Comedy Central’s Broad City, created by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, is a show about underpaid twenty-something white girls in New York. Kinda like Girls, only Broad City doesn’t give me that rather unpleasant feeling of existential dread that would be probably five times worse if I were a woman. I’ll be honest, that dread kept me from watching past the first episode of Girls, so I don’t have an informed opinion on it. What I will say is that whatever Girls’ place and importance in the TV landscape, Broad City matches in value and exceeds in entertainment. While Broad City is about girls, it isn’t “About Girls.” It’s not a show that makes it its mission to make statements about modern young womanhood, it’s a show that makes it its mission to be funny as all fuck and depict an incredibly sweet friendship between two well-drawn female characters. And that’s just as important.
A while ago, we reviewed Michael J. Fox’s sitcom, The Michael J. Fox Show, and came to the conclusion that while the show was boring, hackneyed, every word for generic and un-creative, its value was in showing it could be done. A cookie-cutter family sitcom where the main character has Parkinson’s. Broad City, on the other hand, is excellent, but similarly, in a field women typically don’t stand in—the genre of slacker/gross-out comedy.
Representation is the big media issue of the past couple years. Women have less than 45% of speaking parts in prime time TV, and less than 30% of speaking roles in film. Some parts rise to the top—we can all name phenomenal woman characters in television. But it’s rare that a show, particularly a comedy, focused on women gets to be so goofy and small. A friend watched one of the original webisodes (the show is derived from a YouTube series) and read the comment “Who would want to watch a show about girls walking around and talking about nothing?” Well, like, a lot of people. Walking around and talking about nothing is generally reserved for male-dominated casts, and while that’s a combination of words designed to be unattractive, it describes a coveted set-up where the interest comes solely from the characters being themselves. With no gimmicks and no real premise, Broad City draws from its central friendship between Ilana and Abbi to be an intensely character-based show. And let’s be real, they do more than just walk around.
That said, one of the show’s biggest strengths is its willingness to be petty. These characters have small lives, and pathetic problems. Abbi has a meltdown over her roommate’s live-in boyfriend recycling her big stack of expired Bed Bath & Beyond coupons (they don’t actually expire!). There’s a whole episode about Abbi trying to buy weed and Ilana struggling with her taxes. In an episode that takes place during a hurricane, the biggest conflict is that Abbi’s toilet won’t flush after she takes a dump with company over. The pilot is about Ilana convincing Abbi that they have to scrounge up 200 dollars to buy tickets and weed for a Lil Wayne show. Nobody is trying to get or keep a job, the stakes are low, but the characters lead themselves on an adventure anyway, “returning” stolen office supplies to Staples and cleaning an adult baby’s apartment in their underwear.
Small problems, but the kind everyone has. What do people in their twenties worry about? Getting drugs, seeing Lil Wayne, having sex, struggling to come up with the motivation to do anything worthwhile. We all have gross, stupid lives, sometimes. The dialogue is often pointless, but it’s the kind of relatable pointless conversation you and your friends take pleasure in. This show, despite the zany heights its plots reach, is authentic and genuine. Ilana is the kind of pseudo-political millennial we all love to hate, taking issue with Staples playing “What a Wonderful World” because “it’s a slave song, look it up,” and referring to her supervisor as “Mr. George Bush.” At one point, Abbi tells her “Sometimes, you’re so anti-racist, you’re actually…really racist.”
Broad City carries with it the themes of decline and aimlessness and disenfranchisement that a more serious and self-important show might, but they’re part of the fabric of this show, not the focus. Abbi folds towels and cleans pubes out of gym shower drains for a living. Ilana gets high at her telemarketing job. One episode opens with the two strutting into a bank to Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” as Abbi deposits an 8 thousand dollar check. At a fancy seafood prix-fixe, Ilana eats as much as possible, despite a serious shellfish allergy. At one point, they call in a locksmith to help them into Ilana’s apartment, but he’s so gross and creepy that Ilana gives a fake name and ends up having him get them into her neighbor’s apartment instead. In a montage of their morning routines, Abbi sits next to an old man reading the same book as her. He takes this as a sign and tries to kiss her, and flips her off angrily when she rebuffs him. These themes aren’t often directly explored, but they’re always there in the background and driving the characters.
At the end of the day, Broad City is just a goddamn delight. Abbi and Ilana have an adorable friendship, and the supporting characters are hilarious, especially Ilana’s fuck buddy Lincoln, a dentist played by Hannibal Burress. It’s confidently pointless and gross, willing to show its protagonists at their worst and most brandy-sick, most unmotivated and selfish. With shades of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Workaholics, Broad City carries on their tradition of ludicrous character-based catastrophe from a perspective that until now has been excluded from the genre.
Broad City has been renewed for a second season. Check this show out, please.