It’s difficult to make origin stories feel fresh and exciting, especially when they’re told in flashback. Origin stories become mired in exposition, and if they’re told in flashback, that exposition isn’t really needed. We already know Abbi and Ilana and the beautiful, messy, endlessly fun connection that binds them together as best friends. Broad City’s season four premiere goes back to where it all began: the day the two friends met. And even though we already know these two friends very well, their origin story manages to not only excite but surprise with the biggest plot twist of the series.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say Broad City typically follows a linear narrative structure. Abbi and Ilana bob and weave and dodge their way along plotlines as the city of New York takes them down a chaotic maze of weed, friendship, and adventure. But never before has the show broken from conventional story structure as much as “Sliding Doors” does. The premiere presents two universes, both taking place on the same day in 2011, before the two friends knew each other. In one, Ilana swipes Abbi into the subway, and when Abbi goes to thank her, Ilana calls her “ma’am,” rubbing Abbi the wrong way. Abbi retreats to the other side of the subway car, and the two women head their separate ways. In the other universe, Abbi and Ilana miss their train, but their misfortune leads them to spend the entire day together.
The universe in which they live their days out separately essentially becomes the Bad Day. Ilana has to deal with her hellish blonde roommates, who present a PowerPoint detailing why she’s a problem. She also has to give a presentation in class when she has no idea what the class is. Abbi gets her ponytail snipped off by a serial ponytail snatcher. In the Good Day universe, Abbi and Ilana go on the kind of lengthy adventure that we’ve seen them go on so many times on this show. They go to a psychic played by Constance Shulman, who tells them they’re going to die, but they brush it off and use it as an excuse to do something wild, so Ilana accompanies Abbi to get her lower back tattoo of Oprah’s face.
Some things happen in both universes but with different outcomes: In the Bad Day, Abbi gets street harassed by a guy selling bubble guns and is left frazzled and tongue-tied, but in the Good Day, when he harasses both Abbi and Ilana, Ilana fires back. In the Bad Day, “the Madisons”—what Ilana refers to her roommates as even though none of them are named Madison—openly mock Ilana’s curly hair, telling her it looks like pubes. In the Good Day, Abbi encourages Ilana to wear her hair curly all the time, and her genuine enthusiasm gives Ilana the confidence to rock it. In both universes, Ilana gets fired, which is extremely fitting for the character. It’s the kind of joke that the writers can only pull off because of how deep into the series we are. This origin story doesn’t rehash what we already know about the friends but rather plays around with what we already know, layering the jokes with the show’s existing DNA. The stuff about Ilana’s hair does more than just provide a divergence between the two universes. In both universes, we see a slightly less confident Ilana who’s insecure about her natural curls, which is almost unsettling given how predisposed to her bravado we are at this point. But it’s also reassuring. Ilana wasn’t born with her unwavering confidence; she got some of it from reassurance from Abbi. The episode seems to be showing how much Abbi and Ilana’s lives would suck without each other.
And then Broad City blows up expectations. As the Good Day comes to an end, Abbi asks Ilana if she wants to hang out again tomorrow, but they’re interrupted by cop sirens, so Ilana tosses her bowl into traffic and they sprint across the street only to get hit by a bus. The burrito bowl-eating psychic’s prophecy came true. Because this universe isn’t just a Good Day; it’s a fantasy. The Bad Day—which ends with Abbi and Ilana running into each other again, bonding over having had a terrible day, and sharing weed and pizza—is reality. It’s a twist that surprises and yet makes so much sense. There’s something too smooth, too flawless about the great day that Abbi and Ilana spend together. The fact that a genuinely terrible day for each of them brings them together is fitting not only for their friendship but for the city of New York, where commiserating over dogshit days is pretty par for the course. It’s not a pessimistic ending by any means—just a real one. And some of the good stuff that happens in the Good/Fake Day, we know to be true in the real timeline, too. Abbi eventually does get a tattoo of Oprah. Ilana eventually does stop straightening her hair, so everything about that particular development still applies, because it’s safe to assume that her friendship with Abbi still leads to that outcome.
In a way, the real ending feels like it’s playing off the concept of a meet-cute. Abbi and Ilana have a chance encounter, only to go separate ways and experience terrible days and then reunite with a second chance encounter. It’s a friendship meet-cute, which is also fitting for Broad City given the romantic friendship at its core. Even though Abbi and Ilana have had their own romances throughout the series, Broad City is never really about their dating lives so much as their lives together. Friendship always comes first. And the first day of their friendship is as imperfect as they are.
- Welcome back to TV Club coverage of Broad City!
- The episode includes some gut-punch election jokes. When the first scene rewinds, Robert the homeless guys’ mumbled musings become “Donald Trump will be president in reverse.” And when discussing who they would most want to be in a throuple with (both settling on Barack and Michelle Obama), Abbi and Ilana celebrate the country’s progress in electing the first Black president, adding that a woman will be next.
- “Do you like Four Loko?” “It kind of scares me.”
- In the Bad/Real Day, Ilana tries to jump into a subway dance circle, gets her face kicked, and then wrongfully assumes the dancers aren’t NYU students like her. She also goes on a nonsensical rant about Mr. Hands that she presumably thinks makes her sound woke but ultimately conflates gay rights and beastiality? Yes, Ilana Wexler is very much back on her bullshit back in 2011.
- The final conversation between the two, about how ridiculous it is when places stop serving eggs after 11 a.m., is a conversation I have had with my girlfriend many times.
- After getting fired from Grey Dog during the Bad/Real Day, Ilana slams into an unsuspecting Nicole, spilling hot coffee all over her, right after Nicole declares “first week in New York; I love this city!” Ilana truly has been tormenting Nicole for her entire New York life.
- Speaking of Grey Dog, I have literally written reviews of this show at the Grey Dog on Carmine. I have also gone into the Grey Dog on Carmine just to pee.
- In the Good/Fake Day, Ilana encourages Abbi to stick up to Melanie about Beavers staying with her, which should probably have been a tip-off that we were in an alternate universe. Because in the Bad/Real Day, we see what we know to be true: Bevers manipulates Abbi into basically insisting that he never pay for food or do any chores.