For a 20-year-old Midwesterner dreaming about life in the big city, Broad City was a revelation when it came to Comedy Central in 2014. I was a college sophomore in Missouri, romanticizing the hardscrabble realities of New York City and hoping my post-grad life would look much like Abbi and Ilana’s. I recall being shocked — in a good way — by the matter-of-fact vulgarities of the pilot’s opening scene, where Ilana FaceTimes Abbi while having sex and acts like it’s a totally normal thing to do. “Who is this woman?” I thought. I’ve thought it many times since.
What Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, performers at the improv and sketch comedy group, Upright Citizens Brigade, started as a web series soon found its way to Comedy Central after Amy Poehler agreed to sign on as an executive producer. The expansion allowed for several things — the show, studio-funded, was more boisterous and character-driven than the web series, which formed an obvious template but tended to focus on specific scenarios and had episodes coming in well under ten-minutes. At a standard 30-minutes with commercials, the show relied not only on a more polished and episodic writing structure, but also on its stars’ undeniable chemistry.
In retrospect, it’s that manic energy — that steady best friendship — that has set the show apart from several other millennial New Yorker comedies, like Girls, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. What Broad City has in Abbi and Ilana, two previous unknowns who broke out to immediate and well-deserved acclaim seemingly overnight, is a particularly authentic flair of camaraderie and self-love.
With Season 5, the show’s last, the same charms are on display. But the “girls” have grown up, even if only slightly; although always politically outspoken, the show took on a different, more urgent edge following the 2016 election, and episodes since have felt, in a sense, more attuned to the world at large rather than just the world of Brooklyn and Manhattan. Still, it’d be a mistake to label the show a political comedy. What Broad City is (and Ilana would undoubtedly be happy to hear this) is a mood. The show, freewheeling but deliberate, is an extension of their personalities, which are themselves templates for the fixations and anxieties of urban 20-somethings.
Season 5 kicks off with “Stories”, an episode written by Jacobson and Glazer that consists almost entirely of short, Instagram story-like videos. The premise is that, for Abbi’s 30th birthday (as good a signal for them to move on as any), she and Ilana will walk from the tippity top of Manhattan all the way to the “tippity bottom”. It’s a brilliant episode with the feel of an instant classic, its strengths relying on viewers’ familiarity with the characters’ shenanigans. Unlike in another sitcom, where characters might use this occasion to race one another to the bottom and locate some less-than-desirable character traits, Abbi and Ilana are in no rush whatsoever and make their way through some of Manhattan’s familiar sites. It’s like a tourist’s view of New York, albeit with the street smarts and carefree attitude of long-time New Yorkers front and center. The “Stories” episode is the show, consolidated, and remains one of the season’s highlights.
Following “Stories” are “SheWork and Shit Bucket” and “Bitcoin and the Missing Girl”, two episodes that showcase Ilana’s wacky ventures and Abbi’s misfortunes. In “SheWork”, Ilana shows up for an interview with a WeWork-style startup but immediately sniffs out the scam, deciding instead to start her own iteration for cigarette smokers. (She achieves this by monopolizing one of the city’s free outdoor chargers and setting up makeshift tables and chairs nearby.) Abbi, on the other hand, has to purchase a “shit bucket” from her beloved BB&B (Bed, Bath and Beyond) after her landlord tells her that her toilet can’t handle flushing toilet paper. “Missing Girl” works much the same way, with Ilana extracting her ownership of some bitcoin from a former finance bro lover and Abbi inadvertently setting off a breaking news story after trying to find the missing hoodie that she was wearing when she lost her virginity.
On paper, or to non-viewers, these premises might seem contrived or silly. But in execution they’re perfectly in tune with the unpredictable elements of New York and with the desperate, striving actions of its youthful residents. The fourth and fifth episodes, “Make the Space” and “Artsy Fartsy”, extend this idea. In the fourth episode, Ilana realizes that her roommate, Jaime (Arturo Castro), is a hoarder, and furthermore that he’s moving to New Jersey with his older boyfriend (Guillermo Diaz), which occasions a bout of (uncertified) therapy for all parties involved.
The fifth episode is more Abbi-centric, and hones in on the anxiety surrounding her career and delayed success as an artist. In this episode, she works as a caterer for an art show while concealing her embarrassing work from a successful college friend, “Smelly Pussy” Donna (Lucia Aniello, one of the show’s writers and directors). Ilana, on the other hand, renegotiates her monogamous relationship with Lincoln (Hannibal Buress) and comes to terms with some hard truths about their future. The episode, another one of the season’s highlights, also introduces Abbi’s newfound queer identity in a way that feels completely natural.
Moving forward, Season 5 will likely feature some more recognizable guest stars and wrap up some of the show’s more persistent storylines. But with the groundwork laid out in the first four seasons, all Broad City really has to do to close out the show is stay true to itself. It shouldn’t be difficult; Jacobson and Glazer are phenomenal comic actors and their talents (in acting, writing and directing) have only become more polished as they worked on this show.
It’s sad to see the show end, but it’s also a delight to witness creators who know exactly when their passion project must come to an end. Would 30-something Abbi and Ilana be the same, or would they grow up? Like for Jacobson, Glazer and the rest of us, reaching maturity is an unignorable reality, however delayed it may be. But for the stars, who’ve already amassed several non-Broad City credits each, the future looks bright. Abbi and Ilana may be memorialized as 20-somethings forever, but Jacobson and Glazer have the kind of generational talent that shouldn’t be confined.