Three Cheers for the Broads of Broad City

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Jan. 22 2014 7:28 AM

Broad City

Comedy Central’s new series features a new kind of girl on TV.

Broad City
Ilana Glazer (left) and Abbi Jacobson star in Broad City.

Photo courtesy Ali Goldstein/Comedy Central

Comedy Central’s promising new comedy Broad City, which premieres Wednesday night, heralds the arrival of a new poster child for IDGAF. IDGAF is a state of being that is almost exactly what it sounds like: a mode of indifference, but one spiced up with a dash of freedom and exasperation, specifically the freedom to be exasperated and then to extract oneself from that exasperation by ceasing to care. It’s a way of being that is difficult to master, particularly for women, whose behavior generally comes in for more scrutiny than that of men. I can think of plenty of men who DGAF—Robert Downey Jr., Matthew McConaughey, Girls’ Adam Sackler—but for women, there’s a fine line between an alluring amount of cool distance and being taken to task for thinking oneself too cool, à la Kristen Stewart or The Mindy Project’s Mindy Lahiri. But Broad City’s Ilana Glazer, one of the show’s two stars, makes IDGAF look both easy and fun, a kind of ecstatic, contagious IDGAF! She’s a female character who is all imp and id and feels brand new.

Broad City was a Web series before making the leap to prime time, having accrued fans like Amy Poehler, who is a producer of the new show. (Fred Armisen, Janeane Garofalo, Rachel Dratch, and Hannibal Buress appear in the first three episodes.) It stars Glazer and the very appealing Abbi Jacobson as two young women, also named Ilana and Abbi, living in New York, lost in their 20s. As this description suggests, Broad City is a near relative of Girls. But Broad City has a more pronounced DIY vibe, a more surreal, sloppy and affectionate nature: The episodes are more narrowly focused on its two leads getting up to haphazard mischief, whether it’s playing drums for money in Union Square or trekking out to the middle of nowhere to retrieve a missing package from an old woman spooning yogurt into her mouth. If it is easy enough to imagine the fictional Abbi and Ilana at a party with Hannah Horvath, it’s easier still to imagine they would not like each other all that much. Broad City’s broads, deep down inside, have good hearts. It’s hard to know anymore if the girls of Girls have hearts at all.

Abbi is the responsible one. She works at a fancy gym, washing towels, snaking drains, and unclogging toilets, hoping one day to be a trainer herself. She is the kind of woman who affixes Post-its to her vibrator reminding herself to masturbate: an anxious plan-maker, if not fundamentally uptight. Left to her own devices, Abbi might tend toward long-suffering and allow herself to be put upon by everyone in her life, but luckily she has Ilana, who is nothing like her and therefore totally indispensible.

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Ilana does pretty much exactly what she pleases, whenever she pleases. She leaves work in the middle of the day to play hooky, take another job, or just smoke a bowl and have a long nap in her office restroom. She Skypes during sex. She wears whatever she wants. She mugs and pulls voices and considers herself an expert on hip-hop. She volunteers herself and Abbi to clean a man’s house without their clothes on. She feels no shame or embarrassment. She is unflappable and unstoppable. Under Ilana’s supervision, Abbi tries to get out of work by pretending she has HIV test results to go check on. (“Don’t worry about the pubes, get the results,” her boss at the gym, who just told her to go unclog a shower drain, insists.)

On the face of it, Ilana might sound like an “unlikable” character. She does whatever she wants with little regard to anyone else around her. In a first episode gag, she hands Abbi a joint on the street and tells her she’ll watch her back, only to walk away as soon as she gets a phone call, leaving Abbi exposed. But Ilana is not cruel. She in fact, feels like a female Bill Murray character, a combination I have never encountered before. She’s Venkman in a midriff-bearing T-shirt: a woman who does whatever she wants but with so much affable myopia you end up admiring her. It’s not how most people do things, but if your job doesn’t pay you, why not take a nap? If you have hemorrhoids and you find yourself at the vet, why not ask about them? Ilana is uniquely unburdened by what people think of her. If that sometimes makes her a jerk, it also makes her a unicorn—a rare being that, once spotted, you don’t take your eyes off.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

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