Broad City continues its take on the New York 20-something life with “Co-Op,” an episode that explores concepts of maturity and identity in relation to food and sex. With Ilana off to an important doctor’s appointment, Abbi agrees to stand in for her at the food co-op where she owes six hours of service by the end of the day. At the start of the episode, Abbi seems to be on surer footing than Ilana, who has slacked off instead of doing her co-op shifts and whose outrageous clothing, language, and overall persona seem like a fun impersonation challenge for Abbi. By the episode’s end, however, it’s clear that playing Ilana, and then choosing to taking advantage of a romantic opportunity the experience provides, allows Abbi to fall into a trap of dishonesty. She’s hardly in the clear on the morality scale here. That becomes a theme throughout the plot: both women try to do their best to do what seemsright, and in doing so they miss the mark—the mess multiplies.
The episode pokes fun at a number of issues rampant in the internet era of life for young people in cities: gourmet versus homegrown food, sexual responsibility versus fluidity, chill versus real. First up: food, ever a useful representation of privilege. Although Ilana enjoys belonging to the co-op and sharing the food with her friends, she clearly doesn’t subscribe to all of the beliefs inherent in the co-op structure. After Abbi waits in a long line for a new hit pastry, Ilana swings by, is gifted a “churron” (churro + macaron) by a random passerby she’s just complimented, takes one bite, and immediately tosses it in a nearby garbage bin. She doesn’t seem particularly keen on preventing waste.
Meanwhile, Abbi wastes no time agreeing to stand in for Ilana at the co-op. Yet once she waltzes in, decked out in her “Ilana” outfit and attitude, she quickly finds herself with an ulterior motive. Craig, the handsome, hairy guy she’s paired up with in bulk foods, demonstrates an interest in art and music. Not able to be herself, Abbi-as-Ilana discusses her friend Abbi, showing Craig Abbi’s illustrations. When she name-drops Phish, Craig and others in the store perk up, responding much more positively to the theoretical Abbi than to the real Abbi playing someone else.
Of course, Craig’s allegiance to the co-op eventually leads him to find fault with Abbi’s behavior. She’s essentially kicked herself in the foot by being dishonest—to the point where when she excitedly admits that she herself is Abbi, Craig no longer likes her. “The Abbi I’ve been hearing about all day would never do something like this,” he says regarding her performance. “I don’t know what’s more disgusting: the fact that you’ve been lying to me all day or the fact that you tried to cheat the co-op.” Although Abbi’s actual hobbies and interests would have fit better in the co-op crowd than Ilana’s, she ends up being ousted for displaying alternate qualities while there. The co-op manager, a menacing figure, lectures Ilana and Abbi in a back room and explains that they’re banned from the co-op after what they’ve done. They are “SPs,” she explains or, “Shitty Peoples, and [they] belong on Garbage Island.” They’re literal waste in the co-op world now.
Elsewhere, Ilana considers her own virtues when she responds with shock and eventual excitement to Lincoln’s admission that he hooked up with someone else. In trying to be a cool young person—she and Lincoln are “a modern-day Will and Jada,” she says—she shows how far removed she actually is from having a sophisticated understanding of sexual maturity. She leans in to Lincoln and asks, “What if we tricked her into having a threesome?” The brief exchange that follows is a wonderful example of Broad City using its slightly oblivious characters to make points about our society. Lincoln delicately responds, “People really shouldn’t trick other people into having sex,” to which Ilana marvels, “Whoa. I’ve heard so many women say that, but when you say it, I really hear it.” In the context of the show, this is just Lincoln being his apologetic self, looking out for women even after being with someone behind Ilana’s back. But in the real world, don’t miss the richly funny—and deeply disturbing—significance. Remember, Lincoln is played by Hannibal Buress, the comedian whose reminder of Bill Cosby’s rape allegations in a stand-up gig suddenly made the world pay attention ten years later. As 2016 sees the Cosby case play out, Broad City allows Lincoln to remind us of the harsh reality that Ilana can’t yet see: that being hip and modern in your sex life doesn’t, or shouldn’t, mean using persuasion or violence. Ilana, in turn, reminds us of the all-too-familiar truth that’s even worse: women can make claims again and again (either about rape culture in general, or about a specific crime), but people–women included—more often believe statements said by men.
Lincoln’s admonishment of tricking people into sex also underscores one of the major problems for Abbi and Ilana in this episode: that tricking people in general only ever ends badly for those involved. Even if Ilana has good intentions in supporting the co-op, and even if Abbi is just looking out for her friend, breaking the co-op rules only serves to get them both kicked out and to insult the whole operation. Trying to get Craig to like her by talking about herself in the third person only ends up helping Abbi to embarrass herself by doubling down on the dishonesty.
“Co-Op” finds our favorite friends having to decide whether they want to play the parts of adults or really be their adult selves. Even the first scene throws the women for a loop. After some pre-teens shout at them in sexually disparaging terms, Abbi and Ilana challenge the boys to basketball and beat them easily. Having heard the boys say horrible things to them, it might make some sense in Abbi’s head to celebrate the basketball victory by making a vulgar remark about one boy’s mother. But all of the boys immediately lose their cool and break down crying. While the moment is hilarious, inviting the audience to marvel and cringe at the pair’s poor logic and decision-making (they’re really going to act like twelve-year-olds and insult their fellow women in order to teach actual twelve-year-olds a lesson?), it’s also a pretty good kick-off to the episode’s themes in general. Escaping the trappings of what looks like immaturity tends to be easier if you don’t get caught up in more actual foolishness. And maybe try not to make kids cry.
Final Grade: B+