“Hello, nice to meet you, you broke my heart.”
This was the crooning of Skylar Austin, newcomer to the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, in his very first number on the show ‘Hello, nice to meet you’. Whilst it’s certainly the actor’s first number, strangely enough, this character has appeared on the show since its release in 2015. Greg Serrano was originally played by Santino Fontana (you may know him as Frozen’s villainous Prince Hans) up until the character, and actor’s, departure in S2 ep4.
Fast-forward to August, and Broadway veteran and Pitch Perfect franchise alumni Skylar Austin is announced as Greg. Fans of the show are simultaneously excited, confused, and terrified. A show staple, and adored favourite is to return – but his actor has changed. Cries of ‘This isn’t /our/ Greg’ rang throughout various social media platforms. My personal feelings were ones of anxiety, but also great trust. After all, showrunners Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna have proven themselves thoughtful and capable when navigating trickier waters such as discussions of sexuality and mental health. This show is something they both so clearly adore. I had faith they would treat their proverbial baby with the respect it deserves.
Whilst both Bloom and McKenna always planned for a four season run, when Fontana requested to be written out of the show due to scheduling conflicts, they obliged. And when they discussed bringing back Greg with their original cast-member, he was more than delighted to provide Austin with tips. In an article for TV Line, Fontana revealed they’d been discussing the intricacies of Greg’s character over text, even referring to them as “brothers from the same mother”.
“we are treated to Austin’s aforementioned first number. And I mean treated. If you haven’t seen Pitch Perfect, he’s not only an incredibly talented singer, but heart-meltingly charming”
So, with both showrunners, and Greg’s originator on board, how does CEG reintroduce us to Greg? Well, the show has never shied away from meta-narratives, and it’s clearly not about to start. Greg (or, new Greg), reminds his friends that he’ll be here “until the end of the series… of holidays.” It’s this, coupled with protagonist Rebecca’s primary inability to recoginse him as Greg, that essentially acts as a big wink to the audience. It’s saying: we know that’s not your Greg. But this is a TV show. Sometimes these things happen. Bear with us, please.
After this gentle set up from the writers, we are treated to Austin’s aforementioned first number. And I mean treated. If you haven’t seen Pitch Perfect, he’s not only an incredibly talented singer, but heart-meltingly charming. His performance is both clearly modelled on his predecessors, yet still completely his own. However, the main reason the show succeeds is its recognition that Greg has changed, as represented by his ‘alternated’ appearance. It’s been two years. He’s an incredibly different person, as is current Rebecca, in comparison to S2 Rebecca.
Dual casting isn’t a new phenomenon. In early movie-musicals, professional singers were dubbed over the lead actors. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s War Machine, and Harry Potter’s Lavender Brown were both recast upon the filmmakers realising each character had a much larger part than originally specified. And like the previous examples, Greg’s recasting was originally borne out of necessity. But this is different.
It’s different because, as usual, Bloom and McKenna are making sure every single thing that they broadcast is important. This is an important show, with discussions about mental health, female identity, and our romance-centric culture that frankly are not happening anywhere else. Every action is one made with care, and careful deliberation. And from such a fantastic performance in Friday’s episode, there’s no doubt in my mind that this recasting was done any differently. So hello, new Greg. Nice to meet you.