If Broad City was going to flesh out just one of its recurring characters for this second season, I’m so glad they picked Trey. Paul Downs’ completely committed portrayal has taken what could be a flat character—the blandly enthusiastic physical trainer—and made him much more fun to be around. In the spirit of a show that never wastes the opportunity to add more jokes (please see the porn domain names at the top of this review’s picture), Downs has never once slacked off on a line read or an opportunity to give something as small as a gesture more comedic impact. Even seemingly innocuous asides can read as harder jokes in Downs’ hands. (“I’m always looking for you, I love it!”) I had been hoping ever since “Hashtag FOMO” revealed that Trey considers Abbi to be his “funny friend” that it would mean spending more time with Trey, and so I’m thrilled that this week’s revelations and covert gym operations are such a great showcase for him. Having the episode kick off with Ilana finding Trey humping beach balls right as she finishes her complex masturbation preparation is just a beautiful bonus.
“Kirk Steele” also sets Abbi and Ilana against each other as a study of contrasts without being so simplistic as making Abbi the responsible one and Ilana the wild card. Abbi spends the episode desperately trying to fake her way into some kind of upward mobility. Ilana, however, is perfectly happy where she is. Why shouldn’t she, when even the archetypical Park Slope mother she babysits for (Amy Ryan) finds her so refreshing? In fact, a pattern has emerged throughout this season where people see Ilana (and sometimes Abbi) as some sort of adorable oddity. Her shameless attitude and commitment to bucking the status quo with as many social justice buzzwords as possible is just precious to people like Oliver’s mother and Paul’s trainer friend Gemma; it’s condescension disguised as enthusiasm. Ryan sells her character’s oblivious privilege with relish even when the jokes about her bourgeois background are a little too on the nose. I was perfectly happy to have her as an amusing one-off guest star, and then she made me want so much more when she mused that hey, maybe the less fortunate do get as cold as her horses.
Ilana’s not too worried, though. She’s too busy trying to keep Oliver from going down a dark path—one that leads to him becoming yet another “useless rich old white man” who would graduate Yale, “kill a stripper, and settle out of court.” And so she sets about showing Oliver the ways of her world, which is decidedly more colorful and less Goop-approved than his spotless home life. Ilana’s life lessons for Oliver also plays into the running joke that Ilana can sometimes rail so hard against offensive things that she accidentally veers into being offensive herself, though she gets a harder reality check than usual when people overhear her telling Oliver that he is the most disadvantaged person on the subway because he is “poor in experience.” While Abbi’s concern that someone let Ilana take care of another life is probably valid, Ilana and Oliver work wonderfully as a pair. Ilana’s total honesty policy means that Oliver gets to see and hear some things his mother might not approve, but it also makes her an earnest and heartfelt babysitter. It’s clear even before he cons his mother into pawning off her designer clothes and sashays away with an Ilana-esque “yas, kween!” that Oliver adores her. If Ilana ends up doing more babysitting and less sleeping at Deals! Deals! Deals!, you won’t hear me complaining.
While Trey is the obvious star of “Kirk Steele” (both the episode and the porn), the glue that holds the episode together is director Lucia Aniello—who is also fittingly enough Downs’ longtime writing partner. From the pilot through to “Kirk Steele,” Aniello’s direction is consistently Broad City’s best. She has directed Abbi to North Brother Island, followed impossibly perfect smoke rings across a New York University dorm room and, in an instantly singular and famous scene, framed Jeremy’s apartment from behind a dangling dildo. “Kirk Steele” doesn’t always move at the steady clip some of the series’ stronger episodes have, but Aniello’s direction sets itself apart with several disparate scenes. There is the open space of Oliver’s pristine apartment and Beacon’s Closet versus the claustrophobic quarters of the maintenance closet Abbi reluctantly uses as her “office” and the New York subway (where no one talks about Uber, Oliver). There is the darkened bar where Abbi interviews for wristband duty versus the startling brightness outside, where dozens of hopefuls wait for their turn. There are the contrasting montages for Ilana and Abbi’s routines for special occasions. Ilana prepares to masturbate with a leisurely sequence in which she puts on green lipstick and a sparkly bra, slurps up an oyster, and replaces pictures of her family with pictures of Abbi. Meanwhile, Abbi’s brainstorming technique manifests itself as a frantic take on traditional cocaine snorting montages—though this is still Abbi we’re talking about, so the cocaine is actually the rye toast points from Chex Mix.
Then there are Trey’s porn videos, alternately filmed in the flat style of a webcam, a handheld camera, and a fixed tripod (hey guys, are we doing phrasing?). The final montage of Trey’s 2004 porn even intercuts the would-be scintillating orca-humping action with talking head interviews where Trey casually talks about his siblings and dreams of being a stunt choreographer, as if he is on a first date instead of making porn on Christmas Day.
Again: Broad City never wastes space where there could be a joke instead.
Downs then helps Aniello’s contrasting cuts land harder by deadpanning the interviews, smirking through Trey’s self-serious attempts to be sexy (“Oof, I stink”), and screaming his overzealous orgasms. If Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are the pair that make Broad City’s heart beat, Paul Downs and Lucia Aniello are its consistently brilliant secret weapons.
- Edit: It’s been pointed out to me that Abbi actually takes out those weird hard rye toast points from the Chex Mix so it can be the only part she snorts. Sometimes I don’t know where Abbi ends and I begin, but on this point, I cannot relate.
- One thing about “Kirk Steele” that I both appreciate and fear is the spot-on depiction of the 2004-era aesthetic. It’s time to accept it: it’s 2015, and “the 2004-era aesthetic” officially counts as “period.” I knew I should’ve never thrown away my Hot Topic cherry sweatbands!
- (Just kidding, of course I should have thrown them away, they were terrible.)
- There were funnier jokes this episode, but the one thing I couldn’t stop giggling at was Abbi and Trey frantically switching places while brainstorming in her “office.”
- That Beacon’s Closet induced shame spiral is very real. It also helps that the unimpressed clerk was played to snobby perfection by Orange Is The New Black’s Kimiko Glenn.
- Who do I have to talk to for a flashback to Abbi the mushroom chocolate magnate?!
- “I thought Leighton Meester wore it best.” Abbi, you are correct. Leighton Meester always wore it best.
- “Please Abbi, I have a kid!” “What, you do?” “Probably!”
- “I usually just Google ‘porn,’ which… is probably why I really, really don’t like most of it.”