Reviewing Broad City has been a challenge if only because I’m running out of ways to say how much I love Abbi and Ilana’s friendship. Their dynamic is what sold Comedy Central on the series, earned a rabid following, and solidified the show’s singular voice. For all the endearing secondary characters and spot-on New York City backdrops, the reason why people continue to love Broad City is Abbi and Ilana as a pair. Their bond informs just about every scene on the show, and so it has become more and more difficult to keep myself from spinning off about their friendship on a weekly basis.
Luckily, “St. Mark’s” is the best episode in recent memory to help me articulate what I love specifically about how Broad City approaches friendship—not to mention something it does better than just about any other comedy in the game. Unlike almost all other televised friendships—especially those between women—Abbi and Ilana’s bond doesn’t depend on conflict to be interesting. Why should it? Offscreen and on, Abbi and Ilana are at their best when they’re inspiring the other to be the baddest bitch she can be.
As a visibly enthusiastic Jon Stewart recently told Glazer and Jacobson when they were on The Daily Show, one of the most distinct things about Broad City is that it’s a comedy that prioritizes joy, and there’s no better example than how it treats its central friendship. The biggest fight Abbi and Ilana have ever had was over Abbi making out with another girl, and it was still barely big enough to be considered a speed bump along the way. It’s impressive even just on a technical level for a comedy to consistently work without leaning on the characters clashing. Broad City has emerged as one of the strongest comedies on television while rarely going to the same well as any of the others. There are rarely any wacky misunderstandings or passive aggressive mixed signals, and most crucially, Abbi and Ilana never compete. Women are so often pitted against each other that the absence of competition is at first startling, and then such a relief. It’s hard to say whether Glazer and Jacobson made the conscious choice to keep their characters from fighting or if that effortless dynamic came naturally from their own friendship, but either way, Broad City’s innate joy is what sets it apart.
So even though I’m not sure I would have loved “St. Mark’s Place” quite as much if it had aired elsewhere in the season, it shines as a finale. For one, focusing on their plans for Ilana’s birthday is a perfectly nostalgic echo of Abbi’s fancy birthday dinner from last season’s finale. Ilana turning 23 is different than Abbi turning 26, though, and so her birthday episode is appropriately adjusted to include wigs, brief sympathy for a “business Guido,” and wondering whether she could get all the people she’s hooked up with to come to her funeral for one last circle jerk (“that might bring me back to life, seriously!”).
“St. Mark’s Place” also adds even more fringe characters to Broad City’s bizarre New York City. This second season has done a remarkable job of fleshing out secondary characters, between Jaime’s quests for frozen yogurt and citizenship, Ilana’s doppelgänger mother, Jeremy’s custom dildo, Trey’s secret past as Kirk Steele (Man on a Mission, A Cum Mission), and even Bevers’ attempts to class it up for his girlfriend. To close out season two, “St. Mark’s Place” calls in a final set of flawlessly cast cameos.
Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant and Late Night with Seth Meyers writer Conor O’Malley (a real life couple!) crash Ilana’s birthday dinner as Those People you are always dodging, whether on Facebook or at a black box theater for a horrifying one-man show. As they chatter on about nothing in particular in voices set to the frequency of fingernails scraping a chalkboard, Abbi and Ilana exchange panicked looks and finally ditch them with a desperate waste of $30 wine. RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Jiggly Caliente sells Ilana a wig. Then, a whiny “runaway teen” (Kids’ Leo Fitzpatrick) steals Abbi’s bag and leads them on a wild chase through St. Mark’s, only to end up at a gorgeous townhouse where he has been living for over 30 years. Patricia Clarkson rips into the part of his depressed and fed-up mother, and while her rage is jarring, there is maybe nothing better in this world than the absolute venom Clarkson spits when calling out her son’s “loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser life (loser).” Glazer and Jacobson’s script is good, but Clarkson’s ferocious commitment to this bit is just spectacular.
Still, even a man on stilts dressed as a tree can’t distract from the fact that the most satisfying parts of “St. Marks” happen while just wandering around with Abbi and Ilana, weaving in between trashed girls and trash men without missing a step. So much of this episode is just listening to Abbi and Ilana ramble on about everything from funerals to Beanie Babies. Director Nicholas Jasenovec emphasizes Abbi and Ilana’s easy rapport with several long takes in which the camera matches their pace. We follow them down St. Mark’s, eavesdropping as they riff on what every age means before turning around to flip off a street harasser in a gruesome approximation of the smiles he requested. We race alongside them down the crowded street, through cramped bodega aisles and startled kitchens, and finally to an alleyway that stops at least Abbi in her tracks. (Where did your parkour expertise go, lady?) Later, after the night has completely unraveled and they can’t be bothered to find a restaurant, we sit with them on a stoop outside a greasy pizza place and hear about their past accomplishments and future dreams. Glazer, Jacobson, and their script draws on years of friendship and acting together to make these uninterrupted, scripted takes feel natural. Debriefing over curb pizza isn’t a huge moment to end a season on, but for Broad City, it’s exactly right.
- If you haven’t sent the GIF of our broads lifting up smiles with their middle fingers to at least a dozen people by now, I don’t have much more to say to you. But I’ll try:
- Going off what I said last week about the show casually being progressive: Ilana saying she hopes next year involves decreasing her anti-depressant dosage. When was the last time a comedy dropped something like that without making it a dumb punchline?
- I couldn’t even wrap my head around Ilana’s birthday blanket when it was trailing on a New York City street, what’s the point of saving it at all!
- It helped to film on the actual street, but the show also did an awesome job recreating the gloriously tacky mess that is St. Marks.
- “You tell me, Ma, you’re the psychiatrist. Or do I need to make an appointment?” “Maybe you should. But you can’t afford me, because you don’t work.” Seriously, where can I learn how to growl like Patricia Clarkson?!
- “You wrote your will on a napkin?” “I made copies, obviously.”
- “22 was pretty great for me. I mean, that was the year I met you.”