Broad City is nothing if not self-aware, often at the expense of its hilariously oblivious main characters. The third season starts off on a strong note by playing up the contrast between Abbi and Ilana, the 20-something best friends whose adventures in NYC make up the plot of the show, and Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the dynamic duo of writers, creators, and stars who also serve as executive producers alongside comedy veteran Amy Poehler. Jacobson and Glazer demonstrate in this premiere their by-now-familiar mastery of comedic timing, topical dialogue, and the relationship between the irreverent and the relevant. After a long hiatus, the wit and wonder with which the writers imbue their characters comes as a welcome breath of stinky New York air—and it should bring just as much comfort and laughter as hoped to an audience of millennials stuck in a proverbial rut.
In “Two Chainz,” Abbi and Ilana find themselves stuck in—and to—a number of places and situations. The plot feels grounded and realistic because it’s relatable to anyone who just can’t seem to catch a break. The episode starts with brunch for the pair, but they sit down at their table only after the hostess botches Abbi’s name and Ilana drops the key to her heavy bike lock down a manhole. With the chain literally dragging Ilana down, the women navigate the next twenty minutes slowly and haplessly.
Of course, the chain dragging Ilana down is nothing compared to what women in many other countries face even today. While perusing the menu, Ilana relays what she’s read about Saudi women whose freedom is restricted by their husbands. “People don’t know about this,” she declares, displaying a real moral compass. “They need to wake up to the injustices of the world!”
Abbi interjects, “Ugh! The bottomless mimosas aren’t on the menu anymore,” and the scene immediately pivots. “Are you kidding me?” asks Ilana. “There was no sign. This is so unfair!” A few moments later, when a bus boy visits their table, Abbi and Ilana loudly refuse to accept the sparkling water they definitely didn’t order. Yet when told that it’s complimentary, Ilana immediately asks for two more bottles. The high life isn’t something they’re ready to drop big bucks on, but if it’s free and they’re without fault, they’re happy to keep it coming.
This early scene serves as a perfect example of Broad City’s ability to show sensitivity toward subjects that hold gravity in the real world without losing its playful stride. The creators inject scenes such as this one with an awareness of heavier issues and problems women face in the world, without causing a break in their characters’ sympathetic but self-serving bubble. That Glazer and Jacobson are able to allow emotional disparities, suggestions of privilege, and inconsequential hijinks to share a single space shows the dexterity that comes from mixing a carefully mapped script with a fondness for the moment to moment we’re all guilty of indulging in. It’s the sort of fun that hasn’t lost sight of reality.
As for the characters themselves, it’s clear that they’re trying—though not ultimately succeeding—at living in a twentieth-century thinkpiece-filled world. They read about issues online (as one of the women mentions, a friend told her about a story, except that friend was actually the internet) and do their best to keep themselves grounded, although they don’t fully digest one idea without being distracted by the next big sign to their left. At the brunch table, Abbi gets a kick out of requesting impersonations of various accents from Ilana, who plays along and tries out Spanish, French, Australian—everything but Chinese, where she draws the line using logic that makes sense to her and her alone: “Dude. It’s 2016.”
As with any episode of Broad City, we follow Ilana and Abbi through the premiere in what feels like a rambling adventure. We see Ilana being continually stuck to objects because of the magnetic chain around her. We see the need to go to the bathroom force them both into humiliating situations involving portapotties and cops (Ilana: “Cops scare the shit out of me, and I’m white”). Finally, friendship and fashion prove important forces for these friends when Abbi’s invited to a former college roommate’s art opening.
What happens when you combine a fun top from a pop-up merchandise sale, a clothing security device that just won’t come off, and an exhibit featuring a number of NSFW sculptures? Let’s just say that when you add a magnet to the equation you can bet it’s going to be a bit difficult for these flawed friends to remove themselves from an uncomfortable situation.
Abbi and Ilana may not always be able to predict when the forces in their lives will cause them the most trouble, but they certainly understand when things have gone wrong. You can’t blame them for trying—and trying, and often making things worse by trying—and both characters really are endearing in their sincere efforts to make things work. Moreover, even though they’re often down in the dumps or driven in questionable directions, they’re also always giving each other pep talks, sticking up for one another, and genuinely enjoying each other’s company. This friendship’s worth celebrating, not just laughing heartily at. It’s a helpful reminder that even though you may not always be able to keep the whole messy, imbalanced, unfair world in mind at all times, you can be there to try to help your friend wrestle herself out of whatever unexpected chains keep her down on a particular day. Maybe you won’t be doing enough for women everywhere, and maybe you don’t even realize how much worse you could have it—but, hey, it’s still hard, and it’s a start.
Final Grade: A