from listening to different pop songs. So that kind of informed us of the styling."
And if you're going to tackle the trope of pop music and its music videos, who better to filter than lens than Kahn? Blooms admits that landing the high-profile director is a big get for their little show. "I mean, it raises our profile," she says. "We are incredibly proud of the songs and the music videos we do on this show, and having someone come in who is the best in the game—not just in comedy music, but quote-unquote legitimate music music videos—and is such an amazing filmmaker, it's f--king awesome."
McKenna courted Kahn first to direct the fourth episode of the new season and then pitched him on the possibility of sticking around for a few more days to help steer the ship on the credits sequence. "I was chasing him and somehow he said yes to doing an episode, and so I somehow managed to convince him to do the credits sequence," she says. "And it's really the kind of thing that he does all the time. So the artists [in] the genres that we're parodying, he's done music videos for artists in all four of the genres, so he was such a logical person."
However logical the fit, Kahn admits that directing the sequence was an exercise in ignoring his usual instincts. "There's overall clichés of the genre. The fact that we're playing with them, we're making clichés on purpose for comedic effect," he explains. "If I actually did real versions of this, I'd take those clichés, throw them out the window and come up with something you haven't seen before. If I did the same thing with this, people wouldn't understand it's a country or that's a rock video. They would go, ‘Oh, that's something new.' It doesn't serve the joke. So it's actually going against my instincts."
For a show that's made practice of changing its theme song each season—out of necessity, thanks to the ever-changing nature of Rebecca Bunch's psyche—you'd think there'd be a mounting pressure to appease the fans. But as Bloom tells it, that's not exactly the case. "Here's the thing. I loved last season's theme song and a ton of people were like, ‘We miss season one's theme song!' So you're never going to please everybody," she explains. "People don't like change, especially songs they love, that are familiar to them, changing. It's more about making sure that we are doing something we are proud of because people are going to be happy or unhappy no matter what, so all we can do is continue to do what we have been doing, which is make ourselves happy."
To get your first look at the new opening sequence, which makes its debut this Friday, Oct. 20, be sure to check out the video above!
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on the CW.