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‘Broad City’ Doesn’t Make Me Feel Understood, It Makes Me Feel BETTER
09.13.17
Photo by Smallz Raskind via Getty Images.

When the Girls series finale ended, viewers and critics across the internet meditated on the ways in which the show made them feel understood (or not), seen (or not), hopeful (or not). As a semi-consistent viewer of Girls, there were times it saddened me, charmed me, irritated me or shed light on a dark emotional place I recognized. In its final season, at its intellectual apex (“American Bitch”), it really got me thinking.

But Girls didn’t make me feel good. I’m not sure it cared to.

You’d think that Broad City, with its majority-female writing team, New York setting and cast of millennial best friends, would inspire similar emotions. And yet, I wouldn’t call Broad City “relatable,” even though the ingredients indicate I would. Rather than understood, it makes me feel good. It depicts a version of womanhood and friendship that, if not realistic, is disarmingly heartwarming, perhaps ideal. It’s a world not consumed by the male gaze; one without debilitating self-consciousness or burdensome inconsistencies. I think of it as a parallel universe, where being a woman is a little less tiring and complicated than it is in ours. For a 30-minute comedy that’s 15% bathroom humor, that’s quite a feat.

Unlike the cast of Girls, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s characters are a little more simple than the flawed you and me, but not insultingly so. Instead of being cool girls or smart girls or brave girls — the “female-positive” tropes so many other sitcoms run into — they are a messy amalgamation of what makes women so special, so transcendent. They are fun. I love them for the same reasons I love my friends.

I normally get whiney when shows fail to capture life’s complexity or are caricatures of themselves (I am annoying), but somehow these things register as praise in the context of Broad City. The show may be light, but it’s written thoughtfully and with purpose: It elevates womanhood rather than diminishes it. In many cases, stereotypes aren’t clumsily subverted but gleefully ignored, sex is joyful but not commodified, and the enduring love is between two best friends.

It’s not perfect in every respect — it has been criticized for its portrayal of immigrants in Ilana’s roommate Jaime, for instance, and although the show’s also been praised for its diversity, there could always be more. As Jacobson told Bustle, “Our show tried to depict our version of New York, and that, in turn, included a diverse cast. But I think it can probably handle even more diversity, to be honest. I think everything can.” (Let’s see what season four holds, which premieres tonight.) Still, it is a relief to watch the camera not linger on a collar bone, a fallen lock of hair or a round ass for once. Broad City is a celebration of personality. That’s a hopeful premise for women.

I will always love heady stories with depth and nuance, but it’s refreshing to bear witness to a story that offers a positive cultural commentary almost incidentally. Especially in the case of its female characters, it’s light on its feet without falling prey to the dangers of surface-skimming. Broad City proves that escapism doesn’t have to be cheap or guilt-inducing. It doesn’t have to rely on schadenfreude. It can be productive. It can lift you up by showing you what’s possible.

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  • Arden

    As someone who gave up on Girls relatively early (I abandoned ship after the OCD episode with the Q-tip literally made me faint), Broad City has been the ULTIMATE female millennial comedy to me. I particularly like what you point out, Haley – that “it’s a world not consumed by the male gaze” which is part of why I find it so refreshing and fun. While there are important male characters and romantic/sexual relationships do play a role, the fundamental core of the show is the evolving, dynamic, intensely loving friendship between Ilana and Abbi. Also, the pure silliness of the writing, for example when Lincoln immediately names all the dogs that Ilana is walking in season 1, is something I find genuinely relatable, because oftentimes that’s how my friends and I speak and interact. I can’t wait to see how this next season unfolds, especially how they choose to handle the Tr*mp presidency.

    Sorry if that was rambling and confusing, I just really love Broad City y’all.

    • Jeanie

      I gave girls a chance for three seasons. Everyone was awful. I hated it.

      • Lil

        The characters of Girls are terrible, but that’s the beauty of the show.

        Girls is about the neverending cycle of having to first identify a flaw, lessen it, and then finally learn to live with it because our imperfections never truly go away. Some people (my own self included) never get past step 1 of the cycle, which sucks, but it’s one of those odd facts of life.

        • pamb

          Thank you! Girls didn’t exist to make you ‘happy’, it was trying to do a specific thing. Not every show needs to hit all emotions. I don’t watch Curb Your Enthusiasm to feel happy, I watch it because it makes me squirm and yell “don’t do that!” at the TV.

          Speaking of awful characters, Seinfeld’s were self absorbed and awful, but that was kind of the point, especially at the finale…

          • Pamela

            Lol you sound biter boo

          • pamb

            lol, expecting every tv show to make you happy and being unsatisfied when one doesn’t is kind of the definition of bitter. That’s what you meant, right? Even though you spelled it ‘biter’ I assume you meant ‘bitter’.

  • Lindsey

    Yes! I love Broad City so much. Not because I feel especially like either Ilana or Abbi’s characters, but because they’re just fun. I want to hang out with them. I love that they love sex, and that their #1 priority is their friendship. And while the show is light, it does poke fun at white girls who think of themselves as woke. (Remember when Jaime told Ilana she was appropriating his culture by wearing her Latina earrings, even though she’s Jewish? And Ilana was devastated because she really thought she was being a good white person.) There’s a lot there but it’s not really in your face (except for the bathroom humor, but I happen to think it’s hysterical), and it’s just fun to watch. I love watching them stumble through life with each other.

    • Arden

      omg yes the examination of Ilana as the problematic woke white girl is so good imo

  • Well said, Haley!

    I’m so excited for this show to be back I can barely stand it! It makes me so happy to know women are getting a range of stories for US – from Handmaid’s Tale to Broad City. I love a good, complex, dramatic, and dark female-driven narrative. I also enjoy getting a little high, grabbing my Bingo Bronson doll (which my husband got me for Christmas last year…he gets me), and laughing myself stupid. Women are complex creatures – and the options out there for TV are finally starting to reflect that. 🙂

  • sewinsteady

    “Still, it is a relief to watch the camera not linger on a collar bone, a fallen lock of hair or a round ass for once.” – YES!

    • …unless it’s Ilana admiring Abby’s perfect butt! 😉

    • Flavia Lozano

      YES YES YES. I wanted to comment on it too but so glad you all agree on it. This describes perfectly the things that’ve always bothered me even if I couldn’t put a name on it.

  • Autumn

    Broad City is the visual output-into-story of all the weird non-sequitur thoughts that float around my brain on a daily basis. But in the best way.

  • patyof

    me tooooooooooo. many happy nights spent lightly stoned and live texting with my bff while watching a new ep 🙂

  • Emily

    To me, Broad City and Girls are completely different — light-hearted comedy vs. realist drama with some comedic moments (like life). I like both and I’m so happy broad city is back on tonight. 🙂

  • Claude

    One of my favorite things about Broad city is the normal-looking-ness of the characters. Abbi and Ilana are obviously cute but they aren’t models, and none of their friends have conventionally perfect bodies/faces either (aside from Kirk Steele). It’s so refreshing and comforting that these characters have physical ‘flaws’ and the flaws aren’t mocked or even mentioned. Such a great show for many other reasons too, and the first episode of season 4 premiered today!! Woohoo!!

    • Amy Brumbpo Tungus

      The frosted tips are definitely Kirk Steele’s greatest asset

  • Julie

    Yes, yes, yes. What I love about Broad City is it shows womanhood and talks about womanhood in a way that doesn’t take itself so damn seriously. Being woman is not this big, dramatic thing all the time. We like to laugh at farts, smoke weed, and get into weird situations. Being a woman can be a fun-ass time.

  • Maria Fernandez-Davila

    yessssss, I honestly love both Girls and Broad City but they both make me feel two different things. Broad City is definitely the overtly FUN one. Loving great shows centered around female friendships! Relationships, hookups, job stuff is all sort of in the background, but at the core, it’s all about friendship! I just binged Insecure so generally just obsessing over shows made about women by women right now!

  • Hanna C Anderson

    Honestly, this post left me in tears. I am SO thankful and happy for the return of Broad City, and I glad that this article could speak to my excitement/emotions. I’ve had a lot of friends refer to Abbi and Ilana as “fav-wave feminists”, and not in an endearing way. My friends have hinted that Abbi and Ilana try to throw a bone to feminists by simply saying stuff like, “vagina power” or whatever, but never actually engage in real women’s issues. To that I say, yes, but also, no, because when I think about it, how often am I seriously discussing the patriarchy with my friends? Not very often, and the reason why is because I know that my female friends already know what it is like to be a woman. They are experiencing the patriarchy, too. So every week I don’t have to tell them my reality, I can just say “vagina power”, and they’ll get it. I think that is what Abbi and Ilana are doing. They are talking to an audience that already knows the woes of womanhood, and like a true friend would, talks to us on our level, makes a few jokes, and comes back next week for more sisterhood.

  • KayHay

    Girls makes me hate my generation. Broad City makes me love it.

    • Jeanie

      Yes!!!!! I mean, yasss!

  • disqus_Q3Xw3KYgud

    watching the premiere is on comedy central’s website now!!!

  • Eve

    Nice article. I agree.

    I’m old, southern, poor, and have always struggled with class prejudice, so those women on Girls might as well be aliens to me, though. I’m not saying it isn’t worthwhile, but it wasn’t for me.

    However, I love Broad City, even though it deals with a similar demographic. Maybe that just means I’m a rube who loves a good dirty joke, but whatever.

  • Cassandra

    I have a male friend who said, when Girls first came out, “this is the first show I’ve seen where women are written like actual humans.” I think the tone and humor of Girls and Broad City are different, and the characters on Broad City are less realistic, but both shows depict women as “actual humans” – the female characters have fully realized personalities and are motivated by more than trying to get the guy, look beautiful to be accepted, or be the queen bee, which have been the boring, two-dimensional goals of female characters in many shows of the past. I find characters like those in Girls and Broad City a lot more interesting and enjoyable to watch, and, as Haley said above of Broad City, be inspired by.

  • Jeanie

    I love Broad City. It’s so relaxed and fun!

  • yassqueeeen

    I LOVE BROAD CITY! It cracks me up every episode and is just so fun to watch. I agree with all of the above. It can deal with the world’s problems but not so seriously that it just depresses you. I love their writing and some of the situations they get into. I also love Abbi and Illana’s relationship. Watched the season premiere last night and *SPOILERS* when Abbi gets her ponytail cut off by a stranger …just made me break into tears of laughter.

  • Caro A

    Broad City legitimately changed my life. Like, I really think that I have come into my own a bit more because of these women. I had never experienced comedy from women like this before. It is so GODDAMN funny and smart and political and relavant. I never knew that this type of comedy was possible with women and they do it so so beautifully and perfect and it’s so weird and obscure and understandable.

  • finness

    I’m old enough for Medicare and I adore these two.

  • amcrni

    Broad City is one of my favorite shows and I keep anxiously waiting for Season 4 to hit Hulu. I feel like I’m much more like Abbi than Ilana, but god damn it I just love them both as characters so much. I love the situations they get into, I love their views of women and politics, they’re just two badasses and more shows need to be like this.

  • Lola

    This article its superrrrr right! As a millenial lesbian, Girls make me feel super left out of discution, and the one time there was a lesbian scene it was horrible, and super stereotype in a heterosexual view. On the other hand Broad City make´s me feel hilaryous about gender roles, fashion, friendship! In girls the realtionships that the Female characters establish whit the male ones were very creapy and whit all the heterosexual violence and cliches.
    I´m super happy whit Broad City! Thanks for this note!
    Oh! And you have to do a piece about “The L Word”.
    Love, Lola.