Broad City: Season 1
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (5th January 2015).
The Show

“We are like feminist heroes right now!”

There’s a moment — a line, really — in the pilot episode of “Broad City” that is most certainly self-referential, but I wonder if Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, the co-creators, writers, executive producers and stars of the series, knew just how acutely accurate the moment was when they wrote and then filmed it. The two girls, desperate for money, do a terrible “bucket drumming” performance on the streets of New York City. While a small crowd boos, their friend, and Ilana’s sometimes sex-partner, Lincoln (Hannibal Buress) muses to an old woman sitting beside him watching. “They just need time to find their audience, ya know?” He continues, “the first season of ‘Seinfeld’ — not that many people saw the show. But it got time to grow.”

The amusing thing is not the inherent meta-humor of the joke, which Glazer and Jacobson wholly intended. They already knew their new cable show, based on their acclaimed cult web serial of the same name, would confuse some, and outright agitate if not alienate others, but probably find an audience… eventually (as it had on the internet before). No, it’s that, in retrospect, they were almost too right in their pithy, prescient prediction: the show grows in leaps and bounds even in its first season, with each episode better than the last. And I found myself evolving into an unapologetic fan right alongside. Even “Seinfeld” (1989-1998), in all its greatness, didn’t manage that. It’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus-less pilot is pretty terrible, and the rest of the first, ridiculously short season is mostly mediocre; it certainly doesn’t really resemble what the show became in subsequent and far more successful entires. “Seinfeld” wasn’t really “Seinfeld” until its second season, and the audience didn’t arrive until the third. “Broad City”, on the other hand, arrives almost fully formed — at least in a creative sense. It’s growth over the first season — which bursts forth with consistent tone and characters from the get go — is more one of refinement, focused on translating a web series into a traditional, ad-supported, broadcast format.

Initially, reaction to the series was mixed, despite the involvement of executive producer Amy Poehler and an cascade of cameos from an eclectic assemblage of comedians, including Poehler herself, Amy Sedaris, Janeane Garofalo, and others. But critics have warmed, and a respectable audience — albeit only in the realm of cable — has formed. Even I’ll admit to not being entirely sold after the pilot, but ultimately I came around. Pilots rarely capture a show’s spirit, because they’re overburdened with exposition. And in terms of basic plot, “Broad City” seems like a case of been there, done that. Two poor, perpetually stoned twenty-something friends — one a struggling artist working a dead end job, and the other a hopeless, sex-crazed hipster doing much the same — try to make it in New York, with all the romantic follies, personal and professional foibles, and the general awkwardness that usually emerges from the sitcom formula. They’ve got terrible roommates — not each other — and Abbi has a crush on the guy across the hall, Jeremy (Stephen Schneider), thus firmly establishing a will-they-won’t-they of terrible trite proportions. On paper, “Broad City” reads like little more than a cross between the atrocious “2 Broke Girls” (2011-present) and Lena Dunham’s oft-ostentatious “Girls” (2012-present). But it’s oh so much more than either of those two; far better, mostly because it’s actually really funny. Admittedly, much weirder, too.

The key to “City’s” success is how unique the two lead characters, very thinly disguised versions of the real life best friends and creators, are. It’s centered around something of an odd paring: the female equivalent of the so-called bromance, although even then it stands apart, as Abbi and Ilana’s relationship is not quite analogous to that now familiar trope. It’s clear Jacobson and Glazer fancy themselves a quintessential TV “couple”, and curiously, their characters most often compare themselves to famous male friendships. To wit:

Ilana: I’m sorry I got you maced.

Abbi: It’s alright. Wasn’t your fault. We’re just technically homeless right now.

Ilana: Ben Affleck was homeless… for a night… for charity. We’re, like, doing that. Involuntarily.

Abbi: Yeah, we’re a regular Matt and Ben. Exactly what’s happening.


Perhaps there’s a more subversive reason for this; perhaps the chosen parings are simply the most apt to their characters, regardless of gender. Abbi appoints herself the Penn to Ilana’s Teller (and as a testament to their bond, she responds, “Whatever… I’ll be who ever you don’t want to be.”) But more so than their unique friendship — which playfully tips the Kinsey Scale at times — the characters themselves don’t really bring to mind an of the usual archetypes for their gender. The girls are poor, but have no interest in upward mobility. They’re not appearance obsessed, or interested in getting internet famous. They even shy away from most New York-y things, which the series exploits in its rather unusual depiction of the city.

The old cliche, seen in numerous films and series, is that NYC is a character itself; glamorous or romantic, and usually both. Here, in “Broad City”, it’s dirty. The girls stick to the dingiest, graffitied, boroughs, and they shy away from the Upper East Side (a very funny sequence has them visiting the affluent neighborhood, viewing the stuffy society-types through distorted fish-eye lenses, catching non sequiturs like “I don’t mind tsunamis, but why must they hit Bermuda?”). “City’s” New York is dangerous, too. Steven Ogg — voice actor and character model for the sociopathic Trevor Philips from “GTA V” — plays a locksmith the girls decide might actually kill them in their sleep, so they have him open the door to someone else’s house for them, rather than reveal Ilana’s real address. In another episode, when Abbi looses her phone, Ilana worries her friend has been killed. She tells Lincoln to watch the local news: “They only cover rapes and murders.” When the duo is reunited — it turns out Abbi merely lost her phone at a bar — Illana is overjoyed. “Thank god” she says, “I thought you got SVU’ed!” And most of all, this version of the city doesn’t seem quite real at all. An especially hilarious episode involves a subplot in which Abbi runs around the city, in a quest to pick up a package from the post office. Her final destination: a dilapidated warehouse, where a single desk manned by an old woman eating yogurt, named Garol (with a G) sits, judging. Shot at odd canted angles, once again with extremely wide angle lenses, the whole sequence looks like something out of a Terry Gilliam movie, and has his warped sensibility, too. Or perhaps even more closely, it shares an aesthetic with the oddly obtuse version of New York in Louis C.K. tonally-similar sitcom, “Louie” (2010-present).

“Broad City” is occasionally surreal, and unusually morbid well beyond the depiction of the city in which its set. When the girls are high — and honestly, they’re rarely not — there are always some incredibly absurd exchanges that very funny. When the duo light up with some restaurant staff on Abbi’s birthday, they have a discussion about how all the animals from the films of their youth are probably dead:

Abbi: All 101 dalmatians from “101 Dalmatians” are dead!

Ilana: I guess Babe from “Babe’” is dead.

Abbi: We could’ve eaten Babe tonight.

Ilana: Well, maybe not. Pigs live longer than dogs. I think they might live longer than humans.

High Waiter: I think that’s turtles.


And then there’s the subtlest aspect of the series: its feminist streak. Like Abbi and Ilana themselves, who become more likeable as the series has time to grow on you, there’s nothing really overtly feminist on the surface — unless rounded female characters, who seem real and believable is somehow in that category (and, sadly, perhaps it is). The most blatant moment is actually a brilliant reversal, in which Ilana and Abbi openly ogle and rate guys on the street. The sequence is total objectification of the male form, in much the same way females are usually gazed upon in media. Slo-mo close-ups — of guys’ dangly-bits, in revealing basketball shorts — flip the script. Upon getting caught, one of the players approaches them: “Hey ladies, you’re staring is making some of the guys uncomfortable.” It’s a classic pot meet kettle, as the roles would be reverse in any other situation and almost any other show or film. Little asides like this persist through out the series, done skillfully enough that they amount to an amusing scenarios in standalone, but collectively, in succession, as each instance mounts, contribute to a greater female empowerment theme allowed to grow throughout the series.

All that aside, the show’s just really funny. Quotable, with lots of quirky supporting characters — like Bevers (John Gemberling), the bearded boyfriend of Abbi’s always curiously absent roommate; Jaime, Ilana’s gay, pot-dealing friend who illegally emigrated from Venezuela; and plenty of strange cameos among them — and a pair of leads who take viewers on adventures all around town, for no other reason than their lives are kind of terrible, and would be otherwise boring.

“Broad City’s” 10 episode first season is spread across two discs. Episodes are:

- “What a Wonderful World” — When Ilana finds out about a secret, pop-up Lil Wayne concert, she and Abbi hustle their way through New York City to scrape together enough money for tickets. No matter how creepy it gets — and it gets creepy, like cleaning Fred Armisen’s apartment in their underwear creepy — the girls keep their eyes on the prize.

- “Pussy Weed” — The girls need to grow up… Abbi wants to buy her own weed, like a grown woman, while Ilana tries to file her own taxes. Also, the girls are super-duper stoned the whole time.

- “Working Girls” — Ilana tries to make some extra cash in the temp game. Abi promises Jeremy that she will wait for his package, but when she misses the delivery, she must go to the ends of the earth — or a bizarre warehouse in the business district — to recover it.

- “The Lockout” — After Abbi bug bombs her apartment, and Ilana misplaces her keys, the girls are forced to face life on the streets — just in time for Abbi’s first art gallery show.

- “Fattest Asses” — When Abbi realizes she’s too nice, she puts her “bitch hat” on while Ilana decides to achieve her full potential. They attend a high-end party and meet some adventurous DJ's (Matt Jones and Jason Mantzoukas). Literally nothing — or, rather, everything — could go wrong.

- “Stolen Phone” — After trying to find dudes on Facebook, Abbi and Ilana decide to meet some guys IRL, or “in real life” (Abbi wonders: “Why abbreviate that? It’s the same number of syllables.”) Abi meets the guy of her dreams, but loses her phone, and thus, his number. Lana meets the sexual partner of her dreams — a bisexual guy with the body of a Greek God and a Ph.D in cunnilingus — but loses interesting after seeing his terrible improv troupe.

- “Hurricane Wanda” — Abbi and Ilana ride out an upcoming storm with their number twos and threes (Jaime, Lincoln, and Jeremy), but are unfortunately also joined by Bevers and his sister. A game of “Who Done It?” plays out while the hurricane rages outside.

- “Destination: Wedding” — The girls, along with Lincoln and some old catering co-workers, head to a wedding in Baltimore. But when the trip becomes a comedy of errors, Ilana must confront Abbi’s past friendships before they met.

- “Apartment Hunters” — Abbi is riding high after selling her art, but when Bevers pushes her to the breaking point, she starts a search for a new apartment. The ridiculousness of NYC real estate and a quirky realtor (Amy Sedaris) make her question this choice. Meanwhile, Ilana is trapped in her own personal hell as she deals with the cable company and a creepy ex — who may or may not have given her herpes.

- “The Last Supper” — The girls go to a fancy-ass restaurant for Abbi’s 26th birthday. After an incident in the bathroom, Abbi must come to terms with being a “nasty bitch”, and Ilana pushes through their hive-inducing evening eating shellfish among classy socialites. Meanwhile, the chef (guest star Amy Poehler, who also directed the episode) bickers in the back of house with her boyfriend.

Video

Shot digitally on the Arri Alexa, with an actual budget and a better crew, the broadcast version of “Broad City” looks much better than its web-based counterpart. Filmed on location, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (the opening, parody music video hallucination in episode 9 is letterboxed at 2.35:1) offers decent detail, for standard definition, with clearly rendered graffiti art and minimal moire in various brick-sided buildings around the city. Contrast is modest, with inky blacks, but faint whites — likely by design. Colors are surprisingly bright, especially in comparison to the grimy surroundings. Sequences while characters are in an “inebriated state” have deliberately wonky focus, distorted colors, added, artificial grain and noise, among other things. Conversations on webcams, as well as dreams and other “fantasy” asides often employ visual tricks — blurring lensbaby optics, boosted contrast, and tweaked colors — which distort the image in ways that produce less “optimal” results as well. “Broad City” looks pretty good on DVD, although it is occasionally quite stylized.

Audio

The English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack is a bit thin, and intermittently disappointing considering the frequency of club scenes, walks along lively city sidewalks, and other arenas that could be filled with all sorts of wonderful surround activity in a multi-channel mix. The loud, barely 10-second opening theme “song” is probably the most sonically energetic moment of any one episode — which are usually driven by dialog and little else. All 10 episodes feature uncensored audio, with the character's frequent use of f-bombs and other profanity, previously bleeped in broadcast, in the clear. Optional English subtitles have also been included on all episodes.

Extras

“Broad City” offers plenty of bonus material: deleted and extended scenes, alternate outtakes, a photo gallery, animation reels, as well as video commentaries with cast and crew members on four episodes.

DISC ONE:

As discussed elsewhere, in the video commentaries on disc two, “Broad City” is a mix of improvisation and actual scripting. As such, there’s a lot of bloat at wrap of each episode, resulting in trimmed scenes, outright deletions, and a number of alternate, ad-libbed lines that either didn't fit into an episode or ended up ruining a take. In a welcomed move, some of the excess material that didn’t make it into a 22 minute episode, is collected here on the two discs in the set. The scenes and alt-takes are in various stages of completion: most are without color correction and lack a finished sound mix, some have visible boom mics and clacking slates, but a few are broadcast ready. Disc one includes the following deleted scenes, extended scenes, alternate scenes, and outtakes (1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen):

- “Lincoln Alts” (1 minute 9 seconds).
- “Uncut ‘Pussy Weed’ Cold Open” (2 minutes 34 seconds).
- “Killian Casey Alts” (2 minutes 58 seconds).
- “Chicken Kicks” (45 seconds).
- “Uncut ‘Working Girl’ Cold Open” (1 minute 8 seconds).
- “Rachel Dratch Outtakes” (1 minute 41 seconds).
- “Garol Outtakes” (2 minutes 2 seconds).
- “Janeane Garofalo Alts” (1 minute 8 seconds).
- “Abbi Sells Her Drawing For $17.50” (3.56:1 anamorphic, split-screen; 1 minute 57 seconds).

The first disc also offers three galleries. The first is an image gallery of captioned "Behind the Scenes" photos (36 images). The other two are video reels of Mike Perry’s animations: color bumpers (1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen; 1 minute 31 seconds) and black-and-white variations of the opening titles (1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen; 2 minutes 2 seconds).

DISC TWO:

Jacobson, Glazer and the other members of the cast and crew have recorded four video commentaries on select episodes from season one, all of which are collected on the second disc for some reason. The tracks feature commentators sitting on bean bags, riffing on various elements — the writing, guest stars, and random bits that have little to do with the show at all. Jacobson and Glazer seem oddly sedate at times in the first commentary (I wonder if they’re high — or at least pretending to be?), and the video aspect is a bit cluttered, with two windows surrounded by a brick backing with popup graffiti art. Commentaries are offered on the following episodes:

- “Pussy Weed” with co-creators/executive producers/writers/actors Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer.

- “Working Girls” with writer/actor Paul W. Downs and writer/director Lucia Aniello.

- "Apartment Hunters” with co-creators/executive producers/writers/actors Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer.

- "The Last Supper” with co-creators/executive producers/writers/actors Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer.

A medley of deleted scenes, extended scenes, alternate scenes, and outtakes (1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen) from various episodes are also included on disc two:

- “Improv Show Extras” (1 minute 37 seconds).
- “Janelle Caricature Scene” (23 seconds).
- “Talent Show” (3 minutes 7 seconds).
- “Amy Sedaris Alts” (2 minutes 36 seconds).
- “Bed Montage” (2 minutes 31 seconds).
- “Uncut ‘Apartment Hunters’ Cold Open” (2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen; 2 minutes 11 seconds).
- “Dale Off the Phone” (2 minutes 5 seconds).
- “Amy Sedaris Car Outtakes” (7 minutes 47 seconds).
- “Abbi Carrying Ilana” (1 minute 7 seconds).
- “Amy Poehler and Seth Morris” (1 minute 39 seconds).

Packaging

Comedy Central and Paramount Home Entertainment bring “Broad City: Season One” to DVD in a two disc set. The discs are housed on opposing sides of a keep case. A map of Broad City, drawn by co-creator/star Abbi Jacobson, is also included in the package.

Overall

From the punnerific title to its weird but mostly loveable characters and their occasionally absurd adventures, “Broad City” is more than first meets the eye. It’s a series that, given time to grow, could blossom into something truly special. As is, it’s already pretty great: very funny and occasionally subversive. The DVD release offers solid video, a plain Dolby stereo soundtrack, and some substantive supplements. Recommended.

The Show: A- Video: B Audio: C Extras: B Overall: B

 


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