The increasingly confident broads of ‘Broad City’ take on the Trump era in Season 4
On a rainy summer afternoon, Ilana Glazer is huddled under the awning of a Brooklyn cafe. Clad in a black raincoat, jeans and a pair of clogs, she’d suggested meeting here to talk about the new season of her show, “Broad City,” but it turns out it’s closed. Glazer’s backup plan, a coffee shop around the corner, is quickly deemed too loud.
Finally, she settles on a mostly empty bar down the block. After some fussing with her iPhone, Glazer summons her creative partner, Abbi Jacobson, via FaceTime from Los Angeles. Parked in front of her laptop in an anonymous Airbnb rental, Jacobson looks cozy in a white sweatshirt.
Glazer orders some fries — they’re “insane,” she promises — a plate of $1 oysters and a side of pickles and has just begun talking about Season 4 when something catches Jacobson’s eye.
“Sorry -- time out,” says a suddenly animated Jacobson, 33. “Great ear story.”
“Oh my goodness, thank you,” replies Glazer, 30, cocking her head to display the “story” in question: three hoop earrings dangling from her right lobe. “I’m telling a new ear story.”
“I never get a new ear story,” says Jacobson with feigned jealousy.
To viewers of “Broad City,” the enthusiastic banter is a familiar scene. The buddy comedy, which returns to Comedy Central Sept. 13 after an unusually long hiatus, follows the New York misadventures of twentysomething best friends Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler -- younger, slightly exaggerated versions of co-creators Jacobson and Glazer.
In a comedy tradition dating back to Lucy and Ethel, the women are a study in contrasts. Ilana is the hypersexual, supremely self-confident free spirit with an outrageous wardrobe and vague professional aspirations, while Abbi is the slightly more reserved one, a struggling illustrator who worships Oprah Winfrey and has a paralyzing crush on her cute neighbor. Both are enthusiastic pot smokers. A recurring motif depicts the friends, whose apartments are separated by an annoyingly long subway ride, discussing the minutiae of their lives via FaceTime.
What’s keeping the two apart in real life isn’t the logistics of New York City public transportation, but rather their busy professional lives. Jacobson is on the West Coast working on “Disenchantment,” an animated series created by Matt Groening for Netflix. Glazer, who was recently seen in the bachelorette comedy “Rough Night,” is hunkered down in New York prepping a stand-up tour that begins in November.
In the 3 1/2 years since its debut, “Broad City” has become a critical darling, winning praise for its distinctive blend of outrageousness and heart. In a sign of “Broad City’s” importance to Comedy Central, the series was renewed for Seasons 4 and 5 before Season 3 even aired. While same-day ratings are relatively modest, the show draws a healthy weekly audience of 4.3 million viewers. And like many of the inventive, quasi-autobiographical comedies to which it compares — “Louie,” “Girls,” “Atlanta” — “Broad City’s” cultural influence far outweighs its Nielsen performance.
It has not only invaded the lexicon (see the sudden ubiquity of Ilana’s catchprase, “Yasss, Queen”) but also attracted a cameo by Hillary Clinton in a bid to impress millennial voters.
Once unknowns who started making “Broad City” as a Web series after failing to make the house improv team at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Glazer and Jacobson have since become fixtures on late-night couches and magazine covers alike. And while the characters they play may be maturing at a comically slow pace, Jacobson and Glazer have grown measurably as artists — not only taking over the reins of “Broad City” as showrunners but branching out into directing, producing, books, podcasts, stand-up and other creative pursuits.
For fans of Abbi and Ilana’s high jinks, it’s been an especially long 17 months without “Broad City” on the air. Initially, Glazer and Jacobson had asked to delay production of Season 4 in order to film during the winter. Previous seasons had all been set in the summer, and they reasoned that a show about the humiliations of life in New York would be incomplete without depicting the cruelty of the city’s colder months.
Things didn’t necessarily work according to plan.
“For the most part it was sadly, like, extremely, scarily warm,” says Glazer, taking a sip of her Arnold Palmer. “But it was, like, emotional winter.”
ADDING THE CURRENT MOOD TO A NEW SEASON
In case there’s any doubt, she is referring to the aftermath of the presidential election, which fell in the middle of a planned break in the writing of Season 4. Regrouping in December, Jacobson and Glazer rewrote several episodes and tweaked details of others to reflect the current mood. (For instance, Ilana’s bedroom wall is now covered in Planned Parenthood posters.)
The way we were feeling was just so overwhelming that it felt like it had to be infused into the show as an overall undertone.
“The way we were feeling was just so overwhelming that it felt like it had to be infused into the show as an overall undertone,” explains Jacobson. As if on cue, a news alert on her computer announces the latest Trump administration controversy, a press conference at which the president seemed to backpedal from his earlier denunciation of white supremacists.
“He said, ‘What, are we gonna take down George Washington monuments next?’ I don’t know what the ... is happening,” she says wearily.
While “Broad City,” executive produced by Amy Poehler, is more about ridiculous capers than hot-button issues, it has an exuberant feminist streak evident in Abbi and Ilana’s steadfast friendship and a raunchy brand of body-positivity. Storylines revolve around mishaps like warping a prized dildo in the dishwasher or getting stuck on a long flight without a tampon. The duo also famously insisted that the pixels used to censor Ilana’s nether regions in one episode be dark, suggesting the presence of pubic hair, rather than flesh-toned.
Their response to Donald Trump’s victory is in keeping with this spirit. In an early episode from the new season, Ilana realizes with horror she hasn’t had an orgasm since Nov. 8. She seeks the help of a sex therapist modeled after Betty Dodson, famed for running workshops in which women look at their vaginas with mirrors -- “the perfect resistance art,” says Glazer.
Ilana’s orgasm drought “felt like a very organic, emotional way of talking about how we’re all feeling in response to the election,” says Jacobson.
Trump’s name is also bleeped like a curse word throughout the episode, a decision reached following conversations about “how are we gonna talk about this and not feel disgusting every time we say ‘Trump,’” Glazer says. ”This was a smaller, graspable joke that played on bigger questions.” Not saying his name “makes it feel a little bit better,” she continues, noting how former First Lady Michelle Obama criticized Trump on the campaign trail without mentioning him directly.
The show has a spirit and an energy to it that embraces everything you could say about Abbi and Ilana.
Comedy Central President Kent Alterman
“The show has a spirit and an energy to it that embraces everything you could say about Abbi and Ilana. It’s really funny, it’s really engaging, it’s really winning, and it’s also very political and has a strong point of view,” says Comedy Central President Kent Alterman. “I’d put it this way: there is no other reaction to the election like this one. It hits the target so hard.”
COMING INTO THEIR OWN AS STORYTELLERS
“Broad City’s” singular response to Trump reflects Jacobson and Glazer’s increased self-assurance as storytellers, Alterman says. After co-creating the series, the duo took over as showrunners in Season 2 and, in a further extension of their stewardship of “Broad City,” each directed two episodes this season.
“It’s a whole other part of this storytelling that I’ve always been really interested in. I feel like this was the right time to do it,” says Jacobson, who also recently hosted a contemporary art podcast called “A Piece of Work.”
Glazer agrees: “It felt clicked in and self-actualized — like oh, this is the final step in how the show is meant to run.”
More of a creative challenge for Glazer and Jacobson is that while their alter egos are struggling unknowns — the era when they might have thrown a house party in order to pay for a rat exterminator, as their alter egos did last season are well behind them — they no longer are. Jacobson concedes that coming up with the show’s signature “broke, scheming storylines” is “definitely more difficult” than it once was, but says they haven’t exhausted all the down-and-out tales from their 20s — at least not yet.
The friends have committed to at least one more season of “Broad City,” but the future of the series beyond that is an ongoing conversation. “I don’t think we’d ever want to do it past a point where every episode was our baby, which they still are,” Jacobson says.
Follow me @MeredithBlake
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