‘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.
“Hey, I’m Ilana, and right now I’m just looking to sit next to Abbi…”
It’s been a solid minute since the last “Genie in a Bottle,” but Broad City’s impressive season finale last night inspired me to bring the feature back for a special installment. Much of Broad City’s third season – not to mention much of the show as a whole – revolves around the friendship of Abbi and Ilana. This latest season took some appreciated leaps by throwing some distance and secrets in between the two of them, with “Jews on a Plane” being interested in showing that any damage is healed and that we’re back to the status quo.
“Jews on a Plane” sees Ilana and Abbi on a plane to Israel courtesy of the “Birthmark” organization. That’s a solid premise from the start, especially since the end of the previous episode, “Getting There” full-on shows you how much Abbi and Ilana feel like gefilte fish out of water amongst their other passengers. On top of that, Abbi and Ilana must stay estranged through most of this ordeal, due to assigned seating. The back-end of this season has been about the distance between Ilana and Abbi, and this bottle episode is used as the culmination of all of that. In spite of Abbi and Ilana being so close physically – they’re sharing a flight together – they’re kept apart. It’s explained very early on that this whole thing is about matchmaking, while Abbi and Ilana’s friendship, the truest match made of them all, continues to get obstacles put in its path. Even at the episode’s conclusion they’re practically chained next to each other, finally together, yet still told “no touching” and denied complete intimacy.
I’ve also never seen a bottle episode of a sitcom that’s set entirely on a plane before, and the Broad City team absolutely rises to the occasion. In the first half of this two-parter, “Getting There,” I initially thought the episode would see Abbi and Ilana stuck on the subway for the entire episode, with us seeing none of their trip as they’re instead stuck in this depressing bottle. That is not at all the direction that the episode goes in, but it almost acts as misdirection for the standstill that does happen in its second part here. You’re still not going to see any of Abbi and Ilana’s glorious trip to Israel, except now you’re going to be stuck with them 5,000 feet in the air versus 50 feet underground.
The episode knows how to make the most out of its cramped quarters, finding numerous set pieces and characters to divide up the episode. There’s a delightfully weird flight safety video that kicks things off, and the subplots of the flight attendants and the pilot and the co-pilot (who are secretly in a relationship) give the episode much fodder beyond the usual Ilana and Abbi. There are also plenty of tiny story beats that reflect flight minutiae like watching someone else’s movie, dealing with your period while on a flight, and the mile high club. The episode is directed by the always-reliable John Lee, fresh off his Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday stint, and it’s amazing how big he makes the plane feel. Look at the series’ other bottle episode, “Hurricane Wanda,” for example. It’s set in an entire apartment yet feels deeply claustrophobic. There’s certainly room to breathe on this plane thanks to some really terrific production design.
“Jews on a Plane” uses its restricted location to demonstrate not only a satisfying story about friendship, but also one about femininity, which this show often excels at without even trying. The flight attendants’ storyline ends up dovetailing with Abbi and Ilana’s period storyline perfectly and is another nice representation of what can happen when stuck in a confined area. Throw in a slow motion ending that makes the limited space suddenly feel like a track field and you have an even more inspired way to use this construct.
“Jews on a Plane” acts as a strong way to close out a strong season, with each year’s finale showing progressive ambition (moving from “The Last Supper” to “St. Mark’s” to this). There are few better ways to show how much two characters mean to each other by locking them into a room together, and Broad City takes that premise to new heights, quite literally.