‘Genie in a Bottle’ is a recurring feature where each week a different bottle episode (an episode set entirely in one location, often designed to save money) from a comedy series is examined
“This is an a-ha moment. This is an a-ha moment. I can make this an a-ha moment weekend.”
At its surface level, Broad City might not sound like anything groundbreaking. The web series-turned-television show follows the exploits of Abbi and Ilana, two twentysomethings trying to make their way in New York City. It’s the sort of premise that we’ve literally seen countless times, and yet Broad City is one of the freshest breaths of air to be on TV in a long time, and features one of the most genuine friendships depicted in the medium.
Broad City has the ability to get away from itself, almost like no other show, and it’s crazy to think just how big some of the episodes become by the end. On the other side of the spectrum, the series is also so concerned with the nothingness of getting by in life, highlighting the non-moments that happen between everything else in New York City. So in a lot of ways, stranding our cast in an apartment building during a hurricane feels all too appropriate for this show. Interestingly enough, a hurricane episode also somehow feels quintessentially New York (lest we forget the simpler time of 2012 and Hurricane Sandy), which is more than in line with this show’s goal of accurately depicting the New York experience.
Even though the quick-moving series mixes things up by grounding their characters (Ilana’s masturbation fantasy in the cold open is the only deviation from Abbi and Ilana’s apartment in the episode, as well as the bumper shots of the city in bad shape), the episode wisely not only has the hurricane and the inconvenient circumstance of the bottle episode complicating things, but it adds further fuel to the fire by inserting Abbi’s longtime crush, Jeremy, into the mix, raising the stakes for her as it seems like the episode could actually act as some solid forward momentum towards a relationship between her and her dream date.
“Hurricane Wanda” features essentially all of Broad City’s standout supporting cast, from Lincoln, to Bevers, to Jaime, as well as throwing in some welcome new additions (like Bevers’ sister, Marla). This bottle episode just as easily could have been a much more intimate installment with it simply having Abbi and Ilana getting stuck inside together. No, instead the route taken here is much more a celebration of everything that makes up this show, shaking it up together, and seeing what the bubbles do. It’s hard to believe that something so defined was only in its first season at this point.
What this is enforcing is that all great Broad City episodes are built upon three staples: strong characters, absurd situations, and the unbeatable power of friendship. This entry takes all of those things and forces them to ricochet off of each other in these close quarters. Everything is firing to precision here, and it’s a prime example of the show’s ability to weave an effective callback or set up a detail in the first act, only to reveal it in the final one (Marla’s eleventh toe, for instance).
So much of Broad City is about the fantastic friendship between Abbi and Ilana, and this episode still acts as a love letter to that as we see the lengths that these two are willing to go through for each other, especially when the pressure is on. The results might be disastrous at times, but undeniably these two have each others’ back to the end, and it’s convoluted situations like those that stem from bottle episodes that can reinforce that fact the hardest sometimes. Although it’s worth mentioning that the typical “bottle episode confession” is not indulged in, with the realest soul bearing coming in the form of Jaime admitting that he switched his broken Apple charger with Ilana’s “like a sneaky thief.” This is not your standard TV intervention. This isn’t getting locked in the storeroom with Archie and Mike.
The episode doesn’t play out in real-time, but it starts off so innocuously and slowly balloons in such a ridiculous way that you can feel the tension mounting through it all. The first act is filled with fun things like drinking games, truth or dare, light as a feather stiff as a board, and the whole gamut of rainy day activities. It’s not long before the bottle episode structure essentially becomes a tool of wingman Ilana as she tries to help Abbi get Jeremy. Everything converges on this point as Ilana begins trying to mastermind this bottle into going in Abbi’s favor. Activities start and end entirely on Ilana’s whim as she reigns full control over this tiny space. There’s a manic power to it all. We never know how long we’ll be spending with any activity here as the walls keep closing in on them all and their options feel increasingly limited.
The episode reveals that Ilana is also the only one who understands and sympathizes with Abbi’s shy bladder/colon. We soon see that this is the stuff of true friendship as it segues into Ilana displaying her dormant “doodie ninja” skills to aid her bestie. Never before has their friendship been clearer. Eventually this culminates in Ilana’s swift ninja work appearing to have relocated Abbi’s bathroom mess into Marla’s shoe. The episode then turns into a witch trial as the blame is flung around like so much feces, and the interrogation light is turned towards everyone’s face.
The episode shifts into a quasi-murder mystery (with admittedly lower, messier stakes) as the trappings of an expert whodunit are indulged in until somebody admits their guilt. It’s bewildering to watch all of this shift from mild slumber party-esque hijinks to a legitimately tense and uncomfortable situation, everything strengthened by the circumstances that are keeping them there. Jeremy is able to get up and leave as an outsider, but Abbi, Ilana and the rest must stay and deal with this, even if escape might seem simple. Their own actions have locked them in there just as much as the storm going on outside the building has.
“Hurricane Wanda” evens gains a greater poignancy when it “rewinds” itself to show you how the show’s caper actually went down, illustrating that eagle eyed viewers (and those that are forced to focus on the minutiae in the background of scenes because the setting is so simple and sparse) could have solved the whole thing from the start with enough tunnel vision.
Broad City is still very early in its run, and under the right circumstances I could certainly see it returning to the bottle episode format once again. It’s deeply gratifying to see this series come into its own and refine its already strong mission statement on friendship. The show is only getting better at this and I can’t wait to see the new ways in which Abbi and Ilana’s dynamic will continue to be explored, parallel play or not.