Across the last five years, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer have provided sharp, surreal, ridiculous commentary on coming of age in the 2010s
When Broad City first aired in 2014, the TV comedy landscape was a very different place. For the most part, topics like female masturbation, bisexuality, and even female friendship weren’t given the vivacity and care they are today. Friendships between women, with the exception of perhaps Parks and Recreation’s Anne and Leslie, were full of friction and drama to drive the narrative. Broad City debuted amid Girls’ third season, and starring White Millennial Women and being located in New York, it was naturally lumped in with or placed in opposition to Lena Dunham’s HBO dramedy. It was, however, a different animal entirely, starting life as a web series inspired by creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s IRL friendship and shared comedy sensibilities. Broad City soon proved itself in a league of its own: a ridiculous, surreal, heartwarming monster that would draw adoration and criticism in equal measure.
And now, it’s ending, the last ever season debuting last week. Perhaps we have less need for it: in a world that they helped to build, we have complicated women, bisexuality, awkward sex, and debacles fuelled by weed all over our screens. Now entering their 30s, and as accomplished producers, the tale of mid-20s drifting and uncertainty that Ilana and Abbi were telling on Broad City is no longer parallel to their own lives. It still holds a special place in mine: as someone who came of age in the 00s, I hadn’t yet seen anything close to my life on-screen. But as a Jewish, bisexual woman who grew up on Salad Fingers and Myspace while wearing American Apparel shirts, I saw myself in Ilana and Abbi, even if our lives were very different.
The beginning of the end, the first episode of the final season of Broad City, aired on January 24. The episode is formatted like an Instagram story and sees the girls celebrating Abbi’s 30th birthday by walking all the way from the top of Manhattan to the bottom. The girls are at their best, getting into shenanigans that somehow include Ilana hurting her ankle, the girls accused of being paedophiles, and them destroying both of their phones.
The episode provides a sharp commentary on our reality, mocking our millennial attachment to our devices while partly showing the positive side of technology. Ilana and Abbi have a record of their entire day, but at the same time, an old school friend tracks the girls’ location via their Instagram story to start an argument after they accidentally steal her child at the mall. They argue about social media, too: the school friend has four kids and a stable job, so her life looks perfect to them. They have fun despite being broke, so theirs looks fun to her. It’s a sharp, heartwarming examination of the duality of technology and the way it affects our perception of others.
It does, however, perhaps show the show’s age: a few years ago, Abbi and Ilana were wild and free, mostly unburdened by existential crises. In season five, the accidental kidnapping leads Abbi down a spiral: “she could be my kid!” she cries, stunned that passersby might believe she’s a mom. She takes out a second credit card and fears that she might work at Anthropologie forever; cycling through all of the neuroses that plague all of us in our mid-late 20s daily, but in a more real way. Broad City has always warped adult spaces, turning the bank or the DMV to demonic underworlds full of narrative and comedic possibility. In season five, that fear of adulthood becomes much more pressing and human.
In many ways, Broad City overhauled TV comedy, creating a surreal, underground version of New York City slightly removed from the one that actually exists. Despite the girls being ostensibly broke, the show managed to avoid being dour while still exploring issues like depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, break-ups, and politics with some nuance. There’s little touches like Abbi wearing an expensive dress she bought several times, the blue bodycon even making an appearance on her mother. It created a universe full of characters and monsters like scene-stealing post office clerk Garol, Abbi’s drunk jazz-singing alter ego Val, and an estate agent who makes dolls out of human hair. But even within that seemingly boundless world, Broad City had its own limitations.
“Seeing these women love one another wholly while living a life full of laughter, cum and weed was a breath of fresh air in a TV landscape where these things were so rare”
The show was applauded for its diverse cast versus Girls’ very white one, but Ilana’s appropriation of AAVE as a white Jewish woman left a bitter taste in some viewers’ mouths. At times this privilege was tackled with nuance, like when Jaime tells Ilana it isn’t cool to wear gold earrings that read “LATINA”, and she actually listens. Her screaming “YAS KWEEN” or twerking is used to frame her as an obnoxious person, and some critics recognised this, but understandably, it didn’t sit well with others. In season five, this cultural appropriation is again confronted – Ilana wants to get a hair braid. Abbi shoots her a look, to which Ilana says that it’s OK, because the woman doing it is black, and “a touch of cultural appropriation sheds light on it”. Taking conversations that are happening in our own lives and translating them to screen is difficult, but necessary. Some have argued that the girls learning from their mistakes is groundbreaking, but many others believe Ilana shouldn’t have been appropriating AAVE in the first place. Those criticisms are valid.
For me, Broad City broadened my idea of what comedy was capable of. Seeing these women love one another wholly while living a life full of laughter, cum and weed was a breath of fresh air in a TV landscape where these things were so rare. It had its limitations, but it also had lines like “cum queen”, “I love me some salad fingers” and “you live on garbage island” that rooted it so firmly in our now. I don’t live in New York or smoke weed. But I am Abbi and Ilana. We are Abbi and Ilana’s incompetence, their horniness, their anxieties. But – sadly – they’ve outgrown their show and they have outgrown me. Broad City gave us so much, expanding the realms of what was possible for women TV writers and producers. It exposed brilliant comedic actors like Hannibal Buress to a mainstream audience. It raised the bar for current comedy dialogue. While mourning the loss of Ilana Wexler and Abbi Abrams the Characters from TV comedy, it’s still exciting to see Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer The Producers and Writers being let loose on the rest of TV has to offer.