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Broad City tackles a devastating breakup in one of the series' most emotional episodes

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Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer don’t get to flex their dramatic acting skills very often on Broad City. The madcap style of this comedy means that they’re most often giving over-the-top comedic performances. That’s not to say that there isn’t nuance in their performances from week to week. Both women have proven time and again that they can elevate even the simplest, silliest material into something raw, relatable, weird.

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But “Sleep No More” is a rare chapter for the co-stars in how much it forces them to tap into the dramatic side of things. It is the most emotional episode the show has ever tackled, pushing both characters to the very edges of their biggest fears and anxieties. It’s beautifully acted and written from start to finish, a glowing display of this friendship and the complications that arise with life changes. It’s a rare episode of Broad City in that it’s instantly indelible not for its oddball sense of humor but rather for the deep, powerful emotions it stirs.

The setting of Sleep No More is perfect for all this, an example of Broad City’s strong sense of voice and style. It’s particular to New York City, which is as much a character on this show as Abbi and Ilana themselves. It allows for wacky physical comedy that’s particularly effective in how much it contrasts the seriousness of Abbi and Ilana’s conversation. It’s also a literally theatrical amplification of fear and uncertainty, an extreme piece of artwork that hinges on the very themes this episode unspools.

In “Sleep No More,” Abbi has to essentially break up with Ilana. More accurately, she’s suggesting that they take a break. She got into the art residency in Colorado, and she wants to move forward with it. But she doesn’t know how to tell Ilana. When she finally does, at their first outing to Sleep No More, the interactive performance art theater piece inspired by Macbeth, Ilana promptly freaks the fuck out. She reacts as if it’s an unexpected breakup, and that’s really what it is. Abbi didn’t even tell her she was applying to the program. And to make matters worse, it comes out after Ilana asks Abbi to move in with her, Ilana’s version of a marriage proposal—and it’s framed exactly as that.

Abbi and Ilana’s friendship has often evoked a romantic relationship but not just for laughs. This season has made clear that Ilana’s feelings for Abbi really are blurred and complicated, something a bit more than friendship but also hard to pin down. “Sleep No More” drives all this home with this friendship breakup that plays out very much like an actual breakup. It’s easy to get swept up in Ilana’s heartbreak, because Glazer makes it feel so visceral.

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At the same time, it’s clear that Abbi’s heart is breaking, too. They both love each other a lot, and it doesn’t help that Abbi’s news is coming at a particularly horrible time. Ilana feels like everyone is leaving her: Lincoln, Jaime, and now her very best friend in the entire world. But Abbi isn’t doing this to hurt her; she simply wants a change in her life. Ilana might be content with them continuing to fuck around in NYC for eternity, but Abbi isn’t happy and she hasn’t been for a while. They’re like a couple that has become too comfortable with the status quo, but someone is itching for a change. It’s smart for Broad City to expose that this can happen even within a friendship, and it’s frankly unlike anything I’ve ever seen on television. In its final season, Broad City is still finding ways to surprise.


Stray observations

  • The look on Ilana’s face throughout so much of this is just so devastating.
  • I do love Ilana’s new roommate, despite the circumstances.
  • I love that Ilana and Abbi really do have their own language between them. Abbi knowing that showing Ilana her poop will cheer her up is just so specific.
  • As someone who is easily scared, I appreciate how terrified Abbi is of Sleep No More.
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