Prior to the premiere of Season 4 of Broad City, we explore what makes the show so entertaining and relatable.
Transcript provided by Youtube:
There are so many great things about Broad City it’s hard to encapsulate why
the show’s so good. But we’re going to try. Apart from the fact that it’s very very
[I gotta let you go sweetie I’m about to start this temp job bye bye.]
[Sorry I I had to take that.]
[You made that call in the middle of our conversation.]
The outlandish raunchy comedy centering around the friendship of two
twenty-something New York women is a joyful and game-changing comedy thanks
to three significant things that gets right. One, it skillfully combines and
draws from great comedy influences and forms including the sitcom, buddy comedy,
autobiography, and observational comedy Two, it makes New York a powerful
character we can laugh at, relate to, and recognize. And three, it embodies a kind
of casual everyday feminism that’s subtly revolutionary in the
characters and the female friendship it presents. So let’s look in
detail at why Broad City is a groundbreaking achievement in television.
[You’re not one of those hot girls that says she’s gonna text and then doesn’t, right?]
[Was anyone filming that? I’m the hot girl at this bar. Me! Me is! Yes! Telling my mom.]
It’s not easy to immediately label what kind or genre of comedy Broad City
actually is. On the episodic level Broad City draws from the typical American
sitcom it gives us self-contained plots featuring obstacles that are there
mainly to let characters endear themselves to us and how they handle
them with their own style and personal code. Failing to achieve goals and
sitcoms is normal, even good, and we see this in Broad City as well. Like with
long-running sitcoms, we get established gags.
Think the catchphrases of the characters in Friends. Ilana uses her
catchphrase: Yass Yass Yass Yass. A lot. We see running
jokes about the gross things Abby has to clean up at her job, and her Oprah
alter-ego, a cabaret singer named Val, is slightly mentioned a few episodes before
the big reveal. The subway cold-open has a callback in the two women with
pepper-sprayed eyes — exact replicas of Abbi and Ilana a few episodes earlier
But the series arcs of most sitcoms tend to give us either stability or positive
improvement in the characters lives and personal development. Broad City allows
its characters to grow more realistically with spurts and stops or
steps backward. By the end of season 3 Alana gets a sudden shock when she’s
fired from her job where she does nothing, and Lincoln breaks up with her
no longer happy with their no strings arrangement.
[He met some beautiful Queen.]
[No, a Queen like us.]
Abbi gains confidence to explore more of
her personality quirks and nuances
[No more Mr. Nice Abbi. No more… no more
cleaning up other people’s pubes.]
but still without being uninhibited like Ilana.
And she sometimes wavers and reverts in to insecurity
Unlike some sitcoms where actions are totally forgotten in future episodes or
big changes happen in a single moment, Broad City reflects that transitioning
into adulthood is a difficult, slow, and inconsistent process. The show also
follows in the tradition of observational comedy like Curb Your
Enthusiasm, Seinfeld and Louie which start from mundane small seeming
premises or problems. Seinfeld was famously and somewhat misleadingly
discussed as a show about nothing. Like in Seinfeld or Curb, Broad City runs with
a joke until it’s exhausted every possibility. The situations escalate in
unexpected directions with outrageous, absurdist results. And the comedy results
in sly social commentary. Broad City uses humor to analyze the nuances of
living in a society driven by political correctness and rigid social norms
And like Louie, Broad City also verges on the surreal, taking some jokes to a point
that they feel symbolic, expressive and fanciful. Another key component of the
comedy is the creative autobiography genre. The two protagonists Abbi and
Ilana are named after the creators and based on exaggerated versions of their
younger selves. The chemistry between the two is so tangible because it’s a
heightened version of their real relationship. And the final key comedy
genre Broad City incorporates is of course the buddy comedy often called a
bromance but here since it’s about a female friendship claimed as a bromance
Bramance, or the female buddy comedy, is underrepresented on-screen, although this
is changing with some other modern successes. But traditionally most comedy
starring women center on romantic love. Broad City parodies the rom-com genre
in scenes like the girlie shopping montage which consists of just an
awkward high-five and trying on one dress.
[First one’s fine, I think.]
Of all the comedy genres working here, the buddy
comedy is Broad City’s heart, because the most important part of the show is the
supportive and undying love between the ladies.
Abby’s keeper today. I am her mother, sister, father, brother.]
[Relax I get it okay.]
New York City is one of Broad City’s main characters and the show’s version
of New York is a unique blend of the ridiculous and the real. The city often
serves as the antagonist providing obstacles that inspire the girls antics.
But even though New York is a tough city the women are pitted against we don’t
sense cynicism or bitterness towards it. It’s a worthy opponent inspiring the
friends to rise to the challenge together. Meanwhile the city is also an
ally and a friend that enables their crazy adventures. The absurd nature of
the city is the perfect complement to Abbie’s and Ilana’s absurd humor, and as
much as the show seems to up the city’s insanity it also feels like an accurate
representation of a city that truly is mad. Even the utterly ridiculous parts
are more or less grounded in the reality of living in New York: the subway
encounters scene hits pretty close to home for New Yorkers, from the bulky
backpacks, personal grooming and sexual impropriety, to no one offering their
seat to a pregnant woman, acrobatic performers and the empty car that can
only mean there’s feces on the floor. They’re observing a city that we
recognize. Many movie or TV versions of New York are glamorous, aspirational,
romantic, but Broad City’s New York shows us the warts and all making the less
glossy aspects of the city oddly endearing.
[The knife and fork mean
it’s an affordable restaurant. And this is a machete this is where someone
macheted another person in half.]
Ilana’s is also very much a 20-something City. They’re terrified of the Upper East
[My son-in-law such a disgrace he went
their casual outings develop into totally unexpected adventures full
of random meetings that they roll with. Unlike real 20-somethings they focus on
the here and now. Many New York stories are about the drive to get famous or
make it big, but Abby’s dream to be a fitness trainer is pretty modest. And so
far Ilana is happy doing whatever she feels. Their attraction to New York isn’t
big money or fame but the freedom it allows for people to embrace a specific
kind of existence, carve out their own thing, and live their so-called best
lives. The name of the show, Broad City, conveys how expansive and diverse New
York City is. Every secondary character has a fulfilling life and backstory
off-screen. As Jon Stewart has observed Broad City is a comedy that prioritizes
joy instead of classic conflict or drama. And the show’s attitude to New York is a
great example of how it spins problems and obstacles into sources of fun and
exhilarating chaos. The show’s magic power is to take hardships and the
uglier sides of things and turn them into something uplifting.
conditioner, free to cheap. Banks bye guys.]
[Bye guys it’s my favorite part
I love that.]
Leaving the audience empowered to find the best in their own
The show’s title is also reclaiming or repurposing the outdated derogatory
slang broad which originated in the 30s and was usually used to describe a more
independent, assertive, aggressive or loud woman. The counterpoint to everyday
sexism and microaggressions, Ilana and Abby embody an everyday feminism.
These are characters who happen to be feminists just being themselves doing
real things and responding honestly to their environment in a way that reflects
[If God didn’t want us to put our fingers in there then why did
she make them perfectly finger-sized. Exactly.]
Viewers can enjoy watching jokes
about tampons instead of continuing to subtly internalize that periods are
something we don’t talk about.
[Oof, first day that’s like putting your spoon into it
molten lava cake.]
[Like a first bite of a jelly doughnut.]
[It’s like a side of chutney.]
[It’s like fruit on the bottom.]
Meanwhile who these characters are represents a radical
departure from conventional images we might be used to seeing — of women who are
worried about pleasing men, obsessed with romance or financial security, or making
negative comments about each other or their own bodies.
Notable stances on Broad City include extreme body positivity, embracing female
and fluid sexuality,
[That is true masculinity. You are truly evolved]
and bottomless support of female
friendships. Broad City also delves into adventurous topics like polyamorous
relationships, sexual identities and labels, experimentation and masturbation.
The show also avoids prescribing any right way to be a feminist or a
liberated woman. In relationships Ilana is an exaggerated version of the
stereotypical guy. She’s proudly promiscuous, oblivious, commitment-phobic
[This is purely physical]
[Why does this always happen to me?]
and knows laughably little about her long term
hookup Lincoln’s personal life.
[You didn’t know about this? The homemade pasta? He makes a different kind of it
every Sunday night. It’s on his blog.]
[The al dente dentists. Do you not talk to Lincoln?]
But Abbey’s on the other end of a sexual spectrum. And while many of us enjoy
Ilana’s totally uninhibited nature, a lot of women probably feel more like Abby — not
totally secure or comfortable with everything, navigating their boundaries.
So both Abbi and Ilana reflect real and relatable versions of the female sexual
experience. Either way the show consistently avoids judgments about
sexuality. Even when it makes jokes about something like pegging the jokes aren’t
directed towards the sexual act, they’re aimed at Jeremy’s materialistic nature.
[It’s not my dildo. Mine was a Shinjo and that’s like a cheap knockoff.]
[It’s $79. I feel like it could get the job done.]
The show celebrates difference but what it
won’t tolerate is intolerance, or anyone who doesn’t respect the two women. What’s
most enjoyable about Broad City’s everyday feminism is that it feels like
no big deal, like an example not a conversation starter.
[Ladies your steering is making some of the guys feel uncomfortable.]
does often get compared to girls which creators Abbi and Ilana find a little
reductive or superficial
[No, you can watch both. I watch both of those shows.
And they’re great and they’re different characters, and it’s awesome.]
Broad City pushes the edge of what’s socially acceptable and plays with the notions of
PC culture. Some have criticized it for not being intersectional enough as the
two main characters are white college educated middle-class women with
supportive parents. But the show also challenges itself on these same issues
like when Abby says to Ilana:
[You’re so anti-racist sometimes that
you’re actually really racist.]
Through Ilana the show acknowledges that despite
good intentions and the desire to be open, white feminists may still be
insensitive or guilty of cultural appropriation.
[I’m really sorry.]
And while the show doesn’t fully represent the experiences of all women it’s capturing something
specific and addictively relatable. These women aren’t the typical role models the
media often serves us. So it’s cathartic to just watch them being themselves.
What’s truly role model-esque about them though is the fact that they’re more or
less comfortable with who they are. We can all learn from their tight-knit
genuine friendship, their knack for fun, and their ability to find the best in
[I would take you on my shoulders,
like I would strap you up, and I’d be like let’s go to Hell…]
[Should we go to the subway?]
This post was previously published on Youtube.
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Photo credit: Screenshot from video