4 and 3 and 2 and 1, 1…
YAS, the time has finally come! My favorite television show, Broad City, is making its highly anticipated return to the nighttime TV lineup (or, if like me, you watch TV from the comfort of your own laptop and bed, ComedyCentral.com and/or Hulu). In honor of my favorite ladies returning to the small screen, I wanted to share an essay I wrote on the series for a class I took in college on the American Sitcom, lauding the show for its progressive ideals and refreshing depiction of being a 20-something female living in New York. As you will see, there have been a lot of changes in the political landscape, since I wrote this piece in May 2016, but it hardly de-legitimizes the quality of the show and its message. With this in mind, I look forward to watching how Abbi & Ilana tackle the current state of affairs in the upcoming season.
The “Kweens” of a Feminist Revolution: A Cultural Analysis of Broad City
The situation comedy has played a remarkably pivotal role in both the rise and stifling of feminist culture since the genre’s inception. With origins in the late 1940s, the role of women in sitcoms has evolved exponentially since the June Cleavers of the early years; so much so that this generation has been applauded as "a great time for women in comedy". Today, some of the most talked about and innovative shows on television not only star women, but also were created and written by women to boot. Among these fresh and influential series is Rotten Tomatoes’ 98% rated show, Broad City (“Broad City (2014 - )”). Produced by Amy Poehler and written by Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, Comedy Central’s Broad City follows the misadventures of two twenty-something women, Ilana Wexler and Abbi Abramson, as they hilariously navigate the struggles of living in New York City as young women. Despite their over-the-top antics, the ladies of Broad City are real women, who are flawed but lovable, and value their friendship over their relationships (or lack thereof) with men. Broad City challenges the female gender stereotype in a manner that not only elicits sidesplitting laughter but also addresses real issues without conceding to a preachy nature or bashing the male population.
In an era in American history that may see its first a female president, Broad City has a comfortable niche in the television landscape. Today, women have more power politically, in the workforce, and in the household than ever before; however, some gender-based discrepancies still exist, and Broad City addresses these issues in a direct yet comical manner. Although early series such as I Love Lucy depicted women attempting to assert independence in the workforce, the women never achieved the independence they sought after, nor dared to explicitly voice the disparities in gender-based rights. Broad City has arrived at a time where this type of rights assertion is not only permitted on television, but it is well received by audiences and critics alike.
In the most recent season, the ladies of Broad City ventured into the political realm by featuring Hillary Clinton in an episode titled “2016”. In the episode, Ilana, recently out of a job, enthusiastically signs up to volunteer for Clinton’s campaign efforts, and although she is passionate about the race, quits when she realizes she is not being paid for the work. At the end of the episode, Abbi arrives at Clinton’s headquarters to meet up with Ilana and the two cross paths with Hillary. In awe, but determined to speak with the “She-King”, they strike up a conversation with the politician who goes on to express her excitement for the race and her efforts to increase office morale. Hillary then reveals an identical inflatable dancing figure as one Ilana had attempted to install at her own prior workplace to increase corporate morale, throwing Ilana into a tizzy over their bonding. Clinton reveals the ambiguous inflated dancer is in fact a woman, to which Ilana gasps, “We assumed it was a he” and Clinton replies, “Oh no, no. It’s a she.” The episode clearly attempts to declare that of course the inflatable dancer is a woman, implying the rise of female empowerment. Although ridden with tongue-in-cheek humor, the episode does not fail to suggest a clearly feminist point of view, utilizing Clinton as a vehicle for its message. From tampons to Tinder, the women of Broad City bring to life the realities of being a female young adult, through the eyes of women that audiences can relate to. Broad City contests the gender boundaries of classic television through its nonchalance on historically taboo content, the humorously blunt yet assertive inclusion of previously ignored women’s issues, and its overwhelming devotion to female friendship.
When asked about the Broad City’s namesake, co-creator and star, Ilana Glazer, defines “broad” as “this full woman where…[she] knows [her] stuff, knows who [she is], knows what [she] wants and [her] limits, and is doing the best that [she] can” (Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls). Broad City has taken the concept of the broad and turned it into something to be praised, on a media platform that previously revered the opposite. With television sweethearts such as Lucy Riccardo, it is astounding to see how far the role of women has come in less than a century. Abbi and Ilana have taken the taboos of sex, drugs, and female independence and have transformed them into a source of empowerment. Abbi and Ilana are two single women who work, pay their own rent, and face the same challenges that all young women can relate to, yet they do so while carrying a marijuana joint in their pockets at all times. These women are sure of who they are and utilize these previously unspeakable things to bolster this self assuredness. Abbi and Ilana are made all the more likable because of their casual approach to dating, sex, and mutual affinity for high quality marijuana, reinforcing the relaxing views on previously indecorous content. In the past, couples on television were not shown with shared beds, although few marriages in reality operated this way. Today, an increasingly relaxed view on sex is abundant among young adults, especially with the advent of dating apps, yet very few shows depict this culture quite to the extent as Broad City. Throughout the series, Ilana lauds polyamorous relationships, while Abbi hopes to find a one-night-stand without resorting to an app. These women are honestly nonchalant about relationships without feigning a sense of indifference as a self-defense mechanism against the male’s stereotypically casual approach. With the decriminalization of marijuana in multiple parts of the United States, the taboo on drugs also appears to be lifting, normalizing Ilana and Abbi’s penchant for the historically illicit herb. These taboos serve to redefine what it means to be a woman and highlight the changing landscape of American culture as it gains a more socially liberal national sentiment.
Between irritating roommates, fleeting romantic relationships and mediocre jobs, Abbi and Ilana exhibit the quintessence of young adulthood. Many shows prior to Broad City have only depicted the surface issues of young adulthood and insecurities that many twenty-something women experience. However, what makes Abbi and Ilana particularly remarkable is their ability to acknowledge their shortcomings and embrace them. These women stray from the self-loathing that many other female protagonists of similar series express so fervently. Abbi and Ilana may not represent the "classic standard of beauty", yet their mutual empowerment of one another fosters their tremendous confidence. These women face their challenges with an unrelenting sense of humor and assured sense of self that is unflappable. Ilana and Abbi deal with the difficulties of everyday womanhood, including the previously unspoken topic of menstruation. In the third season finale, Abbi and Ilana find themselves on an international flight without those necessary lady products, and unsurprisingly, Abbi is suddenly in dire need. The episode follows the pair furiously hunting for a tampon and hilariously failing, ultimately ending up strapped to seats under watch by an air marshal. The episode serves to reinforce the fact that these are real women who are not shy about bringing real female topics to light, and their humor allows for its smooth reception. Broad City seamlessly intertwines the hush-hush topics of prior generations with humor, to bring attention and a positive call to action for the feminist movement that can be absorbed easily.
Quite possibly the most indicative factor of this show’s feminist voice, is the underlying thread of friendship taking precedence over everything. Ilana and Abbi are best friends, and although the show treats their friendship comically, their friendship is the deepest element of the series. HBO’s Sex And The City feigns feminist values through the four female protagonists’ bond; however, the basis of their conversations and challenges revolve around the men in each of their lives. As evidenced by Dalton and Linder, Sex and the City fails to uphold any of its original premise, as by the end of the show, each of the women’s decisions are dictated by the state of their romantic liaisons (Dalton and Linder 122). Broad City, however, is a show for women, about women, and places men on the back burner. The source of solace, confidence, and values rather stem from the unbreakable bond between Ilana and Abbi. Despite the romantic encounters these women experience, they do not remain at the forefront of the series' plot nor importance. The stability that the women of Broad City have is found within each other. Unlike many female friendships depicted in television or film, the women of Broad City do not use their insecurities or dilemmas as fuel for conflict between them; rather, Ilana and Abbi ignore them, and instead smoke a joint, and banter over video chat. Abbi and Ilana’s fortunes are determined by their own decisions to not let their troubles faze them and instead find comfort and power in one another, which is a huge step for feminist television.
The United States is currently undergoing a feminist renaissance, and television is serving as an effective platform for its propagation. Broad City avoids the stereotypes of both the female trope and the female feminist by making statements in a positive and progressive manner that appeals to all. Through the show’s use of humor and humanization of the female persona, Broad City certainly taps into the zeitgeist of progressive American culture.
Broad City Season 4 returns TOMORROW, 9/13 at 10:30 PM on Comedy Central.