HOW BROAD CITY BECAME TV’S PUREST COMEDY.
Like most comedy duos, Abbi and Ilana, the Yass- Queens at the heart of Broad City, are built to be an odd couple. Abbi is mildly neurotic enough to concern herself with what others might think of her; she needs pep talks and is prone to doing the wrong thing for a right reason, like the time she ruined her date’s strap- on by washing it in the dishwasher. Ilana is never not entirely self- possessed, all appetite and satisfaction. Shame is not a concept that ever occurs to her, much less is felt; she does the wrong thing because it would never occur to her that anything she does is the wrong thing.
To the extent that Broad City tweaks this formula, it’s that the oddness of the couple doesn’t lead to tension or strife: Abbi and Ilana’s differences never really put them at odds. If anything, they only make them more ridiculous, send them further down whatever screwy, potsmelling rabbit holes they manage to fall into every week.
A lot has been made about how well Broad City captures the chaotic charisma of friendship — very specifically, female friendship — and that’s part of how the pair works, but more impressive is the way the show can send a comedic scenario ricocheting off its two stars until it explodes into something even more hilarious. Abbi and Ilana elevate their personas like two of the Little Rascals scaling a wall, one jumping off the other’s back before turning around to pull the other up.
The best example of this juxtaposition was in the opening shot of this season, a long montage splitscreen, set on the respective toilets of Abbi and Ilana. Tracking a year in their lives, it was a celebration of how wonderfully messy the passing of time for these characters can be: Abbi flushes at least three gold fish, Ilana both gives and receives a blumpkin to fist- pumping celebration, they try on various outfits and costumes, and end it all with a hearty series of bong rips. Between what you obviously catch, though, are roughly four million in- jokes, ranging from them trying on black/ blue and white/gold versions of that dress that turned the Internet into a war ground to varied reactions to pregnancy tests and a shared copy of Hillary Clinton’s biography.
The jokes aren’t always quite as fast and furious in the normal goings- on, although the show is willing to stuff them wherever they fit: Ilana in particular is such a buoyant personality that even her mangled pronunciations manage to seem both funny and oddly perfect for her characters. More importantly, though, Broad City is so sharply structured that it can let itself go off into whatever flights of fancy it sees fit to follow, from non- sequitur voices emerging from sewer grates to more basic parodies of warehouse sales.
Its most basic structure involves Abbi and Ilana trying to do something absurdly simple: in the premiere it was brunch and dropping in on an art gallery to see one of Abbi’s (inevitably more successful) friends. From the get-go, we know that this will be a spectacular failure, because all of their adventures are. They are incapable of doing the kinds of things most of us wouldn’t even think to register as a thing that needs doing. The simplicity of the central premise lets them go off in any direction they want, and the tight focus on the two of them there are rarely even properly separate Abbi and Ilana plots, let alone As and Bs — not only turns every step into something epic, but also gives us an eminently familiar dynamic to ground whatever weirdness they want.
You can feel this freedom in the way the show basically flits from one odd situation to the other, with a haphazardness that befits its city setting. Even if Broad City ramps up the absurdity, it stays uncomfortably close to what living in a city can feel like, the mess and morass of humanity combining to make a bizarre patchwork quilt that smells like pot and piss. It’s a tapestry weaved out of frayed threads.
For a show that proudly embraces the shambolic ethos of its main pair — it might be the most joyful exploration of two relentless hot messes on any medium — Broad City is also an impeccably crafted and well-honed device. With 30 Rock off the air, Bob and David no longer at the height of their powers and the smart animated comedies aiming more for depression than laughs, it’s almost certainly the most intricate pure comedy on television. That it takes careful stitching to make it is hidden by its oddity, but that balance is exactly why Broad City is one of the funniest shows on television.
BROAD CITY CAN LET ITSELF
GO INTO WHATEVER FLIGHTS OF FANCY IT SEES FIT TO FOLLOW.