Jan 22, 2014

Channel Surfing: Broad City - "What a Wonderful World"

Left to right: Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson
Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.

It is hard to keep up with all of the shows, but I am glad to see yet another strong new sitcom lead by two funny women makings its way onto TV. For the most part, I remain unfamiliar with the Broad City incarnation that involved internet videos. I have no basis to go off of. However, based on the first episode, it looks like a welcome addition to the Comedy Central network and will hopefully continue to grow and find an audience outside of its Workaholics lead-in.

The series focuses around two New Yorkers named Ilana (Ilana Glazer) and Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) who are trying to live life and overcome its many obstacles. They may seem aimless, but their passion gets them by. They have no issue selling stolen office supplies to get money for Lil Wayne tickets. In fact, the show is so strangely confident in its personality that it opens up with one of the stranger sex scenes on a channel not called HBO. The sex, in fact, almost seems to be an afterthought and that these two friends will talk each other literally through anything. 

It may be rather crass, but there is a sense of camaraderie that builds really quick. They may be somewhat irresponsible and gross, but there is humanity to them. They get mad when nobody pays them for playing music in the park. They are struggling to make money, though they are not above making excuses to get out of work early. Their eccentricities are endearing and make their quests all the more intriguing.
It could also be that they feel like lost souls that are stuck together. Nobody in their lives seems to quite get them as well. They shrug off each other's follies to get closer to their goals and get mad when things don't work out. There's even a strange cameo by Fred Armisen that sets the tone rather well for the weirdness that the show could get into. Either way, it is in those moments where Ilana and Abbi are stuck talking to each other, often walking down the street, and cracking wise about cheating the system and living a life that they prefer. They may have a terrible roommate, but they can at least get drunk and attempt to buy tickets. It may seem aimless and there is no overall direction to the show, but does there really need to be? This show feels like it was made specifically just to tell jokes ranging from janitorial riffing to crude humor about the less pretty side of their occasional excess.
The easy comparison would be to that of Girls. However, this feels wrong because while the HBO series has had more time to establish itself, it feels more like a blend of drama and awkward moments. Broad City feels more like the short lived Best Friends Forever, which was directionless as well, but it seemed to make a universe out of friends talking. There was lingo and rules established that made it a compelling series with two fantastic leads that elevated the quality beyond the standard stories. Broad City, which more vulgar, feels like it will fall in that vein, though hopefully last a lot longer. As promos will have me believe, things will get more crass with next week's episode being called "P*$$Y Weed" (you fill in the censors) and for all we know, the show will continue in the vein of most Comedy Central shows and have a lax view towards drugs and alcohol abuse. This isn't problematic, as good comedy could be mined from it in the right context.
With that said, Broad City works almost as a series of vignettes. There are numerous set pieces that build up the premiere episode. We establish Abbi's job as a janitor with crazy sets of rules, including a generous bow to her boss. We see Ilana's lack of interest in her job. They may all weave together nicely, but each is an excuse to tell jokes. At very least, the vignette nature is fine for this episode, because it feels like it effectively manages to establish the world and rules that the show will follow in. We get vague glimpses into their lives, and while it is striking to see them obsessed with Lil Wayne in 2013, it does help to make them feel disconnected from the social norms, and maybe that is where the humor will come from.
Broad City had a solid pilot episode and one that leaves a lot of promise. It is amazing that less than a month into the year, and there is plenty of noteworthy programming (Community, Girls, True Detective, etc)  that stands with the best and brightest from later in the year. As long as this show continues on the trajectory, I will be glad to consider it for my favorites. I love that TV has become more female friendly and has brought nice twists on familiar ground. I love that Comedy Central pretty much has given a show to whoever wants one. The results may be hit and miss, but at least Comedy Central feels exciting again, like it is trying to make as much original programming as possible in order to give great, unknown talents a shot. So far, Broad City ranks with the better ones.

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