If the thesis statement of Broad City season five is “growing up isn’t so bad,” then “Abbi’s Mom” is the rebuttal. Becoming an adult can often mean a closer relationship with your parents, but it can also mean seeing them as full people, and understanding their fallibility in an existential way. It brings you face-to-face with the awful truth: Your parents were once just as afraid as getting older as you were.
Ilana and Abbi are desperately cleaning up Abbi’s apartment in that frantic way that you only ever do when you have a parent coming to town. Sure enough, Abbi’s mom is visiting, and that means the half-empty iced coffees need to be thrown out, the weed needs to be stashed, and the dildo turned necklace holder can just be left there because she won’t know what it is.
Ilana is so bored by all the mom-friendly, conservative stuff Abbi has planned for her mom’s visit that she resorts to standing in front of a “SAD lamp,” one of those ultra-bright lamps meant to help treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. Ilana’s SAD lamp has been getting heavy usage because she experiences seasonal depression every fall and winter. (It is interesting to note how much of Broad City takes place during the spring and summer months, especially since the weather in New York has a big effect on how much walking around with your best friend you can do.) Abbi doesn’t think it’s just the SAD, though: She thinks Ilana needs to increase the antidepressants, but Ilana has been insistently decreasing her dosage.
Abbi’s mom, Joanne, arrives, played by Peri “Roz from Frasier” Gilpin. I love her, and I’ve never not been delighted by a Broad City guest star. Joanne is proud of how perfect Abbi’s life is, and Abbi lies that she has a studio space of her own. Suddenly, Joanne comes clean with Abbi: She has a lump in her breast, but she reassures Abbi it’s not cancer. It’s just made her realize how much she’s never done, including having a “naughty girls night out” with her daughter. Bevvers interrupts the mother-daughter bonding, and Joanne is creepily charmed by him.
At the restaurant, Marcel announces “spring cleaning,” a challenge where whoever makes the most tips for the night gets all the tips, and whoever makes the least gets fired. Ilana juices up for the challenge in front of her SAD lamp, right as Abbi and Joanne (in a short-short bandage dress) arrive for dinner. Joanne orders a round of cocktails and shots … then another … and I think you see where this is going.
Ilana tries to upsell a table on some caviar, but finds herself getting depressed about her life and has to retreat to the kitchen to hug her SAD lamp. Abbi finds Ilana and tells her about how much the breast cancer scare has shaken her. Ilana suggests Abbi and her mom get high together. They do, and discuss whether or not Charlie Rose is constantly high, too.
Ilana is falling behind in the tips department. She can’t keep her spirits up, eventually commandeering a kitchen heat lamp to help boost her SAD lamp’s effectiveness. Meanwhile, Abbi and Joanne giggle helplessly over dinner. Joanne asks Abbi how many men she’s slept with, and Abbi is honest with her: It’s 32. Joanne seems regretful there’s only been three for her. She’s not happy with Abbi’s stepdad. She says she “wishes she had fucked up more,” and then confesses to … having been intimate … with a cough-syrup bottle?
Abbi finds Ilana baking herself alive in a tin-foil SAD lamp microwave of her own making. The sadness of growing up to the point where you might be “friends” with your mom hits Ilana hard, and she has Abbi up the wattage on the lamp as high as it will go. This shorts the power in the restaurant, and when it comes back on, Joanne is standing on a table, airing Abbi’s sexual history and her own regrets for the whole restaurant to hear.
Marcel pulls Ilana aside, and Ilana confesses that she’s feeling depressed. She doesn’t care about the competition. Marcel tells Ilana he won’t fire her. In fact, he kind of digs depressed Ilana.
They find Joanne outside making out with Owen, a hot waiter. Ilana and Abbi escort her off, and the waiter who previously hinted at being Marcel’s secret son finally tells him the truth. Marcel fires him because he “doesn’t work with family.”
On a trip to a sex store where Abbi and Ilana hope Joanne can work out her sexual frustration in a somewhat healthier way, Ilana agrees to up the dosage of her antidepressants for the winter. She knows the only reason she didn’t want to was because of shame and stigma. “So I get sick sometimes and need medicine, who cares?” she says. It’s rare you see a character admit to taking antidepressants without it either being a punch line or a dramatic series arc, so I was especially excited to see a character as energetic and beloved as Ilana Wexler admit that sometimes her serotonin needs reuptake inhibition.
This season is all about Abbi and Ilana finding tiny ways to grow up. But by looking at the way someone who has already “grown up” is pushing back against it, the SAD lamp of reality illuminates the truth: No one has their shit fully together; everyone is scared and playing it by ear. It’s at once comforting and enough to make you retreat into the last scraps of youth you can find, whether that means spending endless summer days wandering the city with your best friend, making out with an ill-advised hookup, or getting drunk, standing on a table, and falling in a restaurant fountain.
• Abbi putting out the cheese tray and menorah before her mom visits might be the most relatable thing I’ve ever seen on TV. Well, that and repeated use of a SAD lamp while attempting to adjust antidepressants.
• The costuming in this episode is on point. Ilana’s lightning-bolt earrings, Abbi’s trying-too-hard-to-be-conservative dress, Joanne’s mom-on-her-own outfit — love it.
• Peri Gilpin is fantastic in “Abbi’s Mom,” but RuPaul is still the episode MVP. I obviously love him as a performer, but his Marcel is an unhinged, delirious presence that makes Abbi and Ilana look balanced by comparison.