Broad City‘s second season begins by plunging viewers into the guts of its funhouse-mirrored New York City: the subway. As Ilana (Glazer) and Abbi (Jacobson) try to make their way toward the nearest door to their stop’s exit, each car reveals an exaggeratedly hellish version of an experience with which any New York commuter can empathize. The scene is also relevant to non-New Yorkers, as each car seems to introduce the themes of the upcoming season. Thankfully, they don’t diverge — at all — from those of the first. Said themes are: stuff that comes from butts, stuff that comes from whatever other places on the body might produce comedic “stuff,” stuff that comes from New York’s own grotesque body, and stuff that happens when your life doesn’t seem to have a schedule, when you give few enough shits to make a life out of simply doing random “stuff” with your BFF.
In the aforementioned scene, the car is overcrowded, and our heroines must circumvent unclothed, too-close-to-face armpits, someone vigorously clipping their nails, an old woman who thinks they’re collectively her granddaughter “Val,” and a family eating a human-length hoagie. In the next car, it’s “showtime,” and Abbi and Ilana have to dodge mediocre subway acrobatics to make it safely to the next car, which is entirely empty but for a normal-looking woman… and a giant turd (both the woman and the turd seem oblivious to the others’ company).
In the final car, there’s a strange collusion among a group of Hasidic Jews; it seems they’re placed here to facilitate our spiritual rebirth as adoring fans of this weird, and weirdly familiar, underworld. Alas, after a year away, we’ve been re-initiated into the world of Broad City, concrete jungle where dreams are… hardly extant. Like last year, Broad City wants to reframe our Empire State of Mind: in its not-at-all serious way, it asserts that while, in “New York, there’s [plenty] you can’t do,” “there’s nothing you can’t [poo].”
The first episode also sees Abbi and Ilana trying to stay cool in New York’s sweltering summer heat, and Seth Rogen makes a cameo as a casual lover of Abbi’s who has not-so-casual swamp-ass. To put an end to the summertime sadness said ass induces, the Odyssean Abbi and Ilana go on one of their hysterically overblown adventures in search of some form of banal comfort: this time, it’s an air conditioner. The second episode “develops” the relationship (and I use quotes, because to say the show is “developing” any relationship besides that of Abbi and Ilana is actually counter to what it’s trying to do) between Abbi and her roommate’s boyfriend, Bevers, who’s overtaken her household with his sweaty, farty antics.
When Abbi notices, after Bevers bends down to mop his spilled Cinnabon shake, that he’s sporting a massive bedsore (“couch sore,” technically) on his backside, she emphasizes that he needs to change his life. The way Bevers chooses to do so turns out to be a greater encroachment on Abbi’s space; ultimately, everything goes back to “normal.” Again: “development” is not at all what this show’s after. A character might be given the opportunity for a typical arc, but the humor demands that they stay exactly the same. The show has similarly stayed entirely the same. As a comedy that’s more about the power of the joke than anything else, the supporting characters are (perhaps with the exception of Hannibal Buress’ Lincoln) stubbornly and hilariously two-dimensional. It speaks to the sweet insularity of Abbi and Ilana’s friendship — the most fleshed-out aspect of the show — that the rest of the world seems to be a strange joke. Not all of the jokes land, and the jokes’ journeys often outdo their punchlines — but there’s enough brilliance to lead you to want to watch until you develop your very own “couch sores.”
The strict joke-value of all things on which Broad City casts its gaze becomes even clearer in the third episode. Broad City is in no way a rom-com, because it beautifully forsakes the rom for corporeal com. And I’ll try not to get into any spoilers here, but when, in Season 2, the one romantic thing you were actually kind of rooting for seems to be happening, it’s easy to forget what show you’re watching. I think I said to myself, “That’s actually really sweet.” But I was being silly — in thinking I was watching a moment of earnest affection, I was underestimating Broad City‘s exemplary subversion of television’s expectations. The sweetness works, but Broad City halts it with what Broad City knows it can do even better: butt humor.
Most fans came away from the first season preferring either Ilana or Abbi; I was a member of the less-popular Abbi camp. I identified with her groggy passivity, her inability to say what she wants, and the occasional temper tantrums that occur when she gets tired of the more domineering Ilana’s tendency to get them into trouble. While Ilana seemed to chase both strange plotlines and jokes, these things seemed to come naturally to Abbi. The new season makes it harder to pick a favorite; Ilana’s false sense of charisma is here amplified to hilarious extremes. She’s at once more caricatural and more developed. Abbi is thrust into more opportunities where she can attempt — and fail — to be a leader.
It’s wonderful that Broad City showed early on in Season 1 that comparisons to Girls were only relevant insomuch as they proved how different the two shows are. Now, as Girls flounders in trying to maintain its characters’ status as professionally and existentially lost 20-somethings aiming at upward mobility in what is supposed to be a realistic portrayal of New York, Broad City‘s characters aim for nothing but whatever will make for the funniest contained plot — and so, like the characters, the show hasn’t attempted any major shifts. Occasionally, Abbi will discuss her desire to “make it” as a painter, but the show never lingers on this. Rather than yearning for something better in the future, these characters are contentedly frustrated by the present.
Abbi and Ilana’s friendship serves as the show’s one emotional grounding device, and thus both the show and the characters’ lives have little use for the world outside of the two leads. They’re not trying to use New York to move up; they’re just trying to chill together, to laugh at the surrounding world. And so the surrounding world matches their laughter by presenting itself as a series of wonderful cartoon oddities.