‘Broad City’s’ “What If?” Scenario Doubles Down on the Power of Soulmates
‘Structurally Sound’ is a recurring feature where each week a different structurally unusual, rule-breaking anomaly of an episode from a comedy series is examined.
“Would you ever want to hang out again?”
When Gwyneth Paltrow is dead and gone (that is if her Goop-infested body is capable of desiccation) the thing that she’ll surely be remembered the most for is her charming dual narrative rom-com, Sliding Doors. For whatever reason, the simple yet deep premise has been referenced in a wealth of sitcoms, ranging from sophisticated fare like Frasier all the way to animated shows like Bob’s Burgers, with plenty of examples in between (like the forgettable Working). With the debut of Broad City’s fourth season, they too add to the list of many shows to pay homage to the Paltrow film, but Broad City goes even further with all of this.
Broad City is a series that lives and dies by Abbi and Ilana’s friendship. After three seasons of establishing this super friendship between these two faithful besties, it only makes sense to pull back the curtain a little bit and reveal how these two people met in the first place. Rather brilliantly though, instead of just making this an origin story for the unstoppable duo that is Abbi and Ilana, it also takes advantage of flexing its stylistic muscles and chooses to pay respect to Gwyneth Paltrow’s ’90s “masterpiece.”
The aptly named season premiere episode, “Sliding Doors,” has a lot of fun taking advantage of the Sliding Doors “What If?” dual narrative. It plays a lot of the same tricks that other television shows have with this concept by comparing and contrasting two realities. It also plays with the amount of differences that are present in New York City in the short span of six years as well as how random and chaotic of a city it can be. In this sense, there’s a little bit of commentary that echoes how important Abbi and Ilana’s friendship is. Everything else might be changing, but they are a constant.
As the series flashes back to 2011, the Sliding Doors-type exercise illustrates how Abbi and Ilana meet—or how a Abbi and Ilana meet. As the episode continually juxtaposes a reality where Ilana and Abbi are friends and one where they’re on their own, it becomes clear that they’re not only so much better as a team, but they’re flat-out destructive on their own. It all makes for a fine distillation of the essential nature of their friendship.
Not only that, but the episode has a lot of fun by trying to say that a lot of the characters’ defining traits—like Ilana’s frizzy hair or Bevers’ dumpy physique and squatter nature—are direct results of Abbi and Ilana’s friendship, or lack thereof. As a unit they’re capable of solving each other’s roommate issues and job woes, whereas on their own they’re just defenseless. One moment literally sees Ilana getting her clothes ripped off of her from some random passerby as she’s caught near-naked with no one coming to her rescue or even caring. New York City seems relentless and threatening when they don’t have each other, but when they do they’re kicking its ass. Additionally, when they have each other they’re suddenly open to so many new experiences like psychic readings, drugs, and tattoos, all of which would have never been on their radar before meeting.
These two alternate realities play out — one where Abbi and Ilana meet instantly, and another where it seems like they don’t. The catch here, though, is that the reality we think is the real one starts to warp and become too positive. Once it ends in the death of these characters, it becomes clear that that wasn’t the show’s real timeline. Yes, Abbi and Ilana’s friendship becomes so strong that it leads to them getting run over by a bus (that poignantly features a Trump-heavy ad for The Apprentice on it; this glimpse of the future and oppression literally kills Abbi and Ilana).
But it’s telling that in both of the realities in “Sliding Doors,” Abbi and Ilana still meet — it just takes longer for one than the other. As radical as the events of these two realities are, Abbi and Ilana’s friendship is a constant that will always exist, regardless of the events behind it. These two are still destined to cross paths and become best friends. The events might not be the same, and they still might be left with considerable baggage, but fate has brought them together and made sure that they have each other. Abbi still might be stuck with a mooching “roommate” and Ilana might still be unemployed, but at least they have each other now. Then, as proof that things are officially going to start to get easier for these two, pizza and pot are produced. The new friends heal their wounds of the bitch of a day that has attacked the both of them.
Life’s not so hard when you have a special someone to throw a glass bowl into traffic with.