Illustration by Allison O’Flinn
Every so often television attempts to capture the Swiftian tornado of “happy, free, confused-and-lonely-at-the-same-time” that being a twenty something living in a proverbial “big city” elicits. Whether it’s Zooey Deschanel as Jessica Day, the D.I.Y daydream of FOX’s New Girl or the now-revered foibles of Pheobe, Ross, Rachel and the gang on Friends, television is always looking for a new way to expound upon the virtues of being young and crazy in the big city. And few shows manage to truly tackle the frustration and irreverence of people living in New York (or any big city for that matter) as Comedy Central’s Broad City.
The television show originated as a web series of the same name, running from 2009 to 2011. Eventually its creators and stars, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, pitched it to Comedy Central. Not only did Comedy Central agree to produce a season, veteran comedy actor Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation) agreed to executive produce the show.
Broad City revolves around the daily life of two best friends, also named Abbi and Ilana. Abbi works as a janitor at a gym called Soulstice and harbors dreams of becoming a personal trainer and an artist, while she’s stuck scrubbing the showers. Ilana works at an unspecified E-commerce start-up where she has mastered the art of napping in a bathroom stall. Despite their mind numbing day jobs, the duo still finds time to have an abundance of excursions around the city.
A particularly refreshing aspect of the show is the sheer joy with which the two approach their various escapades. Abbi and Ilana make sure to have fun no matter where they go, whether they’re walking a dog that looks like Judith Lang or trying only to find Abbi’s phone.
As soon as Broad City existed in the mainstream media consciousness, it was hailed as “the next Girls.” Oftentimes, shows focusing around female characters are not allowed to exist independently within their own space. Even Parks and Recreation was first regarded as “government’s answer to The Office.” Then, the comparisons between Parks and Recreation and Tina Fey’s 30 Rock started rolling in, as if one show had to champion over the other. Despite the media’s constant attempts to pit female actors against each other, Broad City has held its own. The fact that both it and Girls center around twenty-something women in New York is about the only basis for comparison.
The show simply exudes the honesty and irreverence that Girls has been attempting since its first season. For example, the Broad City girls are actively shown working at their dead-end jobs rather than lamenting about how it’s so hard to work without actually doing so. Abbi is ambitious in regards to her art, but she is not immediately rewarded or “discovered” by a curator who happens to be in one of her Pilates classes. Abbi’s job is horrible, there’s no way around it. She cleans showers at a gym, and she accepts that it’s gross with the occasional side-eye. She refuses to wax poetically about how one day she could use this “for her art.” She just works, and it’s not life-changing, it’s the signature combination of mind-numbingly boring and irritating of any good old fashioned dead-end job.
The true heart of the show lies in Abbi and Ilana’s friendship. Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein tweeted that the rapport between the two made her want “to live inside that secret-handshake vernacular.” By contrast, most television friendships seem stagnant. In the case of Girls the friendship between Marnie (Allison Williams) and Hannah (Lena Dunham) has always seemed slightly forced, like it’s more of a plot device rather than an organic relationship that’s allowed to grow. In Broad City the unbreakable bond between Abbi and Ilana acts as an anchor for the entire show. As Poehler pointed out in a New Yorker piece, “The rule is: specific voices are funny, and chemistry can’t be faked.”
In some respects, Abbi and Ilana are polar opposites. Glazer describes her character as a “hedonist,” while Abbi is slightly more reserved. Sometimes Abbi has to decide whether she wants to go out or stay in and eat her leftover stir-fry. Ilana has no problem with drumming on buckets to procure some cash for a Lil Wayne concert. Ilana also has no problem with her on-again-off-again relationship with Lincoln, played by Hannibal Burress. Meanwhile, Abbi has a relentless crush on the cute scruffy guy across the hall. No matter what they do, the duo’s support of one another is unwavering.
This sense of women supporting other women provides the foundation for what several media outlets have referred to as the show’s “sneak attack feminism.” In addition to being insanely hilarious, Abbi and Ilana are both waging subtle crusades against everyday sexism, as if they couldn’t get any more perfect.
The feminism of Broad City does not feel the need to triumphantly point itself out. The fact that Abbi and Ilana are feminists seems like an inherent part of their personalities. They are both constantly having tiny feminist epiphanies. During one episode they decided to take charge and ask out as many people as they could. They were rejected by 75 guys (and 1 girl), but it’s the thought that makes them, as Abbi puts it, “like, feminist icons.” Outside the world of the show Abbi and Ilana are quickly becoming fan-favorites within feminism-centric aspects of the media. The duo was recently featured on the cover of Bust magazine. They also interviewed riot grrrl staple Sleater Kinney. During the interview, Jacobson was decidedly star-struck, occasionally stumbling over her words.
In addition to being present in their lives on and off the screen, their feminism is inherently inclusive as well. Ilana’s character believes that, “Statistically we live in a world where everyone’s going to be caramel and queer.” Statements like this serve as a refreshing counterpoint to the predominantly whitewashed and heterosexual world of this year’s Oscars. Ilana’s upbeat optimism is one of the highlights of the show. Her roommate, Jaime, is an undocumented immigrant who sometimes helps her with her taxes. In turn, she isn’t afraid to support his dreams of paying taxes. “That’s right, Jaime!” she beams as he notes how one day he’ll be “paying for the shit out of those police uniforms.”
Broad City provides the television world with something it desperately needs: a diverse cast of well-rounded characters that are both endearing and cringe-worthy. Abbi and Ilana are far from perfect and therefore infinitely relatable.