In “Co-Op,” Ilana and Abbi spend most of their time apart, but the depth of their friendship is on full display throughout in another fantastic episode that encompasses everything the show does best. When Ilana faces expulsion from the Greene Hill Food Co-Op (it’s her last day to complete her shifts for the current moon cycle, but she has an important doctor’s appointment), Abbi steps in to cover the shift—not for her, but as Ilana. Ilana, to a lesser extent, becomes Abbi, but Abbi-as-Ilana (and therefore Abbi Jacobson) emerges as the episode’s MVP. It’s kind of surprising that it has taken these two this long to switch places, but the Broad City writers know what they’re doing. Watching Abbi pretend to be Ilana is an instant recipe for success, and it surely would have been funny last season or even in the first, but the fact that it happens now takes it all to the next level. “Co-Op” is masterful because of how well we know these characters at this point. Abbi’s Ilana impression—and Ilana’s coaching on how to be Ilana—taps into so much of the character development and meticulous details that have been poured into Broad City over the course of the past two seasons.

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Broad City’s jokes so often operate on more than one level. They’re not just funny lines or off-hand comments; they are details that give us a sense of who these characters are. The jokes of Broad City give depth to its world and the people who live in it. Everything about Ilana coaching Abbi on how to be her—no matter how weird it gets—looks and sounds familiar, because it’s all based on careful character work that goes all the way back to the first season. We’ve seen those inexplicable Latina earrings before; we’ve seen that weird hidden-upper-lip face she makes; we’ve obviously seen that vape before (“Vape life” happens the second episode ever). Abbi slips into Ilana’s clothes, which have also become such a recognizable facet of the character. Ilana effortlessly pulls off looks few others can, and I’ve become so accustomed to her personal style that I don’t even think about how wild it is anymore…until Abbi swaps clothes with her and looks ridiculous. We’ve also heard all the voices Ilana runs through before as she reviews some key Ilana-isms with Abbi—her very specific pronunciation of “yas kween” being the most important, obviously. But even the specific ways she says the other phrases (okay, I heard “I’m not a dick” but Abbi hears “smell a dick” and then there’s something about “nice pussy bitch” ?), while less familiar than “yas kween” ring as totally true to Ilana. See, I can’t even make out exactly what she’s saying (nor can Abbi, it seems), but I know that it still sounds like Ilana. With their attention to details, the Broad City writers have made sure we know these characters inside and out.

And it gets even better when Ilana leaves to go take care of her doctor’s appointment and Abbi is left on her own to be the best Ilana she can be. Her impression is just slightly off—almost like she’s playing Ilana so exactly that it turns into a caricature of her best friend. Abbi hits the uncanny valley of becoming Ilana, and it’s both beautiful and unsettling. Again, she does and says things that are instantly familiar as Ilanaisms. “Rape culture sucks—recognize!” she shouts as she enters the co-op. Callbacks to past Ilana moments are woven throughout, like when Abbi-Ilana says “we are on the fast-track to caramel and queerdom,” which comes from something Ilana said all the way back in season one’s “The Lockout.” Abbi-Ilana’s non-sequiturs and inappropriate fondling of produce would seem perfectly natural coming from Ilana (in fact, we see a lot of it in the beginning of the episode, before the switcheroo), but coming from Abbi, it looks and sounds ridiculous. And there’s still so much of Abbi in Abbi-Ilana, who falls for Craig, an earthy co-op hottie who, like Abbi, is a struggling artist. Watching Jacobson bounce between awkward, lovestruck Abbi and confident, weird Ilana is delightful. Plus, when Abbi-Ilana talks up Abbi to Craig, she’s still in character as Ilana, who would definitely describe Abbi as “an undiscovered genius with the ass of the angel.” In fact, she has said at least half of that before in season one’s “Fattest Asses,” when Ilana describes Abbi by saying “chocolate-brown eyes, ass of an angel.” That attention to detail and the layers to Abbi’s impression make it so much more than just a conventional switching-places storyline.

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“Co-Op” also brings back the recurring gag (emphasis on gag) of people asking Abbi to clean up disgusting messes involving human hair. So much of the episode taps into jokes and details that have become familiar and yet not overdone, because Broad City finds ways to heighten them and tailor them specifically to the story told in “Co-Op,” which remains extremely faithful to both characters. Ilana is hit with some potentially life-shattering news when Lincoln tells her he hooked up with someone else. The build to Lincoln’s confession is great. While Ilana is busy freaking out about her third and final HPV-vaccine shot, Lincoln is very obviously anxious in his own way. But Ilana reacts to the news in a way that makes sense for her. “Co-Op” messes with us a bit by making her seem like she’s furiously going over the details of Lincoln’s hookup (which are worth recounting: she jerked him off for eight minutes with almond oil; they had sex doggy-style; she finished first; they spooned while watching YouTube videos of news anchor fails; Lincoln was the little spoon). Really, she wants him to repeat everything because she’s incredibly turned on by it, excitedly pointing out that they’re poly before swan-diving into a penis kiss. On just about any other show, Lincoln’s confession would have led to a much different reaction. But Broad City knows exactly who Ilana is, and jealousy isn’t her. Her reaction might seem bizarre—even to Lincoln, who has trouble reading her intensity—but it’s actually perfectly rational for the show and the character. The scene ends up being a crucial character moment and further develops the relationship between Lincoln and Ilana organically.

Speaking of organic, back at the co-op, things take a turn when Craig starts falling for Abbi…the Abbi that Abbi-Ilana describes to him. Suddenly, Ilana has to step up to the plate and pretend to be Abbi, and she’s terrible at it. “I love pugs. My family comes from a long line of colonial Jews,” she says in a cartoonish voice before faking a phone call from a doctor about a labia reduction (okay, that phone call was pretty on the money). Again, the fact that Ilana fails to capture Abbi’s likeness yet nails her unflattering tendencies—despite loving Abbi more than anyone else on the planet—makes perfect sense. The impression she does is the impression we can expect from her. Broad City isn’t exactly a rule-following show. It certainly lets Abbi and Ilana bend expectations as well as defy systems, like the co-op, which they both end up banned from for life. But it does all of that within the confines of the rules the writers have made for themselves over the course of the show’s run. Broad City surprises without ever going against its characters.

Stray observations

  • I’ll try to use these strays every week as a space to touch on any of the callbacks I noticed that don’t get worked into the actual review. In this episode, the gynecologist calls back to Ilana’s mom’s affinity for finding knockoff handbags (although the doctor doesn’t know hers is a fake). What else did you catch that I may have missed?
  • I do not myself belong to a food co-op, but two of my close friends belong to the one in Park Slope, and most of the co-op humor here is extremely on point and not even that exaggerated. When I go to the co-op with them, I have to wear a very large sticker that brands me as a non-member, and I’m not even allowed to touch any of the groceries in the store. I was afraid to even look at them.
  • The episode’s cold open is also fantastic.
  • I love when Broad City finds fun ways to play with the inherent differences between Abbi and Ilana, like when the girl from the churron line immediately hates Abbi and immediately loves Ilana.
  • An exact quote from my notes on the episode that reads like a short poem: “Abbi-Ilana twerks, knocks over the bulk beans.”
  • “Don’t try and butter me up. I’m a vegan.”
  • Like Ilana, I am pretty sure I’ve never heard a Phish song. But even I know that her improvised phake Phish song is right on the money.

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