When Rachel Bloom talks about Darryl, one of the things I feel like she points out is that he’s a very lonely character who has this fundamental sadness and of course didn’t know why until meeting White Josh. As we see, he’s on a kind of desperate quest to be friends with someone. On paper, that sounds pretty tragic, but like Rebecca, he’s just too sunny to bring the tone of the show down.
In so many ways, Darryl has been locked out of the possibility for various relationships. To Stacey, he was too sensitive, to his father, the very same, I must imagine. To Paula, he’s the boss, recalling Jim’s conflict in an episode of The Office. To Rebecca, perhaps he’s too much like her. Nathaniel is in the midst of a hostile takeover, and that leaves Maya, and we know the story there. And the unfortunate thing is that none of these situations represent personality flaws, aside from the thing with Maya.
And at least in at least one case, the problem is a traditional aspiration: being the boss. That’s a real jam, despite its persistence as a trope in life and media. You can do everything right and still arrive at a moment where you realize things aren’t right. That being the case then, the only flaw we can argue for is that he tries too hard. Maya confronting Darryl in episode 209 revealed that Darryl is actually pretty aware of how he pushes too hard, reified in his rendezvous with Paula later on.
But this quality is also what overturns a lot of these problem areas. So I think Darryl can serve as a guide for how disparate people might come together, how the barriers keeping him sad can be overcome, and that becomes a key theme for Darryl — breaking barriers, which begins with the greatest barrier of all: yourself.
“Many of us spend a good chunk of our youth looking for ways to describe ourselves. We frequently know what we aren’t, we are great at rejecting the mainstream, our parents’ values, jocks, etc. While it may be easy to describe what we stand in opposition to, it’s much harder to realize what you stand for.”
This comes from an author writing for bisexual.org about growing up bisexual, specifically in Mexico City.
When many of us begin conceptualizing about bisexual people, maybe they’re an afterthought in the context of LBGTQ+, and that perception naturally tracks with a lot of bisexual people’s experiences. Defining yourself in opposition to what you are not sounds like a starting point, but how do you move beyond that when the world is telling you that you don’t exist?
Although we know he is, just to get our bearings, we might ask “Why is Darryl an important character?” and he becomes important, and practically revolutionary, simply by showing up. According to bisexual.org, “So many of the bisexual community’s hurdles predicate on the stumbling block of invisibility,” and making bi characters visible in media may be our first contact with a new idea in a meaningful way.
As a fellow Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fan, Milton, had pointed out to me, citing specific examples, TV has had a long history of this bisexual erasure in tandem with other tropes, like the Immoral Bisexual or that Everyone is Bi. And what these tropes say to me is that these television writers didn’t really understand bisexuality, and if they didn’t, it’s possible other people don’t either.
According to TV Tropes, “in most series, either Everyone Is Bi or there are No Bisexuals; there’s usually not much room in between. However, there is one group of bisexuals who seem all too well represented in the mainstream: the cold-blooded murderous sociopaths.” The examples range from The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cronenberg’s Crash and Blue Velvet to iCarly and The Big Bang Theory.
It’s almost like, to make someone unpredictable, you would add that kind of femme fatale shade of conflating sex and violence — something seductive and dangerous. Like, ooh, she just kissed a girl and she liked it. Milton pointed out to me, with urgency, that if you’re burnt out by this constant mistreatment of bi characters, check out “San Junipero,” an episode of Black Mirror, and he corroborates that The Bold Type does it well too.
Darryl of course is our preeminent example, and he follows through. Because what does it really mean to make a bi character visible, and by extension, represent bisexual people? Because obviously showing up is a direct answer to bi erasure in media, but it does feel like step one. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend follows up by exploring the character, and this is the work that can prevent the evil bi tropes from happening, because the intolerance creating those tropes comes in large part from living in a vacuum of bisexual people, images and ideas. Darryl at least offers the images and ideas, and that’s very powerful.
So how does it work?
Of course, we begin with episode 109, when he first talks to White Josh. The man allergic to T-shirts has clearly been on Darryl’s mind in a pretty significant capacity, and he’s honored to be able to talk with him. This is a great example of multifunctional storytelling beats, because the primary function of Darryl talking with White Josh is to isolate Rebecca, but it becomes a key brick laid for a new subplot.
And that subplot picks up in the next episode, where White Josh is also down. He is such an interesting character for the kind of non-sequiter moments like that, where he does betray a kind of broiness, despite his sensitivity and intellect. Darryl invites very new friends over to his house and isn’t shy about saying why. That being said, it is kind of a lie by the act of omission: “I miss her too, Iggy Asnailia.”
But we all do that, especially in the time of social media. I know I dress up my persona to be more appealing than I actually am, and that’s all about omission — I’m not gonna tweet my deepest darkest thoughts out to the Internet. And I think that’s okay, because we all have these secrets, snail-related or not.
Loneliness driving Darryl in this moment is a significant character detail. In screenwriting terms, we’d call it his “dramatic need.” And so he does his Darryl thing of putting himself out there, and that’s not easy. He doesn’t have a great pretense for inviting these guys over, and then he has no control over that pretense when it’s more boring than expected. So, like Rebecca on the bus, he resorts to somewhat extreme measures.
And in his penultimate scene of the episode, we have a lovely exchange topped off by a wonderful moment very well set-up by the preceding events. Without breaking the rules of his character, it’s a curveball. Notice White Josh’s reaction to Hector’s suggestion of bailing for a spot with attractive ladies. The reveal that White Josh is gay, confirmed two episodes later is nothing short of remarkable, of course.
As even he says, “it’s no big deal,” and that’s that one of two approaches the show takes to a social issue like LGBTQ+ representation: the non-marginalized narrative, where we see how White Josh lives and deals with the problems we all do.
When presented with sound evidence he may not be heterosexual, Darryl’s first instinct is to deny. But he’s able to accept his reality before he makes too much of a fool of himself, and this sets him down the path that is the answer to his earliest dramatic need: loneliness.
Inserting himself into people’s lives, Darryl is a character who demonstrates the power of persistence and just as important, when to stop, finding the line by crossing it. We ask, “what kind of character puts himself out there like this, pushes people too hard in his attempts to befriend them,” and at the very least, it’s the kind of person who accepts people unconditionally. No matter who you are, when you step off that elevator into Whitefeather, Darryl wants to be your friend. We saw how he didn’t give up on Nathaniel, nor was he put off by Rebecca the way Paula was, although he did have further designs.
And the kind of person who accepts others unconditionally is probably the kind of person who accepts themselves unconditionally, no matter how unexpected or even taboo that self is revealed to be. Bisexuality again is a pretty misunderstood identity, but Darryl is really excited by it, and accepts. And appropriately, that acceptance pays out in dividends, as any healthy romantic relationship would.
It doesn’t start out healthy and romantic though. For those who feel it might be too television-convenient for Darryl to hook up with the guy who helped him find himself, it turns out that White Josh needs some space, possibly amused but maybe a little taken aback by Darryl’s characteristic enthusiasm.
Maybe I’m just not perceptive enough, but I feel like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is relatively unusual on TV for its frankness with the concept of open relationships. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen open relationships on another TV show where it wasn’t a major dramatic focus, and especially where there isn’t this sense of “well, of course, I’m dating other people,” like White Josh and like Greg and Rebecca during their sex marathon.
For Darryl and White Josh both, they earn their relationship. Darryl has to realize that he’s initially ashamed of himself and that he shouldn’t be, in large part for its effect on White Josh. And after he accepts himself in his declaration outside the courthouse, the ball’s in White Josh’s court. Can he accept enthusiastic Darryl, and he does, because hey, who doesn’t have issues?
As Rebecca’s walls are crashing down around her in early season two, we see how Darryl has given White Josh a key to his ap-heart-ment, and White Josh has given Darryl a new set of eyes on the Cove. But a problem occurs in episode 205, during Rebecca and Valencia’s excellent adventure in the desert. Rebecca might be intrigued by an insecurity, but White Josh isn’t doing so well, feeling that Darryl doesn’t take him seriously, in that he hasn’t met his daughter yet. And once they arrive at Electric Mesa, Darryl begins to feel that to White Josh, he’s just a fetish.
Darryl’s insecurity here also relates to old age, that he’s surrounded by young people being very youthful, the way The New York Times reports about the young. That’s a pretty existential fear, the not belonging in a relationship with a younger guy, but also not belonging in a fast-moving society. So the answer comes down to breaking through those angry crunches and just talking with White Josh, miscommunication being so often the problem between Rebecca and Josh.
Darryl learns that White Josh too has insecurities, and that they specifically relate to the relationship’s maturation, proving he cares about Darryl more than for his age or even his Magnum PI looks. And Darryl answers White Josh’s insecurities in their final, touching scene of the episode.
As a side note, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend also reminds us from time to time that age is an increasingly useless measure — it doesn’t connote maturity or immaturity, and like Nguyen says at Winter Wonderland, it’s never too late.
“Mutual acceptance is the key to a healthy relationship” is as obvious as it sounds, so it’s significant again that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend takes us through the process of that mutual acceptance, demonstrating that it begins at self-acceptance, follows through with communication, and is justly rewarded.
Ultimately, though it hasn’t been spoken to explicitly so much in the show, Darryl is a profound commentary on masculinity. His sensitivity and enthusiasm, his emotional maturity, he’s caught heat for all of it, from his ex-wife and from his father, but it’s what makes him demonstrably understanding and inclusive. And even if it takes some repression of the past, moment-to-moment he’s completely self-assured, despite constantly being put second.
Like we talked about with Nathaniel, this is about a male character being contextualized in a more equal space. Space ever exists for a person like Nathaniel, nobody’s being replaced, and with Darryl, he can always accept himself despite that he’s called emasculated, which is otherwise a huge wound on the male ego. Wouldn’t it be great if men in real life could be more like Darryl, and in the show, we’re witness to and care how it doesn’t make him less of a person to be less of a toxic male. He’s happy, and to him and White Josh, I wish all the best.
Special Thanks to @bytheseamrtod
Originally published to A Generic Wonderful on 09/02/2017