How Broad City Became TV’s Funniest Comedy

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March 26 2014 10:02 AM

2 Toke Girls

How sweet, silly, stoned Broad City became TV’s funniest comedy.

Broad City
Abbi and Ilana are not an odd couple, but perfect partners in crime.

Photo courtesy Walter Thompson/Comedy Central

Broad City, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s series on Comedy Central, finishes its triumphant, hilarious, silly, bizarre, stoned-out-of-its-mind first season tonight. If you’ve been watching, you know how great this season has been. If you haven’t been watching, I am so jealous, because you get to start watching TV’s funniest comedy right now.

I liked the show, and especially Ilana Glazer’s radical insouciance, from the beginning, but it took a few episodes for me to fully appreciate how original the series really is. The pilot was full of beats that are familiar from Sex and the City, The Odd Couple, and Girls, among other shows. Abbi’s overworked, undersexed, and stressed; Ilana’s fully-baked. Under Ilana’s influence, Abbi gets out of work by pretending she has to get AIDS test results. All of this made it easy to mistake Broad City for yet another jerk show, a NYC tragicomedy about friendship and ambition starring one girl who was all id and another who was mostly superego.

But Broad City is too sweet and silly to sweat the zeitgeist. It presents friendship in your 20s as, above all, joyful and free. Ilana and Abbi have a dedicated best friendship that is a constant source of delight and support, a co-dependence that’s sustaining, not undermining. It’s a relationship that trumps crappy jobs and bad roommate situations and niggling worries, and permits both women to be exactly who they are. (Amy Poehler is a producer of Broad City, and the show has more of Parks and Recreation’s super kindness in its DNA than anything else.) Abbi and Ilana are constantly in motion: Except for one hurricane-related bottle episode, they roam New York City, bopping from place to place on foot or the subway (it goes without saying they can’t afford cabs), the whole metropolis their playpen, people—as specific and strange as they are—their playthings.

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Not to make too much out of Ilana and Abbi’s drug of choice, but Broad City is the TV equivalent of a stoner: extremely good-natured, a little surreal and spacey, loose, emitting a palpable contact high. It’s not fixated on punch lines, but is really invested in putting over an expansive, anything-goes spirit. The show’s storylines spring from specific, small observations—Penn Station is terrifying; receiving packages in New York is Kafkaesque; clogged toilets are embarrassing—and then take on a surreal twist. A guy breaks up with Abbi rather than go to Penn Station; Abbi has to trek on a boat to an abandoned warehouse on an island only to fail to pick up that package; Ilana is, of course, a clog savant. Ilana and Abbi react to all these absurd situations like they are perfectly normal, just another day living in the city.

Both Glazer and Jacobson are exceptional physical comedians, and Broad City pays attention to gesture and body language and sight gags in a way every comedy should. (This focus makes the show particularly GIFable) Glazer drips with presence: She bobbles her head, snakes around, dances, and does voices with contagious swag. And Jacobson is willing to toss her body around like a rag doll. In the second episode, “P*$$y Weed”—which is where I suggest you start—a beyond-stoned Abbi freaks out and tries to roll slickly out of the dentist’s office, like an awkward worm, in a sequence that makes me laugh just to think about. In another episode, when they break into an apartment because Ilana has lost her keys, they discover a giant bowl of candy by the door. Once Abbi determines it contains Nerds, she dips both hands in like a parched traveler at an oasis.

Abbi and Ilana are not an odd couple, but perfect partners in crime. In tonight’s finale, they find themselves curled up on a hospital gurney having a good time when nearly anyone else wouldn’t be able to manage it. But they’re together and that’s all the good time they ever need.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

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