Photo: Christopher Saunders

I’m always interested in the very specific and revealing ways in which Abbi and Ilana differ, and their relationships with their mothers is another one of those meaningful divergences between the friends. Ilana and her mom are very similar, go on raucous adventures together. Ilana is completely herself around everyone, her mother included. This is the first time we’ve met Abbi’s mom (played by Peri Gilpin), and their relationship is considerably different (and, for me personally, much more relatable). Abbi and Ilana spend the cold open mom-proofing the apartment, hiding weed and Plan B. Abbi clearly isn’t very honest with her mother, who thinks she’s successfully living as an artist in New York. She doesn’t seem to talk to her mother much about her sex life or the particulars of what she and Ilana get up to during their wild New York shenanigans. But all that changes when Abbi’s mom tells her about a brief cancer scare.

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Abbi’s mom’s arc in the episode is a tale of two dildos, which is perhaps the most Broad City sentence I’ve written about Broad City. In the cold open, Abbi tells Ilana she doesn’t need to worry about hiding the dildo auctioned to her wall. Her mom, she explains, will probably just think it’s a funky necklace holder. In the final scene, her mom is eagerly shopping for a vibrator and a dildo (the same kind Abbi used to peg Jeremy and then melted in the dishwasher, which is alluded to). We see her transform from someone who wouldn’t recognize a dildo to someone who genuinely loves being called a slut by her daughter’s best friend in a sex shop over the course of the episode. After telling Abbi about the benign lump that was found on her breast, she announces that she wants to have a fun night with Abbi in the city, wants to let loose and try new things. She does shots for the first time, has a martini for the first time, smokes pot for the first time.

But Broad City doesn’t just use this premise as an excuse for Abbi and her mom to have a crazy, drug-fueled party night. Rather, it goes to a much darker and more real place with Abbi’s mom’s midlife crisis. She starts asking Abbi about her sex life, and when she learns that Abbi has had sex with 32 different men, her reaction isn’t shock so much as jealousy. She has only slept with three men in her life, and she hasn’t had sex with her current husband in over a month. She wants to fuck more and fuck up more, and the latter declaration is particularly resonant. Abbi and Ilana fuck up all the time on the show, and there’s a sense that Abbi’s mom never had the opportunity to live as freely or imperfectly. It’s easy for Abbi to take her own life for granted. She hasn’t accomplished her dreams of being a professional artist, but she still lives a fulfilling, exciting life that Joanne longs for. Abbi and her mother’s bonding over pot and alcohol is fun, but it’s more than just that. It’s sad and then ultimately uplifting, Abbi’s mom liberating herself by making out with a bisexual guy and buying herself a vibrator and dildo. The mother-daughter bonding that happens over the course of the episode goes much deeper than just Abbi revealing to her mom that she indeed smokes a lot of pot. Gilpin’s performance as Joanne is funny and heartfelt. She makes the character’s midlife crisis feel specific and honest.

We return to Sushi Mambeaux and Ilana’s bitch-loving boss, Marcel (RuPaul), and a lot of the workplace humor itself falls flat, especially the jokes that hinge on Marcel’s inappropriate behavior. Sandra Bernhard is still being criminally underused, and overall this workplace setting just isn’t as funny as Ilana’s old job. The world of New York’s restaurant industry is full of parody potential, but Broad City isn’t quite bringing it on that front.

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All that being said, Ilana’s storyline this week is brilliant. Ilana has talked about her mental health many times before, but this is the first episode to really delve into the details of her depression. Ilana suffers from seasonal affective disorder which, she explains, intensifies her depression in winter… and fall… and the end of summer. She has purchased a SAD lamp, which gives off light that increases her serotonin and dopamine levels. Throughout the episode, she uses it to quite literally recharge her body and mind.

Just like in “Mushrooms,” “Abbi’s Mom” uses vocal effects and other editing details to convey Ilana’s altered state—in this case, her depressive episodes. As Ilana sinks into depression, her voice slows and becomes farther away, her body slumps, background noises fade away, and it’s like she suddenly exists in a void. It’s appropriately unnerving, especially since we’re so accustomed to mile-a-minute Ilana. Through Ilana, Broad City affirms that depression is an illness, not a personality trait or something someone can just work through without help. There are many commonly held misconceptions about depression, and one that I’ve heard a lot is that people are surprised to learn that people who “seem so happy” can be depressed. Yes, Ilana is a generally upbeat and positive person. But anyone can be depressed, regardless of their personality. And her depression, while a significant part of her life, doesn’t define her. Ilana’s decision to increase her meds during the winter comes after the realization that the lamp isn’t enough. And even though Abbi suggested that in the first place, Ilana had to come to that conclusion herself, because it’s her decision to make.

Stray observations

  • I love how obviously attracted to Abbi’s mom Ilana is. Both Jacobson and Glazer have flawless delivery and timing in the following exchange:

Abbi: “I didn’t ever think my mom was hot.”

Ilana: “I did.”

Abbi: “…Cool.”

  • Is it just me or is Ilana being even more forward about her attraction to Abbi this season? Her “What’s up, you wanna get weird?” with a wink and her tongue out killed me.
  • I love every time the dress makes an appearance on the show. It’s practically a character in and of itself at this point.

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