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.