by Emily Nussbaum
(abridged by henrymakow.com)
Stoner comedy about two woke girls, created by the best friends Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, "Broad City" launched, in 2009, as a set of shaggy, self-produced Web sketches. In 2014, it evolved into a confident sitcom début on Comedy Central, produced by Amy Poehler. From the start, the show attracted blazing devotees. Two years ago, when Jacobson and Glazer performed at the Bell House, in Brooklyn, the crowd around me was screaming as if we were at a Beatles concert, which maybe we were. In a post-"Louie" world, in which all the best sitcoms deal in melancholy and rage, "Broad City" offers something zany, warmhearted, and sweetly liberatory, like a piñata spilling out Red Hots, Plan B, and pot snickerdoodles.
In the grand TV-sitcom tradition, Jacobson and Glazer play less driven, less competent versions of their younger selves. Abbi is a klutzy romantic with a dead-end job, mopping up pubic hair at a health club called Soulstice and mooning after dudes in man buns. Ilana is a horndog narcissist who torments her co-workers at a Groupon-like Internet startup called Deals Deals Deals. One of the girls lives in Queens, the other in Brooklyn, but they're glued together in ways that anyone who has been in one of those friendships might recognize: they text non-stop, Skype during sex (well, Ilana does), smoke up, cheerlead, and justify each other's grossest mistakes. The first season was pretty much perfect, the second more hit-and-miss; but the first three episodes of the new season are solid. They also raise the stakes, slightly, when Abbi scores a longed-for promotion to trainer, while Ilana gets promoted--and then almost immediately canned, after she tweets out a viral bestiality video. (A well-intentioned one! She was trying to advertise a deal on colonics.)
The show nails the texture of modern New York, from the breastfeeding crone who rules the food co-op (a fantastic cameo by Melissa Leo) to the needlessly bitchy sorority girl in line at a Williamsburg bakery. But even when its characters fail epically, as they often do, the show feels optimistic, a daydream of two goofy slobs pinballing through life, every obstacle they meet just something new to ricochet off.
While "Broad City" is often praised for its warm portrait of friendship and sexual frankness, the spine of the show is genius slapstick. The first new episode tosses three axes in the air in the intro--a split-screen montage, showing a year of intimate bathroom gags--and then keeps juggling, offering up seven increasingly elaborate sequences of physical comedy.
In the first act, Abbi is pulled, chest first, into a sewer grating; a pop-up sale turns into a riot; and Ilana gets her bicycle chain locked around her waist. The second act is an elegant two-step sequence, in which Abbi, desperate to pee, sneaks into a construction site's porta-potty, which is then pulled up into the air by a crane--and when she escapes, gasping in relief, Ilana, who is wearing that bicycle chain, gets hooked onto the back of a bread truck, which drives off. The whole bit is perfectly timed and edited, down to the punch line: when Abbi runs over to bawl out the truck driver, she finds him watching porn as he drives. "Nice ass!" he screams as she walks away. "I know!" she yells back, in exasperation.
Later, Ilana gets magnetized to a giant set of dangling metal testicles at an art exhibit. It's the kind of lunatic image the show specializes in, an echo of classic comedy, like the disembodied nose in Woody Allen's "Sleeper." And while it works as a literal payoff to Ilana's rants about being trapped by patriarchy, it's also satisfying as raw comedy physics; even after Abbi rescues Ilana, she keeps trying to balance the balls, adjusting a spiky pubic hair--a good citizen to the end....
On a recent podcast with the critic Andy Greenwald, Glazer described the show's premise as "vulnerability is strength." Out of context, that might sound gooey, but it reveals something about "Broad City" 's compassionate take on shit and sex, its insistence that bodies out of control are hilarious and lovely, not dirty and grotesque. Jacobson and Glazer's take on identity politics--and their characters' well-intentioned but barely informed fourth-wave, queerish, anti-rape/pro-porn intersectional feminism--is a more intricate matter, both a part of the show's philosophy and a subject of its satire. When it comes to race, the series has had a particularly complicated arc, stretching back to the Web sketches, which included a loving homage to "Do the Right Thing," with Abbi and Ilana punching the air like Rosie Perez.
It's a provocative, unsettling routine that hits from multiple angles. There's Abbi's surprisingly harsh view of her friend. (Ilana isn't any better at doing Abbi: she mewls, "Hi. I'm Abbi. I love pugs. My fahmily comes from a long line of Colonial Jews.") The bit mocks white women, like Ilana, who glom on to black politics. And it suggests a cathartic, ongoing wrestling match with the show's own tricksy position, drawing a line between this coarse and manipulative Ilana and the endearing hustler whom fans love. It's the type of meta-comedy that TV sitcoms often experiment with once they are no longer novelties, when the creators have begun to engage, consciously or unconsciously, in a conversation with viewers' responses.
All of which would be self-indulgent if it weren't for the fact that the episode is non-stop funny. The clever dialogue revs it up, but the jokes click in because of the sheer anarchic strangeness of Jacobson's performance, as she masturbates an eggplant and falls backward into a display of bulk beans, mid-twerk. The show's secret engine, however, may be its willingness to tiptoe close to failure. There's an argument that any critique of comedy is a joke-killer. But great comedians don't fold and sulk when people raise questions--they just make better bits and bolder, more ambitious jokes. Vulnerability is strength! And a nervous laugh is also a laugh, after all. ♦
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