The last time Rachel Bloom was on TV on a weekly basis, it was with a show she co-created, starred in, and wrote. On The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, she would sing anywhere between three to five songs each week—songs that she also wrote. On a given episode, she might tap dance, do a waltz, rap about her big boobs, croon about period sex, impersonate Marilyn Monroe while singing about love triangles, and also chart one of TV’s most realistic, moving depictions of depression and mental illness. She did this 18 times a year, for four seasons.
“I think Crazy Ex-Girlfriend both raised the standard for anything I want to do—there’s a high bar— but also: I did it,” Bloom tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed.
That, of course, is a joke, a tease you could imagine turning into a song on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, likely performed as a barnburner by Tovah Feldshuh as her character’s guilt-inducing Jewish mother. That anyone could describe Bloom as “lazy” is preposterous. “Enlightened,” however, now that she’s back on TV as a series regular, might be more appropriate.
On Reboot, Bloom plays Hannah, a TV writer, who pitches execs on a revival of a cheesy early-2000s multi-cam sitcom called Step Right Up. The meta gimmick here, though, is that everyone involved hates reboots. They think they’re tired. They think they’re bad. They think no one actually likes them. They reboot the show anyway. This time, it’s going to be different: It’s going to be a dark update of the popular sitcom. (Think Mad About You, if, like, the revival suddenly had Helen Hunt addicted to meth.)
The series follows Hannah’s tortured experience of producing this version of the show, amid the petulant drama of its washed-up cast and original creators’ dated attitudes.
Since Crazy Ex-Girlfriend went off-air in 2019, Bloom has recorded a slew of voice over work for series like Robot Chicken and movies like Trolls 2: World Tour, and filmed a role in Netflix’s adaptation of the massively popular YA fantasy novel The School For Good and Evil. Last fall, she published I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are, a collection of “personal essays, poems, and even amusement park maps.”
She discusses her experience being bullied in a TV writers room, writes about the food at award shows, and talks about the open secret of a #MeToo reckoning that’s been long overdue in the Broadway community. “I’d say it’s a pretty good representation of how my brain operates,” she told the Los Angeles Times about the book.
Then there’s the musical adaptation of the ’90s sitcom The Nanny that she’s been working on for two years. (When it was announced, you could hear my giddy squeal on the moon. Or, at the very least, at a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens.)
Suffice it to say, Bloom isn’t just acting at this point in her career. She’s still doing, well, everything… but this time on healthier, more human terms.
It’s a needed change. These last years have been dramatic and eventful for all of us; that’s certainly true for Bloom.
At the very beginning of the pandemic, in spring 2020, Bloom gave birth to her daughter. Because there was fluid in her lungs, the baby was put on a ventilator in the NICU at a Los Angeles hospital. Across the country in New York, her friend and collaborator Adam Schlesinger, with whom she co-wrote Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s songs and had been working on The Nanny musical, was also on a ventilator, due to complications from COVID. The night Bloom was finally able to bring her daughter home from the hospital, Schlesinger died.
Reboot doesn’t just mark a return to being a series regular on TV. It’s a return to the public eye. It’s a return to the press cycle. It’s a return to life. How is she feeling about all of that?
“Thank you for asking that,” she says, during a recent Zoom ahead of the premiere of the Hulu series. “Actually, I feel really grateful. I feel really grateful to have work, because, amongst everything, show business is changing. The world in which I entered the business over 10 years ago, it’s almost completely changed.”
She credits Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for contributing to that change in her own professional life. But it also helped reset her perspective on how she works today.
“I had that show and now everything else…it’s not like there’s no pressure. There’s still pressure, and I strive for excellence and I want to always be adding to what I’m saying as an artist,” she says. “But there isn’t the thing that my character Hannah has on Reboot, which is that nothing in life is more important than me staying late at work right now. There is more of a healthy balance and appreciation.”
When Bloom’s character, Hannah, is first introduced in Reboot, she’s in a waiting room before a big Hollywood meeting, fidgeting nervously. She’s wearing jeans, Converse sneakers, a gray sweater, and glasses. The blonde woman with a perfect blowout and designer blazer sitting across from her pauses, staring at herself in her iPhone camera. “You’re a writer, aren’t you?” she asks Hannah. How did she know? “Writers don’t have to get all done-up for meetings.”
It’s a patronizing, sharp skewering of gross industry dynamics. And it’s a scene that Bloom, even as the butt of the joke, filmed with pride.
“I’ve been an actor longer than I’ve been a writer, but I gravitate towards people who are writers more than people who are actors,” she says. “There is a point of pride in being labeled a writer. Being labeled a writer, to me, means ‘smart’—as opposed to someone saying, ‘You look like an actor.’ I’d be like, what are you saying? Are you saying that I’m too made up and that I look insecure and that I’m dieting?”
One of the delights of Reboot is how it stacks levels of meta commentary upon its Hollywood satire, like a Jenga set that might collapse if it takes things just one more idea too far. It is a show about Hulu rebooting a sitcom in an age when there are already too many sitcom reboots, in which the creators are all aware of this and do not care. It also airs on Hulu.
Given Bloom’s own experience in the industry, working on the show meant going to set each day was like traveling down a hall of mirrors reflecting back slightly skewed experiences from her own career. In the show’s early episodes, for example, there’s a running tension between Hannah, who hires a staff of young writers identifying as being from marginalized communities—one would also call them “woke”—and the boorish dinosaurs from sitcoms that aired 40 years ago, who are brought in by the show’s original creator.
Hannah melts down, fed up with the old guard’s offensive jokes, antiquated comedic sensibility, and repugnant work ethic. The veteran writers nearly suffer ocular spasms, rolling their eyes at the overly complex, progressive ideas coming from the young staffers. Bloom has her own scars from attempting to build a bridge between the establishment and the more inclusive future she’d like to see on her projects.
“Hannah has less respect for the old than I do,” she says. “If I were in a room with old Jewish writers who wrote on Benson or something, I would be much more reverent. Hannah, for many reasons that we come to understand over the show, is like, ‘Fuck the past. Fuck these people.’”
But there are times that Bloom says she’s had to correct and, often fruitlessly, try to reason with coworkers from an older generation. Most of the time, even the most egregious things that she’s heard aren’t said out of malice. Again… most of the time.
“They’re said by people for whom this was the world they knew,” she says. “Or they’re said by people who are just batshit insane. A lot of people you meet, especially ones who have been mainstays for a while, have been driven a bit mad—whether it’s from the rampant cocaine use in the ’70s, the pressure of always having to look beautiful as a woman fighting with the male gaze, or the fact that, if you go into the arts, you’re a little broken.”
““This person was just on another planet. At one point, I said to him, ‘Hey, I hear that you’re scared. The world’s changing and it’s scary.’ ”
There was one particular time she got into a heated argument with “an older gentleman who had been in the industry for a long time”—no one on Reboot—who refused to acknowledge that trans people exist. “This person was just on another planet. At one point, I said to him, ‘Hey, I hear that you’re scared. The world’s changing and it’s scary.’ And he was like, ‘I’m not scared. What? I’m not scared of anything!’ He was just kind of crazy.”
When she’s working on her own projects, there is a part of her that sees them as a mission to make her professional industries less toxic and more accepting. “That’s something that we’ve been talking about on The Nanny. What is the dialogue we’re having with nostalgia in this case?…I think one reason that we’re fascinated by reboots is because it’s having your cake and eating it, too.”
These reboots allow us to go back to a time when things seemed like they were less complicated. But that nostalgia has to come with a hurried, explanatory caveat: Yes, I know there were a lot of issues then, too.
“It’s the grudging thing sometimes, where it’s like, I miss the late ’90s,” she says. “But yeah, there were a lot of problematic things”
For Bloom, one of those things is the way mental health was treated. Bloom has always been outspoken about her own issues and journey in that department. She channeled it through her character on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She’s been candid about it in interviews her entire career, and she writes about it in her book. On World Mental Health Day the year Crazy Ex was ending, Bloom tweeted a photo from The New York Times of her and the show’s co-creator, Aline Brosh McKenna. Brosh McKenna was styled impeccably, looking glamorous and put together. Bloom was slouching in baggy jeans and sandals, holding a soda can.
“When we did the photo shoot for this article, I was at the end of my mental rope from doing back-to-back 16 hour shoot days while trying to write songs in between scenes,” she tweeted. “The last thing I wanted to do was look pretty for a photo shoot. So, I asked if I could keep on a comfy sweater and just lean into the fact that I felt depressed from being so drained.”
In a follow-up tweet, she continued, “I’m glad to have some pictures that kinda capture what doing this job sometimes is, which is feeling drained and panicked and still having to perform. I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to seem happy all the time and subconsciously see showing my fatigue as weakness.”
These things matter to her now. Being able to talk about them matters to her now. So why is she nostalgic for a time when it was all so taboo? Reboot has gotten her to think a lot about that.
The idea of mental health never came up at her high school. When she attended New York University, it was only discussed in the wake of a spate of suicides on campus.
“Mental health wasn’t synonymous with ‘health,’” she says. “It was more like ‘mental crisis.’ Are you in crisis? Are you going to kill yourself? Which is a level of mental health, but I didn’t have suicidal thoughts. Suicidal thoughts are only one element of managing your mental health. I didn’t know any of that shit. So I have a weird nostalgia for the late ’90s and early 2000s, despite the fact I was miserable. I was miserable in 2002!”
Now there’s growth. There are conversations about these heavy issues. There’s therapy. There’s meaningful, rewarding work to do, such as figuring out the specifics of what a Nanny musical would look like. (“Do you want to see Fran Fine trying to use TikTok, or do you want to see her in her native time period and habitat?”) Bloom’s still working on that, in addition to Reboot—though plans have changed drastically following Schlesinger’s shocking death.
What Bloom has learned, though, is that’s OK, too. It’s sad—so unspeakably sad. It’s possible to feel that while also continuing on.
“For me, the pandemic and losing a friend while also caring for a newborn gave me a lot more perspective on life,” she says. “I go into things now just in a more measured way. I’m no less grateful to be working. I love to work. I realized that on this job: ‘Oh yeah, I still love this.’ It’s a huge part of myself. It’s just not the only part of my self-worth. And that’s been a lifelong journey.”
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