Mar 27, 2014

TV Retrospective: Broad City - Season 1

Left to right: Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson
This past week, the New Yorker ran a cartoon that compared HBO series Girls to the freshman Comedy Central show Broad City. The comparisons make plenty of sense when considering that both are based around singular talents whose voices both involve women in New York doing crass and vulgar things in their mid-20's. If anything is indicative of their channels, Girls tends to feel like the higher class "prestige" version of this lifestyle and has been the subject of countless think pieces arguing about nepotism and sexism. By comparison, Broad City has managed to triumph as a sleeper hit with not nearly as much attention but probably more laughs that has made it one of the best programs currently in the Comedy Central roster. It may not be as "prestigious" as Girls, but it definitely has a lot more fun with its story lines.
Broad City follows Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) as they live their lives in New York while working lousy jobs and often have an obsession with getting high. While both are by no means successful, Abbi is the more responsible one that at least tries to get an art career off the ground by selling artwork to unfortunate places. By comparison, Ilana is the nasty girl whose only desires involve getting high, having sex, and even imagining a deeper relationship with Abbi. With an accompanying cast of colorful characters, this series ravishes in the absurdities of everyday life through the eyes of two stoners who may not have everything, but they have each other, which may be the most endearing thing of all.
The series started as a Youtube series of videos that launched them into cult status. When Amy Poehler picked them up, they managed to land a deal with Comedy Central that ended up producing this strange, enjoyable program. In a time where man-child series are struggling to survive, it is exciting to see the female perspective play out in all of its catty glory. More than the appeal of two charismatic performers with a strong relationship, the inventiveness of an average episode manages to take the humor into a higher echelon. In "Stolen Phone," an average story of a missing phone turns into a cross-state journey that unveils a lot of sight gags that hide in the background, only making appearances when necessary. It becomes a puzzle that when viewed as a whole, seems somewhat ingenious.
The show's other strengths is being able to paint the sex lives not as glamorous as Sex and the City or even Girls. Throughout the season, they land in bed with a strange mix of bedfellows that includes terrible improv performers and deplorable DJ's. All of the awkward sex is played for laughs, but most of all works because Abbi and Ilana aren't necessarily helpless in these situations. They take control of the issues and by the end, they are more obsessed with each other in ways beyond friendships. It becomes a running gag as Ilana seems to find herself more and more sexually attracted to Abbi as the season progresses. In the closing moments of the finale, it all adds up to a beautiful moment of laughter as they walk home from a failed 26th birthday party that landed them in the hospital.

It also helps that the supporting cast is particularly strong. Hannibal Buress stars as Lincoln, Ilana's boyfriend who is also a dentist. At times,  his involvement in an average episode is reduced to a walk-on role, but it manages to work. Buress is a master of absurd observations and manages to punch up scenes with perfectly worded humor. Along with roommate Bevers (John Gemberling) and apartment neighbor Jeremy (Stephen Schneider), each episode plays out in a realm of slacker wisdom. Even if the season was essentially finding every trope of a modern 20-something's sitcom, it manages to rebuild them in clever ways that remove the pretension and go straight for the laughs. Even the typical crass humor becomes high concept, specifically in "Hurricane Wanda" when everyone is pitted together to figure out who threw feces into someone's shoe. The mystery surrounding it actually works.
Because of its slacker humor and somewhat familiar territory, there are gags that don't quite work. However, the chemistry between Ilana and Abbi is far too endearing to interfere with any episode being anything but enjoyable. Yes, they are often crass and way too strange, but most of all they are friends trying to make it together in this world. With a colorful group of characters, this series works because they are equal parts sloppy as they are inventive. It plays like a delightful rookie series trying to be something more, which inevitably bleeds into the characters' motivations. For that and many more reasons, Broad City is a delightful show that is thankfully coming back for another season that will hopefully help it to gain further recognition.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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