The final scene of “What a Wonderful World” ends on the bathroom floor in Brooklyn, from which a ragged Ilana video chats her best friend Abbi in Astoria, Queens. Ilana, hung over, has just puked into the toilet; Abbi and the audience can see everything. Ilana lifts her head and stares into the webcam. “Come over,” she implores. “We have pizza.” Abbi, with a slight smile, asks what kind. We know she’s considering the offer.
Though short enough for YouTube, the joke proves revelatory about the new sitcom “Broad City,” which premiered on Comedy Central last month. The brief interaction between the two characters captures their more routine dynamic, with Ilana the uninhibited partier and Abbi a bit more uptight. (Lead actresses Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, the co-creators of the series, base the show off their own relationship, and their off-screen closeness shines through in the pace and familiarity of the comedy.) The video chatting, too, highlights the importance of technology to the series, which Glazer and Jacobson first introduced as a webseries in 2009. Even the vomit encapsulates the pair’s willingness to engage in a steady stream of brash physical comedy, whether that means losing a front veneer to a jawbreaker or writhing to hide a weed baggie from police dogs in a delicate, internal, feminine location.
Most importantly, though, the joke reflects the underlying philosophy of the program. This, refreshingly, is one of sisterhood and female solidarity. “Broad City” embraces the reality of authentic female friendship. It is true that a world in which women spend time with one another is not unusual for television. What distinguishes Glazer and Jacobson from the pack is their portrayal of a relationship that is easy and uncomplicated and effortless.
Many critics have compared “Broad City” to HBO’s “Girls,” which also centers on the struggling New York millennial experience. But the programs are very different. The members of Lena Dunham’s foursome often seem perpetually exhausted with one another. The tradition of Horvath and Bradshaw alike proves that efforts to compartmentalize all-American women into broad archetypes, while convenient, result in weird and sometimes inexplicable friend groups. Why can’t these ladies find better friends? Arbitrary groupings beget the requisite tension for drama but fail to yield optimal on-couch enjoyment.
Unlike the “Girls,” Ilana and Abbi are friends in earnest. They dig each other and want to spend time together — over dinner, at parties, while throwing up, in flagrante delicto (watch the first episode!). They have found what works, as friends in any breezy comedy should.
Because “Broad City” examines the phenomenon of female friendship (and let’s face it: because it stars women), the program has drawn attention for what the Wall Street Journal has described as “sneak attack feminism.” Andi Zeisler, writing for Bitch Magazine, called the show’s feminism “baked-in, with an emphasis on the ‘baked.’” And PolicyMic’s Jen Winston described it as an example of “real, everyday” feminism that “[reflected on] how normal people actually behave.” She writes: “By doing things like imagining sex with Lil’ Wayne … and cleaning a man’s apartment in their underwear, the girls exercise their equality in ways that are more real than obvious.”
To me, though, understanding Ilana’s objectification of Weezy qua female empowerment is neither real nor obvious. If the women of “Broad City” burst stereotypes in their brashness, it is incidental — and in many respects irrelevant. Their universe is not our own but an absurdist stoner landscape that makes no claim to any sort of reality: a Comedy Central sitcom that airs after “Workaholics” and has featured a cameo appearance from Fred Armisen in a diaper.
Whether Ilana and Abbi, these fictional people, abide by the principles of feminism is irrelevant to my daily life. What is more relevant is how these fictional characters influence real women. Does the program appeal to the better angels of our nature? Or do we treat our hour of television as a Two Minutes Hate? Does “Broad City” elevate us beyond the hate-watch? If a show can inspire feminism in the real world, it is feminist enough for me.
Fortunately, “Broad City” has not only portrayed but also offered a model for uncomplicated female friendship to its viewers. The program succeeds in making viewers yearn for the kind of easy and effortless friendship its protagonists share, and in a sense helps foster these friendships in its audience. I’ve spent many a half hour re-watching episodes with a rotating cast of female friends, and in those moments we are transported into a New York City without irony and cynicism, the bread and butter of girl-on-girl-(on-“Girls”?) hate. Everyone vomits, and there’s no need to make fun or get testy on Facebook. A true friend will always save you a slice.