The Promising Debut Season of ‘Broad City’ Nails the New York Struggle
Since premiering in January, Comedy Central’s Broad City has been gaining momentum as not just television’s funniest breakout comedy but one of the freshest concepts to get the TV treatment in a while. While it has the sketch mastery roots of Kroll Show, the offbeat weirdness of Portlandia, and the Millenial female-driven New Yorker theme of Girls, Broad City has remained singularly new and exciting thanks to the onscreen chemistry and deft rapport of series creators/stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Ahead of tonight’s season finale, here’s a look at why Broad City killed it this season, and why we can’t wait until Glazer and Jacobson get to do it again in season 2.
UCB’s newest television club: Considering Glazer and Jacobson are both UCB alums who have the backing of executive producer and UCB co-founder Amy Poehler, it’s only right that the Broad City world was populated with UCB friends throughout the season. One of my favorite performances came from Paul W. Downs, who plays Abbi’s douchey but somewhat sympathetic boss at the trendy upscale gym Solstice who is conflicted between his professional authority and New Agey Solstice-sponsored belief system. Fellow UCBer Chris Gethard was also a nice addition as the resigned wet blanket online business boss opposite the unproductive and often unpaid Ilana, not to mention all the guest roles from Amy Poehler, Seth Morris, Rachel Dratch, Amy Sedaris, Fred Armisen, and a pile of others.
Broad City’s biggest supporting breakout this season was Hannibal Buress as Ilana’s fuck buddy Lincoln, a semi-sensitive and semi-apathetic dentist whose sugar daddiness comes to the ladies’ rescue multiple times, dentistry-related and otherwise; Buress brought the most sanity to the series and makes a much needed well-adjusted foil to Ilana and her spontaneous free love style, so hopefully he returns with an equally big role next season (whether or not he’ll have his own Comedy Central show too). My only character gripe on Broad City was Abbi’s roommate Bevers — actually her roommate’s boyfriend — who John Gemberling played up so well that it evoked all my past dirty roommate memories and, after one too many fart jokes, was a little too accurately gross to handle. To Bevers’s credit, though, he’s good at getting Abbi out of the house as often as possible, so there’s that. The girls don’t really need that kind of boyish fluff though, as it only distracts from how good they are on their own when they’re just shooting the shit on the streets of New York.
Broad City’s New York struggle feels real: Beyond the writing and performances on Broad City, one of the things I’ve admired most this season is the show’s acute attention to creating a believable world for the characters. From their measly gym and online coupon jobs to their post-college-budget apartments to their desperate round of retail returns to scrounge up enough money for a Lil Wayne Concert, the set design and overall premise behind Abbi and Ilana’s NYC lives feels refreshingly real and avoids gussying itself up just to be pretty on television. In terms of depicting financially struggling creative urban transplants, I don’t think the “realness” of Broad City has been matched since Bret and Jemaine’s skeazy Chinatown apartment on Flight of the Conchords, and it’s obvious that Abbi and Ilana know that struggle all too well. Considering much of the ladies’ everyday problems stem from their young age and lack of financial security, the amount of work put into making those problems believable only makes the comic payoff more worthwhile; who hasn’t seen a bag of stale bagels outside a bakery and at least momentarily considered taking them home? Or done so? Despite the pair’s setbacks, Abbi remains determined to rise the ranks at Solstice from her dirty gig as a glorified janitor, and Ilana never lets her day job get in the way of her wild party side or preference for wearing work-inappropriate crop tops.
By women, not necessarily for women: In a world where men still rule most television writing staffs, it’s quite notable that a two-woman-helmed web series-turned-show has hit it so big on Comedy Central with critics and viewers alike and earned enough network faith to land a second-season order. While Broad City is undeniably female-driven, no filters are in place to prevent it from depicting the brutally honest facets of life for many 20-something New Yorkers, and those facets of life don’t make a difference whether or not you have a Y-chromosome. Weed, weddings, clogged toilets, fuck buddies, roommate masturbation, rooftop parties, tax-related receipts — the concepts are all fairly relatable, and they’re merely used to ground Glazer and Jacobson as they navigate life and their own half-platonic, half-sexual best-friendship.
The most successful Broad City episodes this season took a really simple idea and transformed it into an oddball adventure — particularly Abbi’s creepy journey to find her neighbor’s missing package in “Working Girls” — and allowed Glazer and Jacobson do what they do best, which is show off how well they work off of each other and let us overhear their most intimate conversations. And just when it seems certain that Abbi is the ideal straight man and Ilana is the wild comic relief, all Abbi needs is a bump of cocaine in the bathroom or a self-inflicted epipen jolt and the roles completely reverse. Broad City is nothing if not a stream of surprises, and though it gets compared in theme to Girls a lot, the two shows couldn’t be more different. For one thing, there’s a sense of anarchy — these ladies don’t just have real problems, they transcend the clichés of boyfriend-girlfriend banality or feeling awkward and out of place at parties and instead stand on the tables of fancy restaurants and fearlessly howl at the moon. Unlike so many lifeless sitcoms and comedy stars, these women are authentically kickass and know how to rock, party, and throw down hilarious physical humor in ways we haven’t seen since John Belushi in Animal House or the Marx Brothers before them. New York is a tough place for a 20-something to find success, and the TV versions of Abbi and Ilana are exercising their finest option: Fake it till you make it. For the real Abbi and Ilana though, they’ve already arrived.