If you’re anything like me, you fell in love with Broad City when it debuted on Comedy Central this past January (or you were lucky enough to know about it when it was a webseries on Youtube), and were devastated when the season was over after a mere 10 episodes. Luckily, the new year is here and with it comes the show’s much anticipated second season. In preparation for this momentous occasion, I’m rewatching the first season, taking note of everything that made Broad City my favorite irreverent feminist comedy of the year. Come along with me on the first part of a wacky journey through the lives of two sometimes irresponsible, always entertaining NYC 20-somethings, Abbi and Ilana.
Episode 1, “What A Wonderful World,” immediately shows the type of characters Abbi and Ilana are going to be. Abbi attaches a Post-it note to her vibrator that says “Tuesday 7am” and claims that her schedule is “pretty booked” because she has to finish watching the first season of a TV show while eating a cashew stir-fry. Meanwhile, Ilana engages in a Skype call in the middle of having sex with her friend Lincoln and asserts to him that their relationship is “purely physical.” Ilana is the carefree wild child to Abbi’s wannabe put-together adult and while their “odd couple” dynamic is nothing new to television, it manages to still ring true and feels all the more groundbreaking because they are women.
When Ilana convinces Abbi to blow off work and spend the day attempting to scrounge up cash to attend a secret Lil Wayne concert that night, the two hatch the sort of schemes that respectable young women in sitcoms never do. They buy marijuana with an office store gift card obtained by returning stolen goods; they drum on buckets in Central Park with a fishbowl of change set in front of them; they put out a sketchy Craigslist ad and clean a man’s apartment in their underwear for an hour. Ultimately, they fail at their goal, but as they sit on a stoop wearing furs and drinking liquor they took from the creepy man’s apartment, they comfort one another saying how the concert would have been no fun anyway and tomorrow is really the day they’re going to turn it all around. Not only have Abbi and Ilana’s misadventures through the entire episode been unsavory and fruitless, but there is nothing to assure the viewer that things will get better for them, and it does not appear that either of them are really interested in trying (evidenced by Abbi’s final nonchalant response of “What kind?” when a messily drunk and vomiting Ilana asks if she wants to come hang out and have pizza). And yet, we like them. The spell is cast.
Episode 2, “Pu$$y Weed,” expands just how unreliable and immature Abbi and Ilana are when it offers them both opportunities to act like “grown ass women.” Abbi wants to pay for her own weed instead of relying on Ilana, and Ilana decides to file her taxes on her own. That both ladies fail at their goals is a given, but their failing so spectacularly is endearing. When Abbi buys her own weed, she smokes too much of it and acts out at the slightest provocations, while Ilana spends the entire episode schlepping around a wrinkled grocery bag full of financial papers, only to ultimately give up and unwittingly throw all her documents in the trash. In this episode we see a glimpse of Abbi’s insecurities about her age, when she has an extreme reaction to a woman asking how many children she has, smoking to excess in the bathroom of a dentist’s office and muttering “I am NOT a mom!” into the mirror. It is clear that while Abbi doesn’t quite have her life together, she feels ashamed that she is not more of an “adult.” Of the two girls, Abbi is clearly the “straight man,” but “Pu$$y Weed” shows that she is just as capable of awkward antics as her foil Ilana.
“Working Girls” explores the young women’s work lives and compares how seriously (or not) they both take their responsibilities. Ilana’s extreme dedication to doing as little work as possible – while still getting paid – is contrasted by Abbi’s willingness to go above and beyond when it comes to retrieving a package for her attractive neighbor Jeremy. Once again, Abbi and Ilana are completely ineffective at accomplishing their goals, when Ilana makes every wrong decision at her temp job and Abbi never retrieves Jeremy’s package, despite her best efforts. Both women, whether they’re trying their best or not trying at all, ultimately end up back where they started. The series builds momentum and the audience identifies with Abbi’s earnest desire to succeed in spite of her bad luck, while we are entertained by Ilana royally screwing up virtually every opportunity she is presented with and still managing to come out unscathed. The “slacker” who gets away with all transgressions and still manages to survive is usually reserved for men, so it’s exciting to see the role inhabited so successfully by women.
In Episode 4, “The Lockout,” Abbi and Ilana’s friendship is put to the test when they again find themselves in a less-than-ideal situation. After bug-bombing Abbi’s apartment, the ladies head to Ilana’s for the weekend, only to find themselves without a key and bumming around the city until Abbi’s “gallery showing” in the evening at a vegan sandwich shop. The menu of unladylike treatment our favorite gal pals are subjected to this episode included: getting thoroughly creeped out by a shady locksmith, being maced by Ilana’s neighbors, mace-induced vomiting, trudging around NYC with several large bags and a closet rod from Abbi’s favorite place, Bed Bath & Beyond, and having clean clothes ruined by Ilana’s greed for the premium lotion at Soulstice, the gym where Abbi works. In the end, the two are still friends who continue to support each other even in the most dire and frustrating circumstances. It would be easy for Broad City to fall back on the old trope of women in constant competition with each other, often split apart by petty squabbles, but Abbi and Ilana are always there for one another.
Broad City’s midseason episode, “Fattest Asses,” is perhaps one of the most satisfying of the series. After watching the girls consistently lose, we finally get to see them cut loose and take charge. After a bad day at the gym, Abbi is ready to have some fun, and goes to a rooftop party with Ilana. We chuckle when the ladies reach for a second (and a third) fried mac and cheese ball, despite being told about starving children while shoving the snacks into their mouths; we cheer when Abbi, fed up with the line for the women’s restroom, marches into the men’s and kicks a stall door in, exclaiming “Not today!”; and we guffaw at the awkward attempt at casual sex with a pair of orgy-craving DJs that wraps up the episode.
This episode is also the first depiction of the ladies’ casual sex lives (not including the Skype sex scene from the first episode). Women receiving oral sex is an act which, incredibly, remains infrequently explored in television and film, except when it is used to expressly portray a unique kind of relationship or connection between partners. In Broad City, however, it is simply an aspect of female sexuality. Of course, the girls’ would-be one-night-stands turn out to be weird and Abbi and Ilana don’t quite get their happy ending (yuk yuk yuk) but they went out and took a chance and mostly had a good time. We can see that they are not just losers who never catch a break and it’s it fun and comforting to watch them stumble along the way to the successes that (for them) come few and far between. This incredibly relatable, human element is what is so endearing about Broad City. The fact that it’s a pair of women who are single, Jewish and (at least in Ilana’s case) mixed race and queer, allowed to be so human, is just icing on the cake.
As we prepare for the season 2 premier on January 14th, be sure to come back here next week for Part 2 of my rewatch of the first season!