Why 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' Was a Game Changer for Choreography on TV
Updated: Aug 1, 2020
On Friday, April 5, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend will air its series finale after four seasons. The show, created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, broke ground in 2015 for having a storyline that focused on an unapologetically messy female protagonist while normalizing mental health along the way through witty dialogue, song and dance.
The show celebrated a human's faults and foibles in a way television viewers had never seen before. Show choreographer Kathryn Burns was put to the task of finding relatable movement to help propel the storyline along — and she was great at it. She won a Primetime Emmy in 2016 for Outstanding Choreography.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was a game-changer for choreography on television in this modern era.
Comedy & choreography
Choreographing for a scripted, episodic show is certainly not a new idea. There have always been scripted shows requiring dance movement, but they are often musical shows like Glee or Smash. Other times, it's a one-off musical number on a scripted show. On Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the show was classified as a romantic musical comedy-drama. That's a lot of labels to attach to a show and that's exactly how Bloom, McKenna and Burns approached it.
Burns told us at the Emmys Reception in 2016 how challenging her job was as a choreographer on a series with limitless possibilities.
"When you're working with a script and a story, you're limited in a beautiful way to heightening the script, heightening the story, working with character and developing jokes," she said. "So making something heightened with comedy through movement is such a gift. I do a variety of styles from Bollywood yoga to tap dance to a '90s boy band to ballet, which I love about comedy."
As a choreographer, Burns was put to the task of creating movement for topics about mental health, antidepressants and yes, period sex. The blueprint was already there because Bloom and her songwriting team, consisting of co-producer Jack Dolgen and executive music producer Adam Schlesinger, developed music and lyrics that helped propel the story. Burns then had to tackle completing the picture for them.
"The grosser and more embarrassing it is for her [Rachel Bloom], the more comfortable she feels," revealed Burns. "There's really no limit to what she can and cannot do. If it makes her uncomfortable, she will attack it with fervor and it's the most fun."
Dance Dish was there at the 2016 Creative Arts Emmys when Burns won her first Emmy for Outstanding Choreography. She seemed shocked when she descended the escalator to the press room with her Emmy in hand, but this win was pretty significant for the dance industry.
Other than a win for Smash choreographer Joshua Bergasse in 2012, the category had been dominated by reality competition show wins for So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars. Burns' win, a rise in dance on episodic shows and growth in the dance industry helped the TV Academy decide to give choreographers two categories at the 2019 Emmys — Outstanding Choreography for Variety and Reality Programming and Outstanding Choreography for Scripted Programming.
After four seasons, viewers will bid a fond farewell to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but its significant contribution to dance and choreography is not forgotten.
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