Drama is about people changing; comedy is about how people always revert to type. By that yardstick and many others, Broad City is a great comedy. And its central duo are the best comedy team on TV, rivaled only by Andre Braugher and Andy Samberg on Brooklyn Nine-Nine (or by Key and Peele, who, as sketch comics, are working in a different vein).
On first glance, Abbi and Ilana (Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer) seem like straightforward variations on that tried-and-true pairing, the ego and the id: think Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon movies, or Melissa McCarthy and whoever she’s acting with. But it’s not as straightforward as that. Abbi only seems like the prototypical “good girl,” Nora Ephon’s wallflower at the orgy: She’s as wild and crazy as Ilana, so much so that her protestations of what they shouldn’t do often act like cues for Ilana to talk her out of common sense and bump her from the “order” to the “chaos” side of the ledger.
Because they’re bonded by a mostly undefined kind of class resentment — fretting about money in pricey New York City while working wage-slave jobs, always feeling uncouth and taking perverse pride in their uncouthness — there’s really no scenario or environment whose propriety they feel obliged to respect. But they’re not being willfully destructive, for the most part. It’s just who they are, and how they are; what happens is what has to happen. They chafe at rules, especially ones that don’t make sense to them, and even ones that do. (Abbi submerges the contempt she feels for her janitorial job at the health club, but Ilana can’t disguise the contempt she feels for her office gig at Deals Deals Deals; she hasn’t done a lick of work there since the show began, and her dismissive attitude toward every one of her superiors — none of whom can bring themselves to fire her, for some reason — is turning into a nearly surreal modern riff on Bartleby the Scrivener: I prefer not to; now fuck off.
It’s not just Ilana and Abbi who seem to be in half-conscious, half-involuntary revolt against modern life. Nearly every other character, recurring or cameo, is an animal in clothes, exposing the least flattering parts of themselves (psychological but also sometimes physical) while thinking they’re putting their best face forward. Their city is filled with pathological narcissists of one kind or another, and their behavior usually makes Abbi and Ilana’s antics seem honest in comparison: At least these women know when they’ve crossed a line, and they own that crossing. Broad City is into body humor, sex talk, trash talk, id talk: It’s a reptilian brain show. The season-one episode where Abbi and Ilana and friends are holed up in their small-ish apartment during a hurricane, getting hornier, weirder, and more anxious by the hour, climaxes with the discovery that somebody filled a shoe with shit. Another classic episode unfolds in one of those snooty French restaurants that don’t exist except in Hollywood slobs-versus-snobs narratives. It was a tour de force of incrementally escalating madness that rivaled Laurel and Hardy’s “The Music Box”*: Highlights included Ilana scarfing down a metric ton of precious lobster (rich-people food!) even as her face swelled up from a shellfish allergy, Abbi accidentally stabbing herself in the leg with an EpiPen, standing atop the table in an adrenaline frenzy and crushing a wineglass in her hand, then carrying her friend out of the restaurant in slow-motion to the tune of “Ave Maria.”
Nothing in the first few episodes of the new seasons rises to that level of madness, but give the show another week or two, and I’m sure it’ll get there. In the meantime, you get to enjoy Ilana being put in charge of hiring interns (which is a a bit like putting Cheech and Chong in charge of a hospital pharmacy, probably) and Abbi supervising the personal-training regimen of her roommate Bevers (John Gemberling), who’s so sedentary that he’s developed hideous “couch sores.” The filmmaking is as sharp as the writing: There’s a sequence in the second episode that I won’t reveal here — and a curse upon anyone who does! — that’s one of the goofiest, loveliest expressions of freedom in solitude that I’ve ever seen on TV, and it’s all done in one take.
* This review originally referred to Laurel and Hardy’s “The Music Box” as “The Piano Movers.”