When measuring a television show’s success, it goes something like this: (1) ratings in the 18-49 demographic; (2) Emmys; (3) critical reception; (4) Christopher Meloni butt shots; (5) Golden Globes. But seeing that it’s April 2014, somewhere between numbers 3 and 4 there should be a number 3.5: a BuzzFeed “Which Character Are You?” quiz, because a show isn’t worth DVRing, let alone watching, unless BuzzFeed makes you part of the collective viewing process. Maybe it’s not the most telling metric, but the BuzzFeed quiz signifies a brighter than normal blip on the pop culture radar. It says, “at least two people watch this show, and they think it’s the greatest thing since Obamacare.”
So when my besties Brette and Nick sent me the “Which “Broad City” Character Are You?” quiz, I was comforted to know that my latest obsession had some traction, that perhaps there would be a Season 2, that spontaneously inserting a Broad City reference into conversation with a stranger might yield a beautiful, new friendship.
Broad City’s stars and creators, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, have a pedigree similar to recent successful comedy duos: after going to art school and NYU respectively, the two met at Upright Citizens Brigade, began collaborating, and then created a web series about two besties who live in New York City. The series caught the eye of comedic heavyweight Amy Poehler and eventually Comedy Central, which began airing thirty-minute episodes in January of this year.
If HBO’s Girls is about the neuroses that privileged young white girls develop in New York City, then Broad City is about the modi operandi that lead to those neuroses. In other words, it’s funnier and a hell of a lot more fun than Girls, and probably truer, too. The HBO show is more narratively developed, but Broad City is like an album of the stupidest shit you and your New York friends did right after college. This structure allows its sex-driven and drug-fueled plotlines to have a nostalgic sweetness that shields its characters, even when they’re at their worst, from our judgment. And they’re pretty much at their worst throughout all ten episodes of this first season.
Jacobson plays Abbi Abrams, a janitor at an expensive Manhattan gym called Soulstice (sounds like “big piece”). In comparison to her friend Ilana Wexler (Glazer), Abbi has her shit together, but that’s not saying much, if anything at all. In her spare time Abbi keeps her apartment looking like an Urban Outfitters Home catalogue and draws and sells colorful sketches. She’s a pro at losing her phone and dislodging pubic hair from the Soulstice shower drains, but she fails at everything else that matters: finding a boyfriend; buying weed; receiving a package for her hunky, quarter Latino neighbor; doing cocaine; etcetera etcetera.
Ilana smokes weed, has sex with Manhattan’s least professional dentist, and lusts openly after Abbi, something that Abbi tolerates in the same way that some people can tolerate a dog humping their leg. Ilana stashes her weed in her vagina because “honestly it’s the safest way to travel… It’s in a bag and the vayiña is Nature’s pocket. It’s natural.” Technically, Ilana works at a Groupon-type website, but she spends most of the day napping in the office bathroom, sleeping open-eyed at her desk, and dancing to 90s hip-hop. Ilana even allows her adorably gay, undocumented roommate, Jaime (Arturo Castro), to do her taxes. Jaime doesn’t know anything about taxation, but he loves it because “taxes pay for the gayest stuff. Okay, who pays for the library? Taxes. Parks? Beaches? The Army? They pay for the policemen and firemen if you think about it. You know, I can’t wait for the day I walk by a policeman and I can say, I pay for your outfit.”
I identify with these girls, their friends, and their irresponsible, young adulthood experiences. I’ve never stashed drugs in my vagina (Episode 2, “Pussy Weed”), but I do know the anxiety of riding the subway with contraband in my pocket. I’ve never dodged a sketchy locksmith’s advances (Episode 4, “The Lockout”), but I have dodged a sketchy cabbie’s advances twice. (He works for Carmel Car Service; stay away.) I’ve also never attended a fabulous fundraiser for “change” (Episode 5, “Fattest Asses”), but once I had a drink with a woman who started a nonprofit to raise awareness for cultural awareness. I still do not know if that woman was fucking with me or not, but at the time, I was naïve enough to believe her. I believed in her, and like the Broad City broads, I believed in 90s hip-hop, marijuana, and napping in the office bathroom.
The charm of the show, aside from its (mostly successful) feminist and racial subversions, relies on these points of reference to endear its characters to a broad audience. That nearly all of the jokes–sight gags, one-liners, and situational comedy included–land is nothing short of remarkable. There’s barely a moment that feels strained, hardly a joke that doesn’t zing. The comedic timing, particularly of Glazer and Hannibal Burress, who plays Ilana’s dentist-lover, is so, so good and so natural and unique that you find yourself imitating them for weeks after you binge watch the entire season, and watching it any other way is nearly impossible. This is smart, progressive, funny television that inherits a space previously occupied by Christine Baranski in Cybill, Roseanne Barr in Roseanne, and Katey Sagal in Married with Children. Jacobson and Glazer do their foremothers proud.
Derek Loh recently graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law. He has an MA in critical studies in film from The University of Southern California and a bachelors in anthropology from Davidson College. He currently lives in New York in the world's smallest one bedroom apartment.