Everyone has a bit of a misspent youth, to varying degrees. No matter what you do, or what success you do or don’t have, that strange decade between college and your 30s is a confusing time. You think you literally feel opportunities pass by with an agitated prickling. Youth can feel like one of those dreams where you know you have something to run from, but your feet are stuck in sludge. The days collect together imperceptibly, but you can acutely feel the slow glug of a single second. The farce of Broad City captures that absurd time of adult youth in a totally new and refreshing way, and it does so on the back of a genuine friendship, something rare in both life and art.
The show has oft been compared to Girls, another study of twentysomethings. The humor of Broad City is more outlandish and silly than Girls, making it more of an escape, but there is far more love between Abbi and Ilana than can be found in the Girls universe. Loneliness, a theme most people know all too well, permeates Girls, and some of the relationships that are supposed to be close and meaningful still feel forced. Nothing is forced with Broad City; it emanates that warm glow that only simmers when you actually feel close to someone.
What’s also geniuine about Abbi and Ilana is their feminism. They’re comfortable with themselves, other women, and men, in a way that reflects what feminism is supposed to be, at least in my opinion. They don’t get up on soap boxes or fight for anything; they’re just searching out their way in a complicated world, and not letting gender expectations be one of the many things that trip them up.
“Calling a girl a ‘broad’ is far less coarse than calling her a ‘dame’.” – Frank Sinatra
The title itself, Broad City is jokey, but complex comment on several different deroggatory meanings of the word. The most obvious wordplay refers to a disrespectful slang word for women. “Broad” first popped up in the early 20th century and while it makes sense that it refers to a woman’s hips, it can actually be traced back to tickets and prostitutions. According to A Vocabulary of Criminal Slang, the term first popped up among “genteel grafters,” who were referring to women as meal tickets, like how prostitutes are the meal tickets for their pimps. The word “broad” came to represent tickets is a bit complicated in itself: in the 18th century playing cards were sometimes referred to as “broads,” and when tickets started resembling cards, they took on the word.
As the century progressed, broad started to be used in less offensive way, overtaking dame in its coarseness, at least according to Frank Sintra. However still retained a bit of throwaway feeling. Broads, dames, and femme fatales ran rampant through the 1930s-40s obsession with film noir and pulp P.I. novels, both glamorizing and minimizing the idea of womanhood. Recently broad has been one of those terms women have been “taking back” by using it in affectionate and/or empowering ways, but Broad City‘s casual and slightly ambiguous use of it deflates the disrespectful connotations even more.
Broad in the context of this show also refers to something else: broad comedy, often seen as a lower form of humor. The thing about broad comedy that no one can deny is that it’s marvelous when done well, and requires a high level of comedic mastery. Physical hijinks, indecency, a brash disregard for subtlety are the marks of broad comedy, and are exquisitely presented in Broad City. These girls know to make us laugh and cringe in all the right ways.