Rape culture, white power, getting high after having your wisdom teeth pulled out, and pegging? All seem unlikely subjects for an American television series broadcasted on a network that reaches nearly a 100,000,000 American households. Yet, Broad City on Comedy Central is no “color within-the-lines” type of art. Writers and protagonists Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson have created a show that defies expectation and decency and have left me to summarize it, much like when I pitched this piece at last week’s leisure meeting as “two girls in New York doing radical shit in a very funny way.” But, the show is more; it proves that the New York I fantasize about is not dead.
Now in its second season and with a third scheduled, Broad City tracks the friendship of two stoner women as they try to manage life in the Big City. What started as a web-series lauded for its vulgar humor has evolved into a show that offers both comedy and commentary.
Broad City does not shy away from controversy. Take the episode that aired this past Wednesday, where two characters of color–a Bill “Bojangles” Robinson type Black bartender and a Latina cleaner named Maria–are portrayed. The show plays on stereotypes, unmasking the reality of our assumptions and begging us to question whether there’s been substantial change in racial relations from the 1950s-esque environment of the Black bartender to the current, 2015 world of Maria.
Maria does not speak until the end of the episode, when she becomes a gym trainer—much to the dismay of Abbi, who has always wanted the position. Perhaps the episode calls us to recognize the voice of those we dismiss as voiceless and useful only to clean and serve. Perhaps Broad City tries to best resemble a world consumed by stereotypes. Nevertheless, the beauty is that the show invites interpretation of its own social commentary. Broad City provides the material, the culture, for viewers to critique, thereby allowing us to challenge the status quo. And, given that the show is situated in the city renowned for its culture capital, I expect nothing less.
I came across Broad City as a fake vagabond in search of a show portraying his obsession, New York City. Suits was not enough. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching the bromance of two well-off white men in suits develop just as much as the next queer Latino. But, for the romantic in me—the one who looks, naively, at New York and cries because the avant garde seems to be replaced by white in black of Wall Street—the behemoth bohemians of Jacobson and Glazer were godsends.
New York for me (who’s been there once, and knows nothing of the city besides what his imagination informs) is about artists of everyday, individuals who live without attention to convention and question our perception of reality. Broad City is that for me.
The show challenges a political and personal reality. Political, when the show refuses to remain silent and comments on social issues (gender dynamics, racial relations). Personal, when the fantasy rejects our need to fabricate, to be “put together,” and instead celebrates the absurdity of reality.
My take: Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg live on in Glazer and Jacobson. It doesn’t matter that the Benzedrine was exchanged for weed; Glazer and Jacobson, like Ginsberg and Kerouac, walk to their own beat. And trust me, these two do not have any time for poetry—they’re too busy living life (and cleaning gym bathrooms/working at a company whose purpose I have yet to figure out).
Glazer and Jacobson are unafraid of showing how awkward and ridiculous everyday life is. They speak a common person’s language. When we watch television to escape—try to experience life through the reality housewife, or fantasy prominent Black woman who frequently sleeps with the white president—we need vanguard to remind us that in life we must (forgive me, I’m a helpless romantic) seize every day of our dull lives. Long live the words, in a rendition of Horace’s, of the all-wise Ilana: “Carpe Dayum.”