Broad City Season 2 Review: The Middle Road to Greatness

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Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s Comedy Central series has achieved a sophomore success,  thanks to some inventive storytelling and genuine hilarity.

The phrase “stick with what you know” is a bit of a catch-22 when it comes to television. On one hand, using a well-worn, but well-received formula can ensure positive results. On the other hand, it could also lead to boredom, which is a word you’d never want used to describe what you’re watching.

Taking risks is a necessity for good storytelling, but the reason that many shows don’t do it is because there are no guarantees. Change gets people talking, but with so much room for failure, it’s much easier said than done.

In its second season, Broad City  took the middle ground. It took its already amazing concept and expanded upon it; making its plotlines bigger, better, and weirder.

You might think that, by going to extremes, the series would eventually lose itself in trying to outdo the previous week’s outrageousness. Luckily, each one of Glazer and Jacobson’s new steps were rooted in what they’re already familiar with. Take, for example, the opening from the premiere in which the ladies rush through an increasingly bizarre subway.

This sequence is hilarious, stunning, and comprised of a lot of moving parts. It’s very different from any of the smaller-scale openings in season 1. Yet, it still bears the show’s signature hyperbolic take on New York City life. It’s not outright change, it’s merely taking what works and kicking it up a notch.

This sort of calculated risk-taking worked well for the second season, but it wasn’t without its hiccups. “Mochalatta Chills” was the most uneven of the bunch, with some great moments for Ilana and a subpar plotline for Abbi and Bevers.

Still, the show learned from its mistakes, and used the rest of the season to delve into side characters in new and interesting ways. “Knockoffs,” “Citizen Ship,” and “Kirke Steele” gave us insights into the lives of Jeremy, Trey, Jaime, and even Bevers, who was able to somewhat redeem himself. Taking an ancillary character and developing him into something more three-dimensional can be a dicey move, but if its anchored by themes involving the already strong core cast—which is what these three episodes have in common—then it can be incredibly exciting.

New characterization isn’t the only way Broad City took risks this year. Slowly, but surely, the series has been working to normalize aspects of society that are often considered fringe or left-wing or unmarketable. The best episode of the season is easily “Knockoffs,” which sees Abbi engage in a sexual relationship involving pegging. We see her initial shock at the situation, but are slowly warmed up to the idea as the episode goes on. The best moment arrives at the end, with an important conversation between her and Jeremy about judging others and having different tastes. The show goes beyond where most shows of its kind would end—having the whole thing be a punchline—and instead makes it something worth talking about.

“Knockoffs” is the most explicit example of Broad City‘s crusade for progressiveness, but several other episodes do the same in a more subversive manner. “Hashtag FOMO” has a scene that references gay tokenism, while “Citizen Ship” and “Kirke Steele” do a lot to highlight disparities between the many races and classes in New York. Then, there’s the surreal “Coat Check,” which makes Ilana’s fluid sexuality seem wonderfully nonchalant.

There’s also Abbi and Ilana’s friendship, which is really the heart and soul of the entire show. Where else on TV right now can you find a relationship between two females that doesn’t involve some element of competition or arguing. Abbi and Ilana have a pure love for each other (Ilana’s perhaps slightly more inflated than Abbi’s…), and almost all of their time on screen together is built around mutual admiration instead of judgment and backstabbing.

A few months ago, Jacobson and Glazer were both interviewed by Vanity Fair, and Glazer commented that the whole show is born out of their two mindsets meeting somewhere in the middle. “I wonder if the Workaholics guys, or Key and Peele get asked if they fight? I hope they do, because we do,” she says. It seems so simple that you wonder why more shows don’t try to incorporate this into their storytelling. I hope that at some point we won’t need to congratulate a series for making these sorts of things a part of its universe, it will just be the norm. Until then, I’m glad we have Broad City to pave the way.

Abbi and Ilana’s friendship is also where most of the humor comes from this season. There’s a constant ebb and flow between which one of them is more unrestrained, so no one is ever stuck playing the straight man. Abbi got to explore her wilder side in “Knockoffs,” “Hashtag FOMO,” and “Coat Check,” while Ilana became more focused and productive in “Mochalatta Chills,” “Wisdom Teeth,” and “Kirke Steele.”

When we initially met these ladies, it felt obvious that Abbi was the homebody and Ilana was the free spirit. This may be true, but season 2 spent a great deal of time making sure we know that these women are more than just one thing. This isn’t Oscar and Felix from The Odd Couple. These are real people, and the situations they go through are heightened manifestations of some very relatable emotions. The wackiness has a point, and it’s brought down to earth thanks to the chemistry between the show’s leads.

The season ended on a high note with “St. Mark’s,” which was basically an ode to everything about Abbi and Ilana’s relationship that I just praised. The show explored new territory this season, but it knew when it was time to go back to basics as well. This middle-road-risk-taking served as a fine technique throughout Broad City‘s second season. I can’t wait for even more risks when they return next year, because I don’t think Jacobson and Glazer will ever forget where they started. Grade: A-

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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