February 3, 2014

Broad City: Love in the Time of Lil Wayne

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When Abbi Abrams’ (Abbi Jacobson) alarm clock goes off at 7 a.m. in the opening shot of Comedy Central’s Broad City, it’s not a snooze button or a contact case that she reaches for — it’s her laptop (to meet up with her best friend via web cam) and a neon purple dildo (complete with a reminder sticky note reading “Tuesday, 7 a.m.”). On Skype with said BFF, Ilana (Ilana Glazer), Abbi realizes that her friend is distracted not only by the Lil Wayne record blaring in the background but also by the fact that she is having sex with a mutual friend, Lincoln (Hannibal Burress), while they are talking. Ilana is bemused by Abbi’s shrieking disgust and then sharlpy tells her that she needs to loosen up: “you plan everything, you probably plan when you’re going to jerk off.”

This opening scene is more than appropriate as a thesis statement for the new Amy-Poehler-produced comedy — it is unabashed, often gross and genuinely surprising, revealing of an intense intimacy between its two main characters. However, the big punch lines, like the slow Skype camera pan down from Ilana’s face to the man lying under her, just aren’t as funny as the moments that come up organically in the show’s exceptionally comfortable dialogue.

Glazer and Jacobson have been working together since they met at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade (comedy superstar whelping pen and theatre of origin for the likes of Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari, Ed Helms, Donald Glover) in 2007. They’ve been accumulating material for Broad City’s banter-centric dialogue since 2009 — the show started as a popular web series by the same name, which consists of thirty-eight two-to-five-minute episodes. The web series is still available to watch on YouTube, and it is clearly low-rent, with handmade title cards (ostensibly referenced in the Comedy Central version’s opening credits) and cheesy stock music, but the potential for a great show is there for obvious observation.

The New York Times has remarked “female characters are increasingly as entitled to be as indolent, selfish and incompetent as males ones,” and while part of what Glazer and Jacobson attempt  surely is a portraiture of this slacker lady, the “broad” in boxer shorts and holding a pipe, they also take a sure step outside of Girls’ hackneyed “I’m awful too” one-note. Glazer and Jacobson have an ease that makes this the show about female friendship which actually feels like it is  cares about showing a believable and healthy friendship — not utilitarian living conditions and feeble class structure commentary (Two Broke Girls) or a mess of self-centered hyper-neuroticism (Girls). And while some moments are gross just because they can be, the grime is somewhat refreshing — on a network that leans 60 percent male and curtsies to the coveted 18-24 male demographic, this is a show that focuses tightly on its free-wheeling female co-stars, giving us girls who end their pilot drinking Jack on a stoop and don’t call it a failure.

The second episode is loosely adapted from one of the episodes of the web series. The web series episode was called “Abbi Gets Back Into Pot,” but the Comedy Central expansion is titled “Pu$$y Weed,” in reference to the fact that Glazer, at one point, hides her marijuana stash from a drug-sniffing dog by stowing it in her vagina. In episode one Ilana posts to Craig’s list that they’re just “two Jew girls looking for a quick buck,” setting off a ridiculous scene in which the girls strip to their underwear to vacuum and dust an intensely creepy mustachioed man’s (Fred Armisen) apartment. The goal is enough money for Lil Wayne pop-up concert tickets and the booze and weed that type of outing demands and it is the most effort the girls are shown putting towards anything, including jobs, relationships, or balanced meals, in any of its sixty miutes to date. There is no patent leather and no dreams of a career in publishing, there are no  shiny, beautiful boys and no tears over shiny, beautiful boys — obviously this is not a “two bright-eyed gals take on New York” story. It’s something much better.

These sketches of off-the-charts ridiculousness put Broad City into a similar category as Portlandia, except they’re fueled much more by raw aggression than grating irony. It’s clear that the girls are playing comic versions of themselves, so the big question here is how long Abbi and Ilana are going to continue seeing themselves as a dynamic duo of shiftlessness and booze-swilling. This question is what makes it too soon to say that their chops for improvised banter will be enough to keep a show that is navigating such obnoxiously-familiar territory afloat.

After two episodes, though, I’m charmed by these girls and their pursuit, which is not so ambitious as it is just plain fun — there are no stabs at social or political context, as these two wander around their personal hazy Wonderland.  In short, they’re weirdos, and much of what they do and say is lost on the plain Jane faceless New Yorkers swarming around them. It’s a documentary of the grand romance that is female friendship, but this time there are no outtakes. It’s a love story in the city of “pu$$y weed.”

Broad City airs on Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.

Check out the webisode that inspired “Pu$$y Weed” here: