How Broad City made its audience of young women feel cool
“I’ve never felt so cool…not as cool as when I’m with you.”
Standing on the Brooklyn Bridge with a luxe, newly found abandoned toilet between them, Ilana says this to Abbi. She is tearful, lighthearted, and earnest. Abbi laughs and responds, “I’ve never felt so cool either.”
March 28th was the series finale of Broad City, and after five seasons of Craigslist- and THC-infused misadventures, the joyfully codependent duo that birthed the real-life phrase “the Abbi to my Ilana” had to say goodbye to each other. Abbi is moving to Colorado, finally taking her art seriously in a residency program over there. Ilana is staying in New York City, soon to begin a graduate psychology program.
The series finale felt like a cathartic love letter to the show’s faithful audience (as most comedy series finales do), but I’m not sure that another bit of dialogue between them better summarizes what this pairing—the fictional characters and the actual creators/stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer—gifted their viewers.
The series also made us feel cool in our weirdness, our brashness, and our messiness.
Funny and critically acclaimed, it is one of the most relatable shows on television for lots of millennial women thanks to its mixture of serious, mundane, and completely absurd storytelling.
It was serious in how it represented Jewishness, especially in a Trumpian, post-Charlottesville reality where politicians also wrongly conflate Jewish identity with Israeli policies. From zooming in on Ilana’s “Jewess” hoop earrings, to hearing the term “Ashkenazi” on a major network, to depicting the duo’s discomfort with the politics of Birthright trips, to conversations about who looks more Jewish, Abbi and Ilana’s realistic portrayal of how they fit into their culture mattered greatly to 20-something Jewish women like me. It especially matters right now.
It was serious in how it let Abbi explore her queerness. How it acknowledged this generation’s apocalyptic fears, from the post-election episodes to their finale preparations to find each other in their respective cities when “the banks are hacked.” It was serious in how it showed gentrification through demolished bodegas and rude as hell thrift store buyers. It was serious in this season’s molly-fueled breakthrough that let them acknowledge how their codependency and aimlessness held each other back.
It was mundane in how Abbi regularly wore that expensive blue dress because she wanted her money’s worth, in how FaceTime conversations were recurring bits in the show, and in how Ilana feared commitment with Lincoln.
And, of course, it was absurd: Abbi’s trippy post-wisdom tooth surgery adventures, their descent into the sewers for knockoff purses, Ilana’s truly wild behavior at work, like Sharpie-ing her stomach when she gets in trouble for wearing a crop top, and Abbi’s mysterious transformation into Val, the Judy Garland-esque lounge singer, when she gets drunk.
Watching Broad City, the TV show, for five years meant laughing at these stoner escapades, but it also meant seeing parts of our womanhood not commonly celebrated on screen getting special, loving treatment publicly. Be it our Jewishness and its accompanying health issues, our sometimes inappropriate outspokenness, our anxiety, our haphazard demeanor, our need for bizarrely intimate friendships so we can survive day by day, and so on.
When you actually get to laugh about those kinds of neuroses and quirks because you’re in on the joke—not the butt of it—you feel, for lack of a better word, cool.
But because Broad City simultaneously includes all of those ridiculous moments—shout out to Phone Wigs, Ilana’s business venture this season that is literally a personalized wig you attach to your iPhone—those with a tragically less encyclopedic devotion to the show might be confused by all of the rightfully poignant farewells sweeping the internet. But the balance between its realistic and ludicrous plots is exactly why Broad City won’t ever be replaced. And, of course, it’s not just the audience who is moved by its impact.
In a March 23rd interview on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Glazer said that her goal in creating Broad City was to provide a TV show that would let the viewer feel “comforted…We want to make people feel safe…and included…If you don’t have an Abbi or Ilana yet, this show can be that until you find them.” In an interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live from January, Jacobson and Glazer described actually crying in the final scenes when their characters were supposed to be the ones getting emotional. It makes sense—for Glazer and Jacobson and for the audience—that most of the finale is a sequence of attempted goodbyes, all in avoidance of the actual last one.
While their friendship has always been packed with inexhaustible, exaggerated praise for one another, especially from Ilana, we’ve never heard dialogue between them as direct as, “I don’t even feel, like, I was, like, alive before I met you,” and “I’m really scared of the change…but we’re both gonna be better for it.” Yet for all of this sincerity, the show still refuses to take itself too seriously. Heartfelt moments are punctuated by typical New York unpleasantness—whether it’s a heated argument with an impatient cab driver or, once again, a literal $10,000 toilet that Ilana found dumped on the sidewalk and decides to transport during their final walk around the city. A perfect balance.
The series ends with a “four months later” flash forward, revealing that Abbi and Ilana are both independently thriving in their grad programs and new lives. We also see that their friendship is completely unchanged. Their FaceTime schedule remains strict and constant; their conversations are as ordinary and mindless as ever—but their growth as people and best friends is obvious.
As the camera pulls away from Ilana walking to the train in N.Y.C, the vibrant chords of Lizzo’s “Juice” play us out. Lizzo’s music was in the show’s soundtrack back in 2016, before she started achieving the more mainstream success she has always deserved. The song couldn’t be more appropriate, as Broad City always aimed to support women artists on the rise, whether it was Lizzo, comedian Naomi Ekperigin, whose first industry job was writing on Broad City, or one of the many other collaborators who made their mark on the series.
The shot gets wider, and we realize that the crowd of people on the sidewalk consists of endless pairs of best friends. We overhear their shit talking, their laughter, their planning, their Abbi-Ilana dynamics.
And that’s what Broad City has always been about: these friendships.
The cheerfully mundane aspects of platonic love, and the overwhelming, emotional, yet entertaining growing pains that we’ll inevitably endure together. A celebration of the funny, complicated, weird, difficult parts of our lives that actually make us cool.