With Broad City season 4 returning September 13, it’s time to look at what makes this daring pair so appealing.
Look beyond the bong hits and vagina jokes. Peek under the layer of slapstick pratfalls and booze-addled rooftop parties. Comedy Central’s Broad City is a love letter to many things, like New York City, success in an era of uncertainty and, most importantly, friendship. And we’ll find out with Broad City season 4 if those odes extend beyond the show’s usual targets.
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer play more exaggerated versions of themselves in this raucous show. Broad City follows the misadventures of best friends Abbi and Ilana. Abbi is an awkward would-be artist who toils at the coldhearted fitness chain Soulstice. Ilana is a hyperactive perpetually horny stoner who, until season 3, barely held a job at the Groupon-like startup Deals Deals Deals. Abbi and Ilana mainly spend their time dating, helping each other out of crises and drug-tripping around NYC’s many communities.
Glazer and Jacobson brought their Web series to television at a crucial moment in modern entertainment: Sick of being cast as quirky neighbors and love interests, women began taking center stage on TV, notably thanks to the rise of Girls, Inside Amy Schumer and Orange Is the New Black. Cheeky and intelligent comedy bloomed from the inspiration planted by such foremothers of comedy as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. When Broad City aired its first season in 2014, its clarion call of “Yasss, queen!” was another notch in a belt supporting female voices hungry to entertain, engage and flip a bird to the norm.
As a longtime fan of Broad City, I’ve seen several key themes emerge and spin out episode after episode.
First, much like Seinfeld and Louie, Broad City makes New York City the third main character. The city figures into many episodes so centrally that you can practically feel the subway grime, taste the hipster Americanos, hear the brash catcalls.
Broad City loves to jab at NYC’s spoiled apples ruining the bunch, such as the ugliness of Penn Station. In one episode, Abbi’s wedding date refuses to head to Penn, explaining, “Penn Station. I can’t. It’s disgusting.”
They critique the moneyed ladies strolling around the Upper East Side, the arrival of Whole Foods as a sign of surefire gentrification, the circus of trash around St. Mark’s Place. This isn’t Sex and the City’s New York. While Sex and the City went pristine, Broad City goes gritty. Undoubtedly, we can expect the same kind of unflinching look at the highs and lows of NYC in Broad City season four.
Analyzing how success flirts with failure is an important part of enjoying Broad City. It seems Glazer and Jacobson pine for days when life could be much simpler: kickass job, steady boyfriend, no-stress apartment. But this is NYC and these friends slip neck-deep into heady challenges that could be #FirstWorldProblems but also veer into #squadgoals.
Abbi will get a cute guy’s number at a bar, but then lose her phone immediately, only recovering it when a drunk girl from that bar bumps into her at a bakery, when the still-drunk woman begs the baker for wine (“We don’t have wine — we’re a bakery!”). But on the way to finding her phone, Abbi and Ilana thrive as a dynamic duo hunting down a piece of tech that consistently connects them while they’re away. It’s as if they both want to recover a link to their friendship, since they barely stand to be apart (more on that later).
On the show, Ilana is constantly illustrated as a gloriously funny slacker at her startup, but in one memorable episode in season three, an investor sees the value of Ilana’s zany humor and appoints her as lead social media coordinator. Even before the jokes about her tweets begin rolling out, you lick your mental chops in anticipation of what Ilana’s freakishly bizarre brain will concoct. This is Ilana’s small success story that mirrors what many millennials experience today — your true potential might be hiding under a veneer of a cubicle job, but someone, somewhere, will see what your contribution to society at large can be.
Ilana and Abbi’s ambitions still wander aimlessly, which is part of the show’s attraction: they dip their fingers into a lot of pies, and it’s extremely fun to see what sticks, what repels them. It can get cringeworthy in the best sense of the word. Sometimes watching a train wreck with two courageously smart and funny captains is one heckuva ride.
Friendship is at the core of Broad City’s appeal. Despite all the bad relationships, weirdo roommates and work stress, Ilana and Abbi always find each other, and every episode ends on a high (literally) note. Such a love letter to friendship is gradually working its way into TV culture, as the Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg remarked recently in her essay on the “golden age of female friendship.”
For example, we’re seeing this strongly in shows like New Girl, where the bond between Jessica (Zooey Deschanel) and Cece (Hannah Simone) triumphs over any fling Jess haphazardly throws herself into. We see the friendship love in Girls, too, but the fractures and bruises are highlighted as often as the high-fives and group-cries.
In Broad City, we get a sunnier version of friends-till-the-end. Ilana even whispered to Abbi at one point, “Let’s get married,” even though Ilana claimed she didn’t hear what Abbi said. And why not a friendship marriage? They are each other’s Happily Ever After. “We are very upwardly mobile right now,” Ilana informs Abbi in the third season. “Seriously: Very Jay and Bey.”
They know each other so well Ilana mimicked Abbi perfectly in a season three classic, where Ilana impersonated Abbi to get the latter girl out of a co-op shift. It was reminiscent of the strangely engaging relationship between Seinfeld and Kramer, highlighted when Jerry became Kramer’s doppelgänger when he had to live in his apartment for a week.
What can we expect for Broad City season 4? First, Glazer and Jacobson were more involved as directors for this season, with Glazer explaining on The Late Show, “It was more efficient for us to direct, because all these conversations end up with us anyway, so it eliminated any email chains that we would be CC’d on anyway…. It really condensed the work.”
We’ll also be treated to the show’s first-ever foray into a NYC winter. If the upcoming season follows the pattern of hilariously underlining NYC’s many idiosyncrasies, expect a winter storm to bring out the best in the girls’ jabs and punches.
Also on tap for Broad City Season 4, according to media reports, are new jobs, trips to Florida, dosing with magic mushrooms and celebrating their friendiversary.
Last year, Jacobson said in an interview that the characters’ motivations will remain consistent, “They want what every New York transplant wants, which is to make it in New York in whatever way. I don’t know if they know what that means yet.”
Let’s hope the girls still don’t know exactly what they want. Otherwise, Broad City season four might veer into Sex and the City territory, with routine story lines and cliché marriage proposals. What we love about Broad City is its unpredictability and its stark message on the reality of living in the U.S. today — you can’t always get what you want, but it can be fun to experience both those highs and lows.