Before Broad City was on Comedy Central, it was on YouTube. For 25 episodes (and one spinoff) in 2010 and 2011, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer smoked weed, scammed on dudes, and generally treated the harsh, unforgiving streets of New York City as their own magical playground, all scored by the jaunty tunes of the Cook Trio. For fans of the TV show, the web series is an instructive watch; you get to see the world of Broad City develop, three minutes at a time. It’s also funny as hell. Here are five episodes you should watch before tonight’s (excellent) season-two premiere.
“Under the Mistletoe”
The early episodes of Broad City concentrated on relatable slice-of-life comedy: Isn’t it awkward to run into an acquaintance on a subway platform? Wouldn’t it be weird to ask a homeless man for change? Episode four’s Christmas party was where the duo made the leap into specific comic creations, Abbi’s awkward optimism matched with Ilana’s gonzo madness. Each gets a priceless moment or two; I still crack up at Abbi’s faltering attempts to enter a conversation, and Ilana’s reassuring “I am, too.”
There’s one thing about friendship that the web-cam segments of Broad City get at so well: the feeling that life is just one long conversation punctuated briefly by the interruption of outsiders. “VChat” is the first of these — the format would later turn into a spinoff series, Hack Into Broad City — and it sees Ilana advising Abbi on a potential hookup. Their interactions are gold; you get the sense that the actual things that happen to the two of them are secondary to the experience of talking to each other about it.
Even by the standards of a web series, there’s no real plot here: Abbi and Ilana have a sleepover, and Abbi has a bad dream. But it’s a credit to how well Abbi and Ilana built up these characters by the end of the series’ run that all the surreal shit that goes down here feels so specific. Plus, “Dream” has the best performances of the entire web series. This is cable-TV acting!
At the end of season one and the beginning of season two, Broad City put out a string of episodes that are incredibly funny without ever really having jokes; they run on mood and chemistry instead. In “Date Night,” Hannibal Buress makes his first appearance as Ilana’s love interest, and his easygoing vibe infects the episode; it’s just fun watching him and Ilana hang out. Abbi’s got great low-key chemistry with her guy (comedian Jon Friedman), too, and the button is the perfect mix of dirty and sweet.
“Do the Right Thing”
“Do the Right Thing” comes from that same run of episodes, and it’s amazingly ambitious: With director Tim Bierbaum, Abbi and Ilana pulled off a flawless Spike Lee imitation that still remains recognizably Broad City. There’s an effort and a love here that separates it from the thousands of other parody videos on YouTube — like its inspiration, it’s loud, sweaty, and fearless.
And if you liked those, here are five more: “Making Change,” the first-ever Broad City episode; “Mom Brunch,” which features Abbi and Ilana’s actual moms; “Drummer Girls,” which is super goofy; “Valentine’s Day,” which makes excellent use of “Rhapsody in Blue”; and “I Heart New York,” the finale, which sums up the web series and provides a glimpse of what would come next.
Or just watch them all — it takes less than two hours!