Broad Humor

Lenika Cruz praises the second season of Broad City, which premiered this week:

[T]he show isn’t getting complacent, subject-wise: The first few episodes weave rape, sexual experimentation, discrimination, death, and socioeconomic privilege into their storylines, but avoid shoehorning commentary or moralizing. [Show creators and co-stars Ilana] Glazer and [Abbi] Jacobson proved in the first season that they could pull off outrageous without being tone-deaf or relying on stunt scenes—an admirable achievement for a show that centers on two self-absorbed female millennials. Sweet (flatulent) Abbi is often passive and self-doubting, given to bursts of energy and gall at the urging of Ilana, who is equal parts bullshittery and sincerity, and whose deep ignorance and irony are only sometimes redeemed by her sensitivity and good intentions.

In a profile of the two comedians, Rachel Syme appreciates that “as broad and slapstick as the comedy on the show can be, Glazer and Jacobson ultimately traffic in precision; their jokes could not be anyone else’s jokes.” She notes that “sex is a big part” of the series:

They both seek it, desire it, and talk about it constantly (in one episode, Ilana tells Abbi her detailed fantasy for a sexual position featuring them both, called the “Arc de Triomphe”). They treat sex with no judgment or sneers; Abbi and Ilana’s carnal victories are always shared. In the new season, when Abbi decides to “peg” one of her hookups with a neon-green dildo, she immediately calls Ilana (who happens to be at her grandmother’s shiva). Ilana screams, “This is the happiest day of my life!” What’s funny about the sex on Broad City is not that women are openly having it (we have Sex and the City to thank for that, as well as just about every cable show that has followed), but that when Abbi and Ilana do it, things tend to go horribly wrong. In the case of the strap-on triumph, Abbi quickly finds a way to melt the apparatus in the dishwasher and must embark on a Chaucerian quest to find a new one before the clock runs out.

Stephanie Boland compares the show to Girls:

While Girls – a frequent point of comparison – is known for its characters’ awkwardness, the cast of Broad City are framed as likeable even, or perhaps especially, when their behaviour is questionable. The shame which is one of the central emotions of Girls is almost entirely missing here. Broad City’s surrealism lets its creators play disgust for laughs while also revelling in its truth. At one moment, the girls accidentally get a sixteen-year-old high school student stoned; another scene shows Abbi using a blow-dryer on her genitals before the aforementioned heat wave sex. At no point, however, does our revulsion transmute into dislike for the protagonists – and rarely do they suffer consequences.

This is the central contradiction at the heart of the showUnlike Dunham’s wonderfully unlikable Hannah Hovarth, Broad City demands we find its women charming while they do terrible things. When Hannah quotes Missy Elliot during her break up with Donald Glover’s character Sandy, he is rightly horrified. By way of contrast, the intern Ilana pictures singing slave spirituals still seems happy enough at the end of the skit. The difference is partly one of absurdity, but also one of politics. Drugs, sex, and troubling attitudes to race and gender are part of the texture of city life, and Broad City suggests to sanitise would be remiss. It’s a winning feature for the show’s young demographic, and the programme has already been renewed for a third season.

Meanwhile, Nate Jones looks back at the web series that inspired the Comedy Central series. He highlights “VChat,” the episode above, as especially worth revisiting:

There’s one thing about friendship that the web-cam segments of Broad City get at so well: the feeling that life is just one long conversation punctuated briefly by the interruption of outsiders. “VChat” is the first of these—the format would later turn into a spinoff series, Hack Into Broad City—and it sees Ilana advising Abbi on a potential hookup. Their interactions are gold; you get the sense that the actual things that happen to the two of them are secondary to the experience of talking to each other about it.