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Abbi and Ilana bring their usual unusual adventures to “Philadelphia”

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New York is its own character on Broad City. Tonight’s episode, however, takes Abbi and Ilana out of their natural habitat, out of the hustle and bustle of the city so essential to the show’s voice and style. Scored by Sleater-Kinney’s “A New Wave,” Abbi and Ilana take the train on down to Philadelphia—for a quick vape stop—and then over to Wayne, Pennsylvania, where Abbi Jacobson and her fictional counterpart are from. What happens when you take Abbi and Ilana out of New York? Well, they really just get up to their usual antics. Despite the change in scenery, “Philadelphia” unfolds like a fairly business-as-usual episode of Broad City. It’s a solid episode, one that spirals through a series of unfortunate and weird mishaps, but it does feel a bit like a missed opportunity for the show to have even more fun with the location change. Philadelphia only really provides some characters from Abbi’s past and a few Will Smith jokes. Oh, and Tony Danza.

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Danza plays Abbi’s father, and he’s a complete delight, especially in the meta tap dance sequence at the end of the episode (which is also a callback to last week when Ilana revealed her tap dancing skills on the subway). Abbi’s dad is sweet and loves her very much, which leads to some dialogue that’s funny just because of how unflinchingly sincere it is. Bless his heart. And bless tiny baby Abbi’s heart. She apparently used to play in trash as a regular childhood activity.

Danza is among many of the pleasant surprises in “Philadelphia,” which ends up being largely about Abbi and her own fears of being a horrible person. When she finds an envelope stuffed with cash she initially raised for an old friend who was hit by a bus, she hates herself for failing to follow through on her initial good intentions. The episode adheres to a tried-and-true Broad City format: Abbi and Ilana have a very clear destination (in this case, Alice’s home), but a series of unfortunate events distracts along the way. The second Abbi and Ilana wonder if it wouldn’t hurt to use $50 from the Alice fund on bowling shoes, it’s pretty clear where things are headed. And sure enough, the Alice fund dwindles as the episode progresses. Even though the broad plot and format is pretty predictable and familiar, even in Philadelphia, Broad City holds on to some of the weirdness it’s steeped in in New York. The specifics of how the money gets spent are where the fun is. The sequence between the girls, a bunch of underaged teens looking to score liquor, and a pair of gay cops perfectly captures the show’s bouncy, bizarre energy.

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Abbi runs into an old acquaintance named Carl, who has never been able to shake the unfortunate nickname Abbi bestowed upon him on their school field trip to Colonial Williamsburg. There’s an interesting throughline in “Philadelphia” of Abbi atoning for her wrongdoings in the past. And as their eventual encounter with Alice (who is not, in fact, deformed from her bus accident but actually an extremely hot and rich model) proves, Abbi still isn’t really a great person. Neither is Ilana, who spends most of her time very busy with the episode’s strangest plot, about a commemorative JonBenet Ramsey Beanie Baby Ilana uncovers amid Abbi’s childhood junk. The strangest plot leads to the strongest jokes, and the sheer ridiculousness of Ilana speaking about a Beanie Baby of a dead person in purely monetary terms provides some very biting humor. Alice essentially holds up a mirror to both characters to show them just how awful they sound and act, even as they’re trying to supposedly do the right thing. Again, this season seems to be increasingly about Abbi and Ilana’s shortcomings and their growing senses of self-awareness. Even though “Philadelphia” keeps things simple and familiar for the characters, it does awaken a complicated crisis within Abbi: Was she a terrible person? Is she still one? Ilana doesn’t really have a concrete or simple answer to that (“You know what… maybe… I don’t know”), and Broad City doesn’t either.

Stray observations

  • Abbi wondering whether she’s a bad person or not reminded me a little bit of the themes in the most recent episode of Girls.
  • I’m not sure if I’ll be able to forgive Abbi for harboring a childhood crush on Ross Geller.
  • “I’m not sexually aroused; I’m financially aroused.”
  • “I didn’t recognize you without the dreads. You look great without dreads.”
  • Abbi and her father have an unnecessarily complicated handshake, naturally.
  • In addition to Sleater-Kinney, Kim Gordon and Peaches are also featured in the episode.
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