Why do so many of us love ‘Broad City’ and hate-love ‘Girls’?
Just like HBO’s “Girls,” Comedy Central’s “Broad City” is a series about young women living in New York City, fumbling toward adulthood whether they like it or not. But while the two series share a central premise, their approaches to love, life and friendship couldn’t be more different. With the conclusion this week of each show’s most recent season, these differences have became more apparent.
Consider the episode of “Broad City,” now in its third season, when longtime best friends Abbi Abrams (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana Wexler (Ilana Glazer) put their apartments on Airbnb in an attempt to make a quick buck over the weekend. Temporarily homeless, the pair attempt to camp out on the roof of Ilana’s building, until a stiff breeze demolishes their tent. Undaunted, the girls decide to club hop in lieu of couch crashing, and their adventures together continue.
Meanwhile, in the fifth season of “Girls,” Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) had a harder time of it. After realizing her former best friend, Jessa, is now dating her ex-boyfriend, Adam, Hannah finds herself without her established support system to lean on. She’s lost Jessa to love, Marnie to marriage and Shoshanna to Japan. Eventually she ends up reconnecting with a former nemesis and spends the day in a state of true friendship she hasn’t experienced with her actual friends in ages.
When “Girls,” which was created by Dunham, debuted in 2012, it was critically lauded for its raw and refreshing tale about four twentysomething friends struggling to find their own way in the world as they flub their careers, relationships and lives.
But the series proved to be divisive as it aged, often because its characters seemed to be forever stagnating in a way that struck an unpleasant chord with its audience. Washington Post writer Alyssa Rosenberg called it “the sort of show that is designed to be outgrown.”
The friendships that “Girls” revolved around fractured and revealed their sometimes-toxic core. Tellingly, in the final moments of Season 5, we see each of the titular girls on their own, pursuing lives that increasingly split them further from each other and — possibly — closer to maturity and happiness.
Contrast this idea with “Broad City,” which was received with similarly laudatory reviews in its 2014 premiere. Created by comedians Jacobson and Glazer, the series centers on two characters who are best friends forever as they smoke weed and find themselves in ridiculously crude, sometimes-hallucinatory, perpetually amusing situations.
What’s curious about “Broad City” is how similar the character beats are to its HBO predecessor. Both Abbi and Ilana struggle, often fruitlessly, to drag themselves forward into something resembling progress, only to end each episode as developmentally arrested as they began.
Yet that predictable haplessness that audiences love about “Broad City” often spurs consternation when it crops up on “Girls.”
“Broad City” is a beautiful, pot-hazed Neverland where characters and audience members alike never have to grow up and never have to grow old. The idea that Abbi and Ilana lead existences that are largely static, with Abbi’s constant relationship woes and Ilana’s always-perilous employment situation, is a comfort rather than a concern.
Part of why that works is because of the strength of Abbi and Ilana’s relationship. As evidenced, particularly by the final three episodes of this season, the relationship between the women is airtight. When Ilana loses would-be boyfriend Lincoln in the episode called “Burning Bridges” it devastates her, but nowhere near as much as the thought that she might be losing Abbi as well.
It’s a sentiment that also arises in the “Girls” season finale when, in the midst of an apartment-destroying argument, Jessa tells Adam that she hates him for taking her away from Hannah. While part of Jessa does seem to mourn the loss of her relationship with Hannah, when the episode concludes, she’s still by Adam’s side, not Hannah’s.
Abbi and Ilana, however, are as solid as ever at the end of the “Burning Bridges” episode, and when the season concludes, they’re still side by side (even if they are in police custody).
Abbi and Ilana’s relationship is the type of forever friendship so many of us yearn to cultivate, one that stands the test of time whether we grow as people or not. Plus, it just looks like fun to be them.
Hannah’s relationships with Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna, in contrast, are shadows of what they were when the series premiered. As we watch Hannah sabotage opportunity after opportunity or Jessa self-destruct for the thousandth time, their lives seem caught in a hellish loop, a Sisyphean fate we actively fear.
We look at Hannah and her friends and worry, “They’re just like me; I hate them.”
We look at Abbi and Ilana and hope, “They’re just like me; I love them.”
Hannah ends the fifth season of “Girls” on her own and is happier for it. Abbi and Ilana end the third season of “Broad City” together and content.
Both shows, though, go a long way toward addressing the same question: Can you and your relationships survive the messy transition to adulthood?
Separately, each series speaks to the importance of those friendships that provide the foundation of adulthood. Together, they identify the seduction and destruction that comes with stagnation and underline the importance of knowing which friendships buoy you and which hold you back. They are funny and fragile, two sides of the same brilliant coin.
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