Broad City started out as a web series created by and starring real-life pals and very funny ladies Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer as two twentysomething friends dealing with life, love, and all the daily bullshit of New York City. Last month, the show made the jump to Comedy Central, debuting as a half-hour scripted series. While there are several popular shows out right now about oh-so-spunky, creative young women making their way in the pee-strewn streets of NYC, Broad City feels both unique and funnier than all the rest. Here are five reasons why you should be watching.
1. It’s funny as hell. More and more, situational comedy is the comedy of everyday embarrassment, and since Broad City premiered on the web it has been mining those moments for pure, toe-curling, cringeworthy gold. The premise is pretty simple: Abbi and Ilana are just two ladies living in an unspecified area of New York City (downtown Manhattan, maybe?), dealing with everyday joys and indignities in very different ways, together. Abbi is the slightly neurotic homebody who puts Post-it notes on her vibrator to remind herself to masturbate and hoards Bed Bath & Beyond coupons. Ilana, on the other hand, is a walking id complex whose anything-goes attitude often involves goading her friend into challenges (and frequent humiliations). Neither is particularly happy at work—Abbi longs to be a personal trainer, but instead unclogs toilets at a fancy spinning gym; Ilana finds myriad ways to skip or sleep through her e-commerce job—but finding alternatives involves so much more work that they’d much rather just hang out together. There’s a gentle surrealist touch to many of their adventures, but others simply investigate what would happen if. (What would happen if you agreed to clean someone’s house in your underwear? What would happen if your street-drumming act in a public park was upstaged by someone using it as background beats for their own breakdancing, and they got all the tips? Etc.) Jacobson and Glazer first met as the only two women on an improv team, and it’s easy to see how their bonding as outsiders has translated into Broad City’s often hilariously defensive us-against-the-world dynamic.
2. It’s not Girls. Nothing against Lena Dunham, but I think we can all agree that Girls has collected way more than its share of cultural attention over the past couple of years. It’s never been enough to have one show positioned as representing all young/struggling/millennial/whatever women at any given time, and Broad City echoes that fact with its frankly goofy take on lady life. That said, Broad City is not entirely unlike Girls: It centers on two heterosexual twentysomething white women who seem to have some vaguely creative ambitions (Abbi is an artist, if her wall of colored markers is any indication), who are probably privileged (after trying and failing to figure out her taxes, Ilana stuffs all her papers into an envelope and sends it to her parents), and who frequently wind up humiliating themselves in public. But after two-and-a-half seasons of the self-serious Brooklyn quartet, it’s awfully refreshing to see two female characters who aren’t trying to find themselves, prove themselves, or brand themselves.
3. It’s feminist without making a whole thing of being feminist. Back when the show was a web series, the Wall Street Journal lauded its “sneak-attack feminism” that centered on things like catcalling (one video paid homage to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, complete with a dance break choreographed to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”). In the newer episodes, Broad City’s feminism isn’t so much sneak-attack as baked-in, with an emphasis on the “baked”: Ilana and Abbi are as aimless, goofy, boring, and entitled as any guy of their generation. And they’re striking a blow for equality just by subverting the image of the striving young woman who, well, sees her every move as a blow for equality.
4. It takes physical humor to a different place entirely. While I think we can all agree that women are just crushing it in the funny stakes these days, physical comedy is one area in which there’s still tons of potential, and Broad City reaches for it with giant, awkward monkey paws. Ilana stores her weed in her vagina (or, as she calls it, “nature’s pocket”) and contorts herself into ridiculous poses in order to nap undetected for hours in her office’s bathroom. Abbi, stoned out of her mind, rolls slowly across the floor of a dentist’s office to the alarm of everyone in the waiting room. Both women look like women you know in real life, but neither makes her looks the butt of self-deprecating yuks. And in a TV climate where that’s still pretty rare (quick, think of an episode of 2 Broke Girls that doesn’t depend on jokes about Max’s boobs or Caroline’s blonde skinniness!), this is no small thing.
5. Amy Poehler loves it, and we love anything Amy loves. Jacobson and Glazer asked Poehler to appear in the second-season finale of the web series, “I Heart New York,” which she did, along with fellow guests Kristen Schaal and new Saturday Night Live player Sasheer Zamata. Poehler agreed to executive-produce a TV version of the show in 2011, and the result is a show that manages to work pops of guest-star power (Fred Armisen and Rachel Dratch are two who have appeared thus far) into the show’s loosey-goosey rhythm without being all “It’s CAMEO TIME!” Will Poehler show up in the new season as, say, a hilariously Type-A spinner at the SoulCycle-esque gym where Abbi works? That would be great. But the beauty of Broad City is that its women can carry the show without big names onscreen.
Those are my reasons. If you’ve been watching, what are yours?
Related Reading: The Radical Working-Class Roots of Improv.