On Wednesday, March 18th, Broad City’s second season comes to an end. Beyond the fact that it’s one of the funniest things on television right now, it is also that rarest of unicorns: something born on the internet and transplanted into the mainstream that remains true to its own weird, wonderful, beautiful self.
The show is the brainchild of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, who not only star but also act as Executive Producers and handle most of the writing. The two met at Upright Citizens Brigade and workshopped what would become Broad City several years ago. The webseries never went ‘viral’ (their YouTube channel’s total views is 6.8 Million – paltry by most standards), but the quality obviously stood out to Amy Poehler (a fellow UCB alum). Poehler made a guest appearance on the webseries and ultimately helped shepherd the show to Comedy Central, where’s it’s been receiving rave reviews.
Episode 1 of the original Broad City web series:
The pitch I keep giving to friends or anyone who’ll listen: Think LOUIE meets GIRLS – Mr. C.K.’s stoner-absurd humor matched with Ms. Dunham’s sensibility on what the modern gal living in NYC faces. But where Louis C.K. can quickly veer into severely depressing and Dunham into soul-searching, Glazer and Jacobson stay firmly in the realm of the funny and the crass. And that crassness is perhaps their most endearing and one-of-a-kind quality: Abbi resiliently scrubs toilets at her job while Ilana spends too much time on them at hers.
The character Abbi and Ilana share the most screentime with is NYC, which in some ways functions as their main antagonist. Whether it’s trying to catch a train out to Connecticut, chatting with a super sketchy locksmith, or looking for a new apartment, the girls are in a constant battle with the uglier sides of the city. But at the same time the show is undeniably a paean to the five boroughs, and no program right now does so much justice to so much of New York. Every scene seems to take place in another part of the city that’s never been seen on TV before, except perhaps as a brief Law & Order crime scene. This is not the soundstage and canned laughter of 2 Broke Girls or Friends. The location manager for this show deserves their own award.
Rounding out the cast are notable performances by comedian Hannibal Buress as Ilana’s boyfriend Lincoln Rice and John Gemberling as Abbi’s roommate Matty Bevers. Gemberling brings incredible depth and ingenuity to the well-worn cliche of the obnoxious roommate (technically he’s the boyfriend of Abbi’s always-absent roommate). One brief example – Bevers slams the door on the cute guy down the hall (Abbi’s secret crush) so that he can let out an epic fart (“I thought he’d never leave!”). Buress plays an incredible foil to the whilrwind that is Ilana, carefully balancing every hare-brained scheme or proclamation with a level head. And Buress mines the tiniest moments for pure gold, as when he defends his choice not to get a dog to Ilana: “I can’t inflict the insane life of a dentist on a dog!”
In addition to an epic soundtrack, most episodes also feature a cameo by talented comedic heavyweights, mostly stand-up and improv alumni. The show brilliantly concentrates these into super-brief but incredibly memorable vignettes – the exact opposite of the god-awful death-of-overdoing it that most SNL sketches suffer from. Highlights include Fred Armisen as a creepy dude who pays to watch the girls clean his apartment in baby clothes (he wears them, they strip to their undies); Rachel Dratch as the too-trusting head of a temp agency who foolishly leaves Ilana in charge; and Amy Sedaris as a very weird apartment realtor spouting all the familiar embellishments on horrific properties. Perhaps the most inspired bit of casting is Susie Essman and Bob Balaban as Ilana’s parents.
The show has tons of quotable and transcendental moments – of the many that come to mind are two different scenes set on the subway that would make Woody Allen cry with jealousy. A series of overheard conversations on the Upper East Side perfectly capture how most New Yorkers feel about that “horrible, vapid wasteland.” Abbi has a brief moment of public joy near Times Square before a stranger rudely shoves her out of the way. Almost every meeting-place the girls have is described by Ilana as “that [location]where [homeless person][performed disgusting bodily function]on you.”
The show’s heart is the uniquely modern friendship between Abbi and Ilana, constantly tested both within and without but never in real jeopardy. Abbi is both literally and figuratively the straight one; she exclusively pursues men her attempts to be responsible are often the victim of Ilana’s zaniness. Ilana is both adorably vocal about a wide range of progressive issues and also an undeniably vulgar sex-obsessed lout. That she has a thinly veiled crush on her best friend doesn’t seem to faze either of them, or even Lincoln for that matter. There’s a “will they or won’t they” aspect to the show, but it’s far from the main event.
Comparisons will rightly be made to “30 Rock”, the tragically short-lived “Don’t Trust the B- in Apartment 23”, and now Tina Fey’s triumphant return with “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” on Netflix. All mine the classic Odd Couple dynamic and throw in the madness of NYC for good measure. But New York and American mores change so quickly, and the rest of the country and the world deserves to experience it anew like this. My sincere hope is that Broad City sticks around and that we all get to see more of this mad city and these mad, mad girls.
The first season is available on Amazon Prime, and the web series is available on YouTube.
‘Eight F**king Thousand Dollars’ – I hadn’t heard a Drake song until I watched this show.