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.