Crazy Ex-Girlfriend returns this Friday, October 21, for 13 glorious episodes, and Geeks OUT could not be more excited. YouTube sensation Rachel Bloom’s series for The CW has won awards, critical acclaim, and a devoted following. The unusual series fuses broad comedy, intense drama, and musicals. There is no other show like it currently on the air, and it’s especially impressive in the way it explores themes as diverse as mental illness, addiction, and obsession through a lens of romantic comedy. The series setting of sunny West Covina, California, hosts a remarkable cast of characters. I am especially drawn to the character of Darryl Whitefeather, who through the course of season 1 goes through a divorce and then discovers, to his shock and delight, that he is a bisexual man. He makes this discovery through meeting a young man who goes by White Josh (regular Josh is the Filipino love interest of main character Rebecca Bunch), the series' only out gay character who is played by actor David Hull. I reached out to actor Pete Gardner, who plays the sensitive, delightful, and affirming Darryl, and we had an enlightening conversation, covering his experience on the show, his perspectives on Darryl’s discovery, Darryl’s romance with White Josh, and just a hint of what we can expect from his season 2 arc.
Gavin Rehfeldt: We're expecting 13 episodes for season 2 like it's a BBC series. Can we expect longer seasons in the future?
Pete Gardner: I think they could possibly do it, but I don’t think the show necessarily wants to. I know the show wants to continue but longer seasons would screw up their arc. They’ve got a story arc that they’re trying to keep going so if they continued on they’d be eating into their next season and what they have planned for next season. Hopefully there will be a next season, you know, but that’s the plan.
GR: I hope so too. It’s a wonderful show.
PG: Well, thank you, I really think it’s caught on with people. I think it made a difference when it got on Netflix. I think people were having a hard time finding The CW, and or even knowing what that was. A lot of people I talked to about it said, “Oh, I want to watch your show but I don’t have cable.” It’s not on cable, it’s local TV! It’s on every… but no one got it. Then people I thought had been watching it for months said, “Oh, we’ve been watching it on Netflix and it’s awesome!” So I thought that was hilarious that people I thought were paying it attention, they’d been missing it completely. I think it’s just hard sometimes.
GR: I got turned onto it because it was explained to me as a musical comedy television series. I didn’t know anything about it. I know there are people who have been sort of turned off by the title by it being sexist or misogynistic.
PG: Yeah, or just like who wants to watch that? I mean, that’s not all the show is about. I mean, it’s part of it. It’s kind of about that, but it’s really the jumping off point for the craziness that ensues.
GR: I love the representation of your character and the representation of Rebecca as someone who struggles with mental illness. Everyone resists being binary. It’s rare to see an Asian American lead male character, for example, who is so nuanced. Or even a character in a comedy that’s so nuanced, and isn’t a stock character. Especially interesting how your character is defying so much of what is in the television landscape where bi characters are often viewed as devious or self-loathing or indecisive. There is a lot of bi erasure in media, and it’s exciting to see someone just friendly and fun who just happens to identify and is on a journey towards figuring out how they identify.
PG: What I think is great too is that he has that amazing song “Getting Bi” that hits on all those points. All those things where it’s not going to be like that it’s going to be different. I think that song is almost an anthem of how bi people should be seen.
GR: And doing it with so much great humor.
PG: That’s what's so great about it too. Because Darryl is funny, but Darryl’s sexuality isn’t the joke. I think that’s what people were worried about. I have friends who are bi that were watching the show and thought they saw where it was going, “Oh God, it’s a comedy,” so they’re thinking they could see Darryl’s going to be gay and then he’s going to realize “No I’m not,” or it’ll be a joke. “It’ll be some sort of thing where he makes fun of the discovery of his sexuality,” and that has nothing to do with it. The other great thing is he comes out to everyone at work, but yeah so what? Nobody cares. That’s fine. Nobody’s down on him, and it’s not a big deal. I think it’s hilarious, I think it’s awesome. But it’s really well written and I think what makes a difference, what really makes it stand apart, is it didn’t happen in one episode. Most television shows when you have someone come out, whether gay or bi or what have you, they give it all in one episode — one “very special episode.” This one it came over in five episodes, and little by little by little. It was Darryl’s discovery. I think it’s a total discovery. I think that [foreshadowing Darryl’s discovery] would kind of cancel out the way that it was written, which is that he’s just discovering this. I don’t think he even knew this was an option. I think because White Josh shows him affection, and attention, and everybody else on the show is always just dumping on Darryl. Nobody even wants to be his friend, and then White Josh wants to show him some attention, and gives him some focus, and is such a nice nurturing person I think that just catches Darryl off guard. I think that’s why it’s such a cute relationship, because I think it’s genuine I don’t think that Darryl’s been thinking about this for a while, or had an inkling or whatever. He’s just so glad to find somebody. I think he really likes the person not so much the gender, not so much the person’s gender.
GR: I thought it was amusing the moment where he’s at the gym and he’s looking at a woman’s backside and then a man’s backside and he’s just kind of like “well, you know, I understand both. I get it.”
PG: Right! Exactly! I think it’s a genuine discovery. Like, “Oh wow!”, the light bulb is really going off. Otherwise, it really takes the stakes out of it if he’d been thinking about it more than that. I think it’s such a surprise to him, and that’s why it’s so revelatory to him and why he wants to share it with everybody because he never even realized that this was possible.
GR: So of course, the show is a great success, critically, has a great following-cult or otherwise. It got renewed for a second season, which is great. It won several awards for Rachel Bloom and members of the crew. It was fun seeing you on social media with some of the crew holding Emmys.
PG: Oh yeah.
GR: How were you living this summer with the ongoing success of the show and the recognition moving into the new season being put on film?
PG: Well, it’s been really interesting. I’ve been traveling a bit, going to see my family, back in New York, and up in New Hampshire. Saw some buddies from college. We had a little reunion. Then we came back to New York for the upfronts. That’s where I saw [co-star] Donna Lynn, who plays Paula, and she was in New York City doing Shakespeare in the Park. So, we all were there for the upfronts, and we went to see Donna Lynn while she was there. Watched a rehearsal, which was a lot of fun. Everybody is very supportive of each other, and seems to really be there for one another so it really is a great feeling. What’s kind of nice is the two people who won the Emmys Kabir and Kat, our editor and choreographer. The thing that is so great, especially for the people to win the first two Emmys for the show, that those are people who spend all their efforts making everybody else look good. You know? I think awards can be divisive it can start to be like, “Oh she got an award, and he’s getting more attention.” Everybody in the cast and the crew loves those guys because their whole effort is to make everybody else look good. It’s not about them. It’s about the show and putting the best effort forward in the show. It’s a really nice thing to be recognized for right off the bat. You know how it can be with awards and someone is singled out. We’re all doing the same job and sometimes you feel like, “Oh, that’s too bad” and that can divide people. The amazing thing, when those two awards came into the table read and everyone sat down to do the next episode there was just a roar of applause and support and love. It was just the greatest feeling because a year earlier we were the same happy, fun, supportive people but we had no recognition. We were barely breaking numbers in the ratings and so we were always like, “Oh boy we’re gong to get canceled any day.” But, everyone was doing their best. It’s so nice to see we are getting some recognition and people are actually watching the show. It was a good feeling.
GR: In regards to Daryl’s bisexuality being discussed in articles and interviews with you, and his journey of identification, what are some of the enlightening perspectives you’ve gotten? Have there been any disappointing questions or uninformed perspectives? Do you find there’s a divide or are people largely on the same page?
PG: People have been incredibly supportive, and really on the same page. I think it was the way it was presented. It was kind of hard to take a potshot at it, and there’s not really a downside. People from the press who have asked questions, at least from my view, they’ve all been very supportive and very nice. Nothing ridiculous. There’ll be, every once in a while, I’ll come across someone who’s not very evolved and will be like, “Sooo, you’re not gay and you’re kissing a guy? What’s that like?” That’s somebody that’s obviously got a lot of other things to figure out. That’s like, to me, that’s somebody that’s not up to speed on what’s going on in the world.
GR: And you’re an actor, so.
PG: I’m an actor! That’s my job, and that’s what we’re doing. It’s just nonsense. It does happen rarely, but occasionally people will say stuff like that. It’s almost hard to believe that someone would say something like that because, like, people kiss their fathers, people kiss their brothers, whatever. It’s not that big a deal. There’s just a lot of fear in this world.
GR: Can we argue that Darryl is the first positively portrayed bisexual in the television landscape?
PG: I guess it could be said. I don’t know that. I’ve never seen somebody else portray it and be like, “Oh that’s terrible!” That’s what people have said. I’m more than willing to go along with that. I think the thing that really makes the difference is that it was written that his sexuality is not the joke. It is basically that his sexuality is just an elaboration on his character. It’s showing you more sides to him rather than he’s just a goofy boss, or the thing we’ve seen a thousand times — this guy is different and it shows more of who he is really. I think that’s fantastic. When I first heard it I didn’t know that when I first got the job. When I went to go meet the writers, they’re like, “Oh yes, and you sing a song in episode 5, and in episode 11 you sing a song when your character comes out as bisexual.” My first reaction was like, “AWESOME!” because that means the guy is going to have more to him. He’s going to be more evolved. There’s going to be more to him than just a joke. So that to me was fantastic. I love that. That was great.
GR: It was conveyed so authentically and sincerely. Can you talk about the response from audience members who identify as bisexual or queer?
PG: I only have really one solid one. Or a couple people, actually. With most people it’s been positive, like with what you’re saying: “Oh it’s so great to see just a genuine person have this experience on TV.” That’s great. But then there were a couple people who were saying, “I was really holding my breath waiting for when you kissed White Josh for you to say, ‘Oh! Nope, I’m not gay!'” like some joke or whatever. “I’m not gay, or I thought I was gay! I was confused!” or any of that kind of stuff, and that would be the butt of the joke. “If you would have done that you would have lost me.” But, then the person that mentioned this said they couldn’t believe that we went through with it. It was beautiful. It was nice. And then they’re in a relationship. It was so fantastic, and great to see.
GR: And then you two made it all the way to the wedding. Wearing matching tuxedos with Lea Salonga singing. It’s a pretty magical moment.
PG: It was! It was awesome! Great song. I think that was the song, right? “One Magical Moment?" [I looked into it after our conversation, and the song is "One Indescribable Instant," which can be heard here -GR]
GR: You received some recognition on Twitter during bi visibility month.
PG: I think the most, the biggest connection people have, is his song “Getting Bi.” It really sticks out for people. People love that song because it really is an anthem for the way they see themselves. Because there are so many people who say, “Well, you’re really gay but you’re just not committing. You’re just being non-committal. You’re jumping around.” But, that’s not what people who identify as bi think. “I don’t care for one gender or the other, I just care about the person. I really am only seeing the person.” That’s the way I understand it.
GR: I find it interesting that Darryl’s revelation is tied to his interest in physical fitness, and that his love interest the muscular White Josh serves as his “fitspiration.” Do you have any comments on Darryl’s identity in terms of connecting his sexuality and sense of self-care?
PG: The only thing I can say about that… He wasn’t really that serious with working out. I think he saw White Josh as being his “fitspiration,” as he says, which he wanted for himself but there was nothing motivating him to do it. But, as the second season has come around I’ve been personally working out because — I don’t know if you’ve ever dated somebody who you thought they were out of their league but when you do you’ve got to kind of pull it together a little bit more. I think that’s kind of what gets touched on a bit in second season. There’s great connection between these two guys, but there’s also great divides. I see Darryl as getting in shape now because he wants this relationship to continue. But there wasn’t something about working out that brought them together. He already admired White Josh on his physical fitness. Darryl wasn’t making great strides with exercise. He even says on the party bus asking White Josh, “How many push ups can you do?” White Josh says, like, “140.” Daryl was, like, “I can do three sometimes.” He wants to be fit, but you know, he can’t pull it off. I think that now that they’re together that he doesn’t want to fluff off. He wants to be as fit as White Josh is.
Season 2 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend premieres on The CW on Friday, October 21, at 9/8c