Not only does Comedy Central’s Broad City deal with friendship in a lovely and refreshing way, it tackles human sexuality with honesty and panache. From casual conversations with parents about pegging at a wake, to Ilana’s unrequited crush on her pal Abbi and her own unreturned feelings for her FWB Lincoln, sex and all its complexities isn’t labeled or boxed in. Ilana and Abbi live in a generation that doesn’t need to define itself as straight, bisexual, or queer. It’s a lovely world where sex just IS, and doesn’t have to be a major part of a person’s identity.
For several decades, decades of my own formative years, if your sexuality deviated from straight heterosexual at all, there was a pressure to integrate it into your public identity. This was needed politically and culturally because there was so little mainstream acceptance of anything different, and this need for identity is still rippling through our culture. The ravages of AIDS, lack of information and basic civil rights made it important for gay people to stand up and announce themselves, to dare to just be themselves. But it’s emotionally, socially, and psychologically taxing to continually have your private life be such a symbol and a statement. We are not just our genitals, hormones, sexual urges and romantic feelings. We are whole worlds to ourselves, connected to each other in complicated and multi-dimensional ways. Cultural and legal acceptance of the spectrum of human sexuality still needs a lot of work, but that can only progress if the minutia of sexuality and human relationships continues to trend towards not being such a big deal.
Our thinking about what sexuality is has been liberated somewhat in recent years, and Broad City reflects this new freedom perfectly and with a great deal of respect. We’re attracted to who we are attracted to. We love who we love, and we make commitments to who we want to make commitments to.
Last week’s episode involved surfacely simplistic, but actually very profound, exploration of how identity and sexuality truly intermingle. The girls have described Ilana’s motivations as “hedonistic,” so it’s no surprise when she commits wholeheartedly to pursuing a captivating spark with her doppelgänger Adele (Alia Shawkat.) It’s been established in a previous episode that Ilana gets off to herself with the help of a mirror, but she doesn’t notice her striking physical similarities to Adele. It’s only when Abbi plants the seed in her mind that she starts to freak out about what may be underlying her attraction to Adele, and the whole things falls apart.
It’s a non issue that Adele’s a woman, but Ilana clearly has a problem, and draws a clear boundary in her “anything goes” personality. “I have sex with people different from me,” Ilana explains. “Different colors, different shapes, different sizes. People who are hotter; people who are uglier. More smart; not more smart. Innies; outies. I don’t know, a Catholic person.” Adele finds the similarities hot, but Ilana doesn’t. Maybe it’s a rejection of narcissism or solipsism, or just generally being creeped out by the uncanniness, but Ilana just isn’t into it.
Later, when she meets up again with Abbi, who’s had quite an adventure of her own with the “shadow side” of American’s sweetheart Kelly Ripa, Ilana draws another boundary. Abbi had run away from Kelly Ripa’s apartment after she ordered two male prostitutes. What had started off like a dream come true for Abbi, hangin’ with Ripa and sharing a bottle of wine, quickly regressed into moonshine guzzling, throwing expensive gift baskets out the window, and drugs. It seems this funhouse version of Ripa is also a hedonist, a destructive answer to Ilana’s life pursuits. Abbi seems to regret not following through with Ripa’s plans, so Ilana briefly teases Abbi about having some hookers on speed dial. It’s just a joke, though. Ilana’s hedonism has limits, and that’s another line she doesn’t cross.