Tonight marks the triumphant return of the unapologetically outrageous series Broad City. Now in it’s fourth season, and already tapped to embark on a fifth, the television show Ann Friedman hailed as the “true feminine ideal” has solidified its rightful standing in the realm of great, socially conscious television.
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the show’s co-creators, co-writers and co-stars, have tapped into a growing discontented segment of the U.S. consciousness: the so-called millennial woman. She is self-aware, independent and perceptive, with an acute sense of the ills of society and an earnest inclination towards social justice. However, Glazer and Jacobson also acknowledge the limitations of this modern trope, often using the show to mock forms of excessive self-righteousness. As a result, the hilarious duo has created a spectacle that is simultaneously relatable in its inclusivity and polarizing in its bluntness.
The humble beginnings of Broad City can be traced back to Glazer and Jacobson’s time as performers at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater—a highly respected comedic training ground established in 1992 by Amy Poehler and her improv convoy. When Glazer and Jacobson began to independently produce a web series with a distinctive flair for documenting the grit and glamour of life as young women on the streets of New York City, Poehler herself took an interest. The show was brought to Comedy Central, where the unabashedly authentic and outrageously female Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler—best friends navigating the tumultuous streets of New York City, possessed of equal parts sarcasm and idealism—were embraced by legions of viewers.
Although the story lines generally revolve around external issues—parental contention, job dissatisfaction and renewing a license at the DMV—Broad City always manages to include commentary on the subtle sexism women face on a daily basis. In the season two finale, as the pair walk down the street en route to Ilana’s birthday celebration, a male passerby implores them to “smile.” Their joint response is to use their middle fingers to push up the corners of their mouths in compliance. In an episode of season two entitled “Mochalatta Chills,” Ilana casually alludes to the Abbi’s “mustache” in passing—directly acknowledging female body hair as normal. In an episode that aired during the 2016 president campaign, Ilana volunteers at a Hillary Clinton campaign office—a creative choice that squashed the myth that Clinton lacked appeal with younger women and made space for Broad City to address feminism and politics without double-entendre or innuendo. In season four’s trailer, the two are pictured in clinic escort vests; Glazer and Jacobson told the L.A. Times that they felt they needed to infuse the first season since the presidential election with more political content that touches on the Trump administration.
The characters are open and expressive about bodies and imperfections, owning and embracing body positivity and combating beauty conventions. (If Abbi ever attempts to engage in any semblance of self-deprecation, she is immediately verbally chastised by Ilana, who assures her that she is “flaw-less.”) Both women engage in casual, romantic encounters; Ilana’s sexual fluidity is a major plot point, but her encounters with women are free from the male gaze, and the men with whom she has affairs all possess feminist sensibilities. (Her recurrent love interest, Lincoln, played by comedian Hannibal Buress, possesses the utmost respect for women and gender equality.)
While the show is made predominately by women, it is not merely intended for female viewership. There is a problem with consigning female driven content to appeal to all-female audiences, and Glazer and Jacobson seem to recognize this in their crafting of each episode. The jokes are brazen and often grotesque, employing a brand of humor that echoes the absurdity of many successful male comedians.
Of course, Broad City alone cannot be the future of feminist television—and Glazer and Jacobson do not purport to represent the entire feminist movement or the entirety of modern women’s experiences. One show (and one power duo) could never accomplish that. But where Glazer and Jacobson are successful, and indisputably so, is in their ability to push the boundaries of what is deemed traditionally accepted female behavior and use humor to shame archaic social conventions into submission.
In their own right, Jacobson and Glazer are pioneers—and Broad City’s continued hold on viewers is helping them prove, for once and for all, that the future of comedy is female.
Broad City premieres tonight at 10:30 p.m. EST on Comedy Central.
Sarah Alexander is a recent graduate of Cal State Northridge. In addition to being a writer, she is a visual and performing artist, and attempts to use film, music and online platforms to spark conversation about social activism. She is an anomalous LA native, which affects her personality in a plethora of unique ways.