The biggest strides Broad City is making this season are with Ilana. Over the course of the season so far, her stories have had more stakes than ever before—grounded in real emotions. There seems to be a much stronger sense of self awareness in the writers room when it comes to Ilana’s flaws. Don’t get me wrong: The show has always painted Abbi and Ilana as perfectly imperfect. But in season three, Broad City has become even more critical of Ilana in a way that is pushing the character to new depths. The show mocks her surface-level bleeding heart but isn’t wholly cynical about it, still allows her to be earnest and smart albeit under-informed and unfocused. The Broad City writers seem keenly aware of some of the backlash against Ilana’s tendency to appropriate, fetishize, and decontextualize, and they’re using that knowledge to make the jokes better and smarter without losing sense of who the character is. Ilana finally lost her job. In “2016,” she’s dancing for money on the subway because she’s an NYU graduate who lost her entry-level job at a startup company. Her delivery of that information is thoroughly tongue-in-cheek. By the end of the episode, she’s working—ahem, volunteering—for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, talking about how great it is to be getting paid to do something she cares about…only to be gently informed that she isn’t getting paid at all. So she quits. Ilana isn’t necessarily growing up overnight, but she is growing, and the show is better for it.
The Hillary of it all will no doubt draw ire. The last thing people want from a rebellious and comedy like Broad City is a hearty dollop of political propaganda. But Broad City manages to fold the Hillary 2016 storyline into the episode in a way that fits the world and doesn’t distract too much from the real point of the story, which is that Ilana still has no idea how to be responsible when it comes to securing and maintaining a job. Nothing about Ilana’s involvement in the campaign feels out of place or forced. In fact, it makes perfect sense that Ilana Rodham Wexler would march right into the campaign headquarters and assume that being asked to help out was the same as a job offer.
Jacobson said at SXSW that they were not “trying to make a political statement” with the episode, and honestly, that’s a little hard to believe when the script, at times, includes overt talking points as to why one should vote from Hillary. Those more heavy-handed moments are, however, balanced out by a terrific performance from Cynthia Nixon and more organic, jokier dialogue, like when Nixon explains how to answer some of the most common questions they get while cold calling: Yes, Hillary can read a map and no, she is not a witch. For what it’s worth, even Ilana’s overt stumping is full of Ilana-isms, with a shoutout to the caramels and the queers and enough “yas” for Nixon to place a ban on the word. And Clinton’s cameo fits so perfectly in the style and voice of the show, with Abbi and Ilana reacting in slow-motion to her entrance and becoming overwhelmed to the point of nonsense. Abbi’s “Proud demo! Crat! College! Aquarius! I pegged!” is easily the funniest line of the episode. Clinton brings along one of those inflatable air dancers—another callback to “Game Over”—and points out the dancer is a she. It’s weird in a way that eschews some of the stiffness of a politician cameo. Broad City knows who it is.
And the show’s sense of self is especially on display when it comes to Abbi’s adventures in “2016.” Abbi journeys to the dark corners of the New York DMV in a storyline that embodies Broad City’s brilliance when it comes to bending reality. The DMV becomes a postapocalyptic wasteland where outlets are a rare commodity, people scrounge for scraps of food, and intricately numbered tickets are something worth attacking over. Broad City’s heightened imagining of the hellscape that is the DMV is so wonderfully detailed and fun. And anyone who has ever been to the DMV knows it isn’t even that far from the truth. Broad City distorts just enough to make the joke work. It reminisces of how the show turned the common problem of missing a package delivery into a dark voyage to the fantastical “North Brother Island.”
Broad City perfectly parodies a trip to the DMV, and the joke only gets better later on when Abbi steps into the part of the DMV where people who made an appointment online are welcome. This alternate DMV is a magical place, where chocolate fountains brim over and a concierge on rollerblades gives you a guided tour. Here, Abbi has all the time in the world, all the chocolate she could want, a masseuse, a hair and makeup team, and an impossibly cool photographer who takes multiple shots for her ID picture and tells her she could be a model. Broad City created DMV heaven, and like Abbi, I never wanted to leave it. It’s also worth noting that Abbi wouldn’t even know about the alternate DMV reality without the help of her chiropractor Dr. Heller, played by guest star Alan Alda. Abbi’s trip to Dr. Heller is a weird little side journey, but it works within the surreal and conceptual style of the episode. Alda’s Dr. Heller has the same fantastical feel as Garol. Sometimes Broad City turns New York into a dark fairytale, and the bigger it goes with those more magical elements, the better it is. Broad City still is that rebellious, strange comedy that Emily Nussbaum called “anarchic,” which is perhaps why its political overtones this week don’t seem to take away from the show’s overall vibe.
- We get another fantastic cold open: Abbi and Ilana swap “groundbreaking” ideas in a park, completely oblivious to the woman who falls down two flights of stairs behind them.
- I’m glad we’re getting to see a bit more of Eliot Glazer this season. He’s always great, and here he acts as a necessarily mirror for Ilana so that she can see she needs to get her shit together. Plus, the return of Kirke Steele is very welcome.
- Is Abbi’s butt the best secondary character of season three? I am starting to think so. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Abbi’s butt has been mentioned in every single episode of the season so far. In “2016,” Ilana reveals that she knows Abbi’s butt better than she knows her face. She also calls dat ass “the most precious package in all of New York City.”
- Rachel Dratch returns as the perpetually flustered temp agency exec…who is apparently now running her business out of her studio apartment. The more Broad City brings back some of its small bit characters, the more this world feels complete. What I’m saying is Bring Back Kelly Ripa 2016.