It can be frustrating to explain the appeal of a low-concept sitcom. Not every show can do the timeline gymnastics of a How I Met Your Mother, or the chaos of Modern Family and Trophy Wife’s sprawling families, or even follow the misadventures of a ragtag police precinct/community college/Parks department/spy agency. The fact is, more distinct loglines are easier sells for both television executives and whichever coworker you might be coercing into watching a show so someone else will get your Gchat status. On the other side of the spectrum is the so-called “hangout show,” which depends on a premise that is very basically, "people go about their days, probably in a big city and definitely featuring sexual shenanigans of some kind." Without a tangible hook, its entire selling point becomes, “these people are worth watching. Trust me.”
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobsen are worth watching. Trust me.
Granted, “twentysomethings in the city” is a well-trod premise, and the fact that co-creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are around Lena Dunham’s age means that many have already compared Broad City to HBO’s Girls. That comparison is frustratingly simplistic. The two shows have very little in common besides for the fact that they’re both about New York women in their mid-twenties. From there on out, Glazer and Jacobson have a casual take-no-shit attitude that’s all their own.
It helps that Broad City is remarkably self-possessed, even in its first episode. When we first meet Ilana and Abbi (as I will hereby call their characters, to avoid confusion with the real-life creators, who will henceforth be Glazer and Jacobson), we have no way of knowing just how long they’ve been friends. But their dynamic is already so comfortable that they don’t feel the need to spend half the episode telling us who these characters are.
This isn’t necessarily surprising, since in a technical sense, this pilot isn’t the first episode of Broad City. This Comedy Central incarnation came directly out of Glazer and Jacobson’s webseries of the same name that ran from 2009 through 2011, which in turn came directly out of Glazer and Jacobson’s real-life, collaborative friendship. Still, the fact that there is very little evidence of growing pains in the transition from webseries to half-hour sitcom is absolutely a pleasant surprise. The webseries lived somewhere between sketch and anecdotal comedy, depending less on hard punchlines than on Glazer and Jacobson’s natural chemistry. The half-hour version does the same, weaving self-contained bits like the ones in the webseries into the larger story of the Broads scrounging together money for a Lil Wayne concert (did I mention that this is just about the only “twentysomethings in the city” show to which I can actually relate?). In fact, Abbi and Ilana drumming on buckets in Madison Square Park and video chatting in the best and worst of circumstances come directly from the webseries.
I was particularly thrilled to see that they brought video chats into the show, since the webseries’ Skype episodes were some of my favorites. Beyond the obvious fact that video is more visually interesting than watching two people squeeze a phone between their ears and shoulders, Glazer and Jacobson use the video chats to establish just how close Abbi and Ilana are. The first video chat (and first scene of the show) aggressively drives that point home, countering Abbi’s labeled dildo with the reveal that Ilana’s actually called her during sex. (If this was an attempt to grab Workaholics’ lead-in audience, it’s not a bad one.) It’s a funny scene, but I was relieved when the episode proved that Abbi and Ilana won’t be indulging in such a stark “prude vs. slut” dynamic. Ilana is more intrinsically outgoing than Abbi, as her “2 Jewesses trying 2 make a buck” Craigslist ad proves. But even the Abbi who schedules her masturbating is “the Abbi who stole a van,” and so she can laugh just as hard as Ilana does when the creepy guy who pays them to clean his apartment in their underwear (Fred Armisen) drops his pants to reveal a diaper. In that moment, I realized exactly how and why they’re such good friends.
Ilana throwing up through the second chat is even more graphic than the first, and Abbi protests just as loudly (“Why are we doing this right now?!), but it also comes after watching the two gripe and laugh and ramble at each other. Ilana staring up into her webcam through bleary, drunk eyes and asking Abbi to come over for pizza was my second-biggest laugh all episode; the first was Abbi asking, “what kind?”
In many ways, “What a Wonderful World” doesn't feel like a pilot at all. No one gets dumped or fired, we only get a brief look at their working lives, we don’t hear anything about their families—and by the end of the episode, everything is pretty much the same as it was at the beginning. In fact, it’s easy to imagine that this pilot could be the third episode, or the thirteenth, or even the thirtieth. It’s just a glimpse into Abbi and Ilana’s lives, where any week could include lingerie housekeeping or Lil Wayne tickets, and if it doesn’t, who cares? They can always just get drunk on a stoop somewhere together, and really, that’s just as fun.
- Welcome to regular coverage of Broad City! I was a big fan of the webseries and am very much looking forward to seeing these boss bitches for half hours at a time. This should be fun.
- As has been heavily advertised, Amy Poehler is an executive producer (and was previously featured in their webseries finale, “I Heart New York”). This is excellent news. Not only does Poehler’s name lend Broad City easy publicity, but she’s a perfect match for Jacobson and Glazer. If someone told Abbi and Ilana to stop doing something because “it’s not cute,” I’m sure their response would be, “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”
- Between Fred Armisen, Chris Gethard, and Hannibal Buress, not a bad slate of New York guest stars for a first episode.
- The best things about Abbi’s trance over her neighbor are, in order of ascending greatness: he’s a totally normal-looking bearded dude, that she was actually saying things like “your arms” out loud, Ilana’s face.
- “I feel dirtier when I get out of the shower, like his hair is all over my body.”
- “I think you need to be fired, like, really soon.” “I know.”“Be my friend?” “No... no.”