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On Broad City, Abbi’s lie stands out

B+
B+

Broad City

"B&B-NYC"

Season 3 , Episode 7

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Broad City is getting serious. It’s subtle, but it’s more present than it has been in past seasons: a steady undercurrent of drama—or potential drama—just beneath the thick layer of weed smoke. I’m not sure what to make of it quite yet, especially since we still seem to be in the beginning stages of these more dramatic, emotionally grounded storylines. But Broad City might need a bit of a narrative shakeup this season, because at a certain point, recurring jokes start to feel like tired ones.

On its surface, the episode presents the exact kind of loose structure Broad City thrives with, setting Abbi and Ilana up with a premise that allows for countless variables and misadventures. Deciding to make some money off of Airbnb stand-in “B&B-NYC,” Abbi and Ilana both list their apartments for the night and decide to camp out on the roof. When their tent flies away and causes a several-car pileup, Ilana calls Lincoln, who can’t help out because he has another girl over. In what is definitely a self-referential in-joke about how Abbi and Ilana are really the only characters on this show—with occasional showings from their only friends Lincoln and Jaime—Abbi points out that they really need to make more friends, realizing they have no place else to crash. So they decide to stay out all night. Again, it’s the perfect kind of open-ended setup that lets Abbi and Ilana zig-zag between different possibilities.

So Abbi and Ilana hit the club, ready for whatever comes at them. Ilana ends up meeting and going home with NBA player Blake Griffin, while Abbi decides to go back home to her cute, French B&B-NYC guest thinking they had a special connection, only to find out he actually robbed her. Ilana’s sex shenanigans with Blake Griffin fall flat—they feel like filler and (worse) like a stunt to just show Blake Griffin doing weird shit. Where’s the joke? The bit is especially weak when compared to the much more complex and subversive pegging story last season. There are some visual gags in there, like Griffin swaddling a crying Ilana as roleplay, but it’s all just trying too hard to be weird, something that usually comes very naturally to Broad City.

It’s the pieces just under the surface of “B&B-NYC” that are much more striking. There are two serialized stories unraveling in this third season that could potentially inject the series with some new layers. First, there’s the issue of Ilana and Lincoln’s open relationship. So far, Broad City has approached the relationship in a way that feels true to the show and the characters, throwing in a series of misdirects. Ilana isn’t angry when Lincoln first tells her he hooked up with someone else; she’s turned on. Lincoln excitedly shares with his hotdog guy that he and Blake Griffin are eskimo brothers. Still, there seems to be a hint of tension between Ilana and Lincoln whenever the topic comes up, which I think is most clearly seen tonight when Ilana realizes that Lincoln seeing other people means that she can’t rely on him for constant favors in the same way she did in the past. Ilana’s over-the-top characterization works so well on the show, but as the series goes on, her lack of emotional storylines just makes her seem like she’s only a bit. I’m not saying she needs to suddenly have some explosive and melodramatic fight with Lincoln, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to know exactly how Ilana feels. Maybe she really is just super chill and turned on by the whole thing, but the fact that it keeps popping back up makes me think, and hope, that the Broad City writers have more in store for developing this relationship.

There are even more shades right now to the second serialized story that pops back up in “B&B-NYC”: Abbi’s secret dalliances with Trey. Kissing Trey was really the only interesting thing Abbi did in “Rat Pack,” and I hoped it would have lasting emotional stakes on the show. Tonight, Abbi asks Trey to come over out of fear that the handsome Frenchman might try to return to the apartment. Then she sleeps with him. Even more surprising than Abbi’s sudden entanglement with her coworker is Abbi’s decision to go way out of her way to lie to Ilana about it. I didn’t think much of it when Abbi kept the kiss from Ilana, but here, it’s a much more overt lie, which goes against everything we know about their very close and open friendship. Those are very clear and compelling emotional stakes that the show will hopefully tackle, because this season of Broad City really needs something to make it feel like it isn’t just going through the same motions over and over.

It’s tricky. We know Abbi and Ilana so well, and that intimacy works to the show’s advantage. Specific character details are crucial in comedy, and Broad City mastered that in its first two seasons. Ilana’s vernacular is familiar at this point, as is Abbi’s awkwardness and the way she tends to mumble her internal monologue. On the one hand, it’s a good thing that we can anticipate what might come out of the characters’ mouths. Ilana will “yaaas” the things she loves. She’ll comment on Abbi’s ass whenever she possibly can. Abbi will start to shout emphatically when she’s uncomfortable. But if we anticipate everything that the characters are going to say, the show loses the element of surprise. The writers have to find ways to stay true to the characters while still changing the stakes, revealing new layers to who the characters are and, most importantly, how they feel. Trey is undoubtedly a two-dimensional character. We can always expect to hear him say “bazinga.” But tonight, the context of that “bazinga” is more exciting than it has ever been. In a way, it’s a very real character moment, and Broad City needs more of those in order for the story to feel fresh.

All along, Broad City has been lightly serialized, especially when it comes to certain jokes and runners. Abbi’s past love of jam bands, for example, has gotten a lot of play this season. But at what point does repeating the same jokes just become repeating the same jokes? Broad City needs to heighten the stakes. The more emotionally grounded serialized stories at play have the most potential for shaking things up. You’re The Worst took its second season to the next level by revealing Gretchen’s clinical depression in a way that perfectly fit the show’s structure and voice. Broad City is, obviously, a very different show, much more absurd and surreal than the FX comedy, but the show can still push these characters to new levels within its own set of rules. The characters can be familiar, but they still have to be dynamic.

Stray observations

  • Is it just me or did some of the distortions used in the club scenes look exactly like specific Snapchat filters?
  • “In der clerb, we all fam.”
  • “Gingers have souls.”
  • Trey brings three DVDs to the rescue: Hangover 3, Babe, and Ratatouille. Even funnier, they look like copies that he burned for himself.
  • “Did you draw that with paints?”
  • Here is the map Abbi draws of her neighborhood, which includes a marker for “cheap socks spot.”