‘Broad City’ Skillfully Juggles the Heartfelt and the Absurd

Broad City is funny, but it's also heartfelt in unexpected and strange ways.

Based on a web series of the same name, Comedy Central’s Broad City is a brilliant half hour of comedy that mines familiar and original material in equal parts. Following the lives of Ilana Wexler (Ilana Glazer) and Abbi Jacobson (Abbi Abrams) as they navigate underwhelming jobs, romantic relationships, and friendship, the series also regularly inserts absurd and just plain weird moments that makes it more than a comedy about twentysomethings in New York.

Centered on the lives of two best friends, Broad City follow Ilana and Abbi as they navigate New York with limited financial resources, but plenty of creativity and humor to make up for it. They have the closeness and the shorthand of best friends down perfectly, such that the ridiculous and strange situations they frequently find themselves in are grounded in a reality that brings the show together more completely. Broad City could very easily exist as a completely left field series filled with ludicrous situations and weird bits. However, the show balances both sides so well that even a scene in which Ilana and Abbi answer an ad to clean an apartment for some extra money, which quickly devolves into the homeowner pretending to be an baby to get out of paying them, still retains the core relationship between Ilana and Abbi as its center.

In many ways, Ilana and Abbi are polar opposites, at least on the surface. Ilana is irresponsible and always game for any scenario, while Abbi seems much more together and reluctant to participate in many of Ilana’s schemes. The show manages to upend those characterizations in unexpected ways that make Ilana save the day or Abbi instigate some crazy plan here and there so that they’re not one-dimensional cliches, but rather more fleshed out characters.

Perhaps no better episode encapsulates Broad City as well as the season one finale. As Abbi and Ilana go out to a fancy seafood restaurant for Abbi’s birthday, the night becomes an insane exercise in true friendship. Ilana’s seafood allergy doesn’t prevent her from indulging in their multiple courses, despite the fact that she is clearly in the midst of a severe reaction. Each cut to Ilana’s increasingly reddened and swollen face is both hilarious and horrifying; it pays off in the best way possible when Abbi carries her out of the restaurant in what is made out to be a major hero moment. It’s funny and heartfelt in unexpected and strange ways, which is what Broad City does best.

Surrounded by an excellent supporting cast, the series benefits from an eclectic bunch that pops in and out throughout the season’s ten episodes. Lincoln (Hannibal Buress), a dentist and Ilana’s sexual partner, would like to be her boyfriend, but she’s content with the ways things are. Matt Bevers (John Gemberling) is Abbi’s roommate’s boyfriend who never leaves their apartment and is constantly annoying Abbi with his freeloading ways. Jaime (Arturo Castro) is Ilana’s roommate and drug dealer, who also constantly apologizes for everything. Trey (Paul W. Downs) and Todd (Chris Gethard) turn up as Abbi and Ilana’s bosses, respectively. Trey is a health nut who seems oblivious to Abbi’s attempts to move beyond cleaning bathrooms, and Todd is Ilana’s overly permissive boss who lets her get away with shirking almost every work responsibility. Finally, Jeremy (Stephen Schneider) is Abbi’s neighbor and the object of her many fantasies. In addition to the supporting cast, the series makes great use of its guest stars, such as Amy Sedaris as a desperate real estate agent, Jason Mantzoukas and Matt Jones as a pair of creepy DJs, and Amy Poehler and Seth Morris as the bickering couple who run the restaurant in the finale.

Broad City achieves a great deal in how consistently hilarious and always entertaining the series is, regardless of the absurdity of the circumstances. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer have created a world that feels groundbreaking, if only for the fact that the leads are two women who unapologetically do drugs, have sex, and seem aimless more often than not. These characterizations are more usually attributed to the cool, stoner guys, but rarely depicted for women. What sets Abbi and Ilana apart is the way they’re also able to infuse their characters, and by extension the show, with enough reality to make everything else that happens to them seem weirdly normal, at least as the word “normal” applies to the world of Broad City.

The DVD release includes some bonus features, such as deleted scenes, outtakes, commentaries, and a map of Broad City drawn by Abbi. The video extras are great and the map is an especially nice addition. It includes landmarks such as “ATM where that dude puked on Abbi”, “Scopin’ boyz in bball shorts”, and “Where Ilana saw Rihanna in a moving SUV”. It’s a smart and funny companion to the series that also serves as an overview to the season.

RATING 8 / 10
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