Broad City’s Portrayal of the New York Hustle Feels Fresh, and Very Funny
Broad City premieres on Comedy Central at 10:30 tonight after Workaholics. The new show, based on the web series of the same name, stars series creators and UCB alums Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as heightened versions of themselves going about their daily lives as young New Yorkers — daily lives that include temp jobs, bad roommates, and quests to get high. Glazer and Jacobson act as executive producers of the show alongside Amy Poehler.
Originally developed at FX, Broad City is Comedy Central’s third show from the creators of popular web videos, following this summer’s Drunk History and the new show’s timeslot buddy Workaholics. And although Broad City comes about during an influx of shows based on web-centric sketch comedy, shares the weed references and bathroom humor of Workaholics, and occupies the same geographical territory as recent hits like Louie and Girls, the new show’s characters and tone give it a unique perspective that makes its stories feel fresh.
The web series Broad City ran from 2009 to 2011 and consisted of vignettes portraying usually just one hectic or menial moment in Glazer and Jacobson’s day-to-day New York experiences, such as the daily commute or finding a place to do laundry. In transitioning from the internet to TV, the show strings together these individual moments to build a larger narrative arc. In the pilot episode (currently streaming on Comedy Central’s website), the girls skip out on their shitty jobs and try to rack up enough cash to see a surprise Lil Wayne show, with Ilana as the driving force behind their efforts, and Abbi admitting mid-episode that she’s not sure what a “Weezy” is. In the second, Ilana picks up a few too many temp jobs and Abbi goes out of her way to win over her attractive neighbor by receiving a package for him while he’s away. Each episode takes place over the course of just one day in the duo’s friendship.
This aforementioned friendship serves as the crux of the series, and the onscreen chemistry between confident slacker Ilana and the reserved, organized Abbi is what makes it work. The pilot wastes no time establishing the friends’ rapport, opening with the two video-chatting for a couple minutes before Ilana reveals she’s in the middle of having sex with her fuck-buddy Lincoln. He’s played by standup Hannibal Buress, who is excellent as a mostly chill guy who hangs around even when Ilana seems more interested in her friendship with Abbi, and gets in some good lines comparing bucket drumming to Seinfeld and a long-haired dog to Who’s the Boss? actress Judith Light.
When Broad City talked to Splitsider earlier this week, Glazer mentioned the groundedness that made the series’ transition to TV easier. That realness is in part due to outdoor scenes filmed on location in New York City. As with other New York shows, the setting plays a huge part in the narrative, with parks, bodegas, apartments, and a suspiciously familiar-sounding bougie fitness center called “Soulstice” providing a vibrant backdrop for the duo’s antics. Just as Ilana’s dominant personality meshes seamlessly with Abbi’s introverted one, this New York realness is met with an opposing force, manifested in Abbi’s life as the surreal — as in episode two when, in trying to receive her neighbor’s mail, she travels far uptown to a desolate island warehouse where the only sign of life is an elderly yogurt-lover named Garol — and in Ilana’s world as the purely wacky — in the pilot, she steals nearly $200 of used office supplies from her job to return to the supply store but is disappointed to learn they won’t give her a refund “in liquid cash.” When the two friends come together, the results are a bit of the surreal and absurd thrown together, such as when, strapped for cash, they clean a Craigslist pervert (Fred Armisen)’s apartment in their underwear.
Armisen and Buress are just two of Broad City’s hefty roster of great guest and recurring stars. Chris Gethard appears in the first two episodes as Ilana’s oversharing but compliant boss, of whom she takes advantage by excusing herself for extra long lunches and bathroom breaks. Fellow UCB alum John Gemberling plays Abbi’s roommate’s gross, ever-present boyfriend (we see him but never Abbi’s roommate). Rachel Dratch and Janeane Garofalo each make an appearance in the second episode. The remaining eight episodes of the season promise appearances from Jason Mantzoukas, Seth Morris, Amy Poehler, and Amy Sedaris, as well as a gang of up-and-comers from the local New York comedy scene.
Alone, Broad City’s pilot episode is promising. The quick pace and energy is reminiscent of the metropolitan setting, and it seems to be a clear introduction of the kind of simple yet unattainable goals, like the Lil Wayne concert, that will be driving the pair’s misadventures. The second episode takes this template and makes it more absurd and surreal, plus periphery characters like the head trainer at Abbi’s work and her roommate’s boyfriend get even better the second time around. With two good episodes under their belts and an impressive catalogue of people involved in the rest of the season, Glazer and Jacobson have created a fresh young sitcom that’s worth watching.
Jenny Nelson is a writer living in Brooklyn.