Like all the best Broad City episodes, “The Matrix” takes a simple premise and plays it out to preposterous extremes. Killing time with on-demand TV before Eliot’s dog’s wedding, the two start talking about what to watch next, then end up down the Internet rabbit hole so completely that, hours later, Ilana FaceTimes Abbi, having forgotten they’re sitting at opposite ends of the couch.
From “Is Judge Judy on right now? We should watch that!” to “Judge Judy’s net worth is [an impossibly long, arguably obscene blacked-out and bleeped amount]” to Instagramming Ilana’s reaction to that net worth to, well, everything ever, the gradual progression of that sequence is both hilariously logical and painfully relatable. Who hasn’t started out with one task-oriented search, then looked up to see the room gone dark and hours vanished?
Ilana rails against this constant immersion in phone and laptop screens: “It’s like all we do is wake up, sign in, and zzzzzzzzt we are plugged into the matrix all day! Gmail, Grindr, Facebook, Facetime, Insta, Grindr, Tumblr, Twitter, Dlisted!” (That’s not an error: she lists Grindr twice.) Together, they decide to spend the afternoon being “more present” by leaving their phones at home while they skate to the dog wedding in the park.
Looking forward to a few hours “totally off the grid!” Abbi exults, “It would be like breathing air for the first time!” But they have a predictably hard time letting go of the mindset that goes with the phones they’ve left behind. Only people who long to return to the cold blue glow of a screen would utter “I love breezes” and “Nature is seriously amazing!” in such strained tones. Abbie’s half-wistful, half-boastful “If I had my phone right now, I would Tinder the fuck out of all those beefcakes,” complete with the barest hesitation before beefcakes, captures something ineffable about the luxury of distance granted by a screen, the way it allows the user a minute (or a lifetime) to craft a message or a moment, to create a persona. It gives us license to perfect or postpone, to hesitate, where real life doesn’t.
From the decision to go without phones, it’s another painfully logical progression to Abbi lying injured at the bottom of a pit while Ilana rolls directionless around Prospect Park in search of help. They can’t call for rescue, and Ilana can’t find their friends because the wedding’s location and directions are on her phone. She has to rely on her instincts to lead her through the wilderness.
When testing the direction of the wind doesn’t pay off, Ilana goes doggie-style to track the dog wedding, sniffing dirt, dragging her butt across the grass, and finally merging in ecstasy with a towering oak before coming to her senses and continuing her search.
Meanwhile, back at the dog wedding gazebo (there’s a phrase you don’t get to write every day), Lincoln doles out characteristically good advice. Is any other character on any current television show as confident, competent, and compassionate as Lincoln? When Eliot starts snapping and sweating, Lincoln zeroes in on the real source of his tension. In addition to the stress of the elaborate reception (when his sister hasn’t yet arrived with the rings and the bitch of a bride won’t keep her Vera Wag dress on), Eliot is smitten with Brandon, the dogfather of the bride… and he doesn’t know the feeling is mutual.
“Everyone, specifically you, needs to relax,” Lincoln tells Eliot, which is good advice for any wedding or any infatuation. “Take a few deep breaths, then dab your T-zone lightly,” he adds. If Broad City compiled all of Lincoln’s advice in one volume, I’d buy it and so should you.
Lincoln is usually a source of level-headed, peaceful encouragement, so it’s fun to see him get a little unhinged as he spars with officiant/veterinarian Janeane Garofalo, each claiming to be more “like a doctor” and both issuing improbable, wildly varying prognoses. Hannibal Buress imbues these exchanges with a deft balance of geniality and bite, giving Lincoln a welcome touch of acerbity to go with his reliable good cheer.
While he keeps the dog wedding on course and comforts Eliot, and while Ilana finds comfort in the knots and roots of an amorous oak, Abbi lies in the pit and tries to comfort and distract herself from her badly sprained ankle. First she tends to the necessities, fashioning a makeshift splint from sticks and lanyard (“You mean ‘gimp’?”) and smoking the Ilana-prescribed two joints, then she quiets the pain in her “stupid, stupid brain” by going to a happy place.
The fantasies Abbi conjures up on her own—a dessert-only dinner date with Elijah Wood, searching “an extravagant flea market” with Mark Ruffalo for wooden milk crates to put in their office-slash-maybe-nursery-one-day, dancing with Taye Diggs because “there’s no pain when you’re getting your groove back”—speak volumes about Abbi’s unassuming self-image and interior life, as does her intense connection to a 17-year-old movie aimed at 40-year-old women.
They also contrast starkly with the introductory sequence, a reverie of Abbi and Ilana drumming together behind big professional kits; Abbi’s personalized bass drum reads “Razor Burnz,” Ilana’s reads “Pussy M.D.” Their unlikely proficiency gets more and more ridiculous as invisible hands rip at Abbi’s flannel shirt to leave her sleeveless, as Ilana suddenly sports a giant ‘fro and an owl on one leather-clad wrist, as Abbi grows a horseshoe mustache. The dream is interrupted by a sarcastic offer to hire them both for a new record (really an employee kicking them out because they’re making a terrible racket), and for one thrilling moment, they both believe him. “This is it!” Abbi says, as if she always knew the moment would come. When Abbi and Ilana play together, no dream is too heady, too grandiose, too ridiculous.
Abbi’s urges to domesticity and comfort might seem superficially practical, but at heart, they’re just as outlandish as Ilana’s audacious exploits, and “The Matrix” plays with that idea nimbly. Waiting for Ilana to return with help, Abbi creates a castaway’s home in her pit, festooning the rough dirt walls with a scarf, putting roughly framed photos of herself and Ilana on dirt shelves, and even recreating the amusements of television by staging an American Idol-esque show starring objects from Ilana’s backpack. While Ilana makes love to a tree, Abbi makes a home, but both acts are equally nonsensical and absurd—especially when Ilana reveals that she’s been gone for “a half-hour, tops.”
But that drumming scene says a lot about Broad City, and a lot about these two women. It’s a metaphor for the whole series, and for a vibrant, supportive friendship: Ilana and Abbi are at their unexpected best as they play, together or solo. They throw cues to each other with joyful abandon, each knowing she can trust the other to pick up the beat.
- Just a few of the many, many pages Abbi and Ilana visit: “Excuse My Beauty: The Carrot Top Edition” on Dlisted; Buzzfeed’s “Which Dead Child Star Are You?”; “Quick, someone cover the sun before Tara Reid melts!”; a search for “What’s that rash on my armpit?”
- “We should roll to the wedding. We’ll take in more nature faster.” Because that’s the best way to take in nature: by cramming it into your eyeholes as hard and fast as possible.
- Jaime’s skates fit Abbi snugly, and both her pretense that they won’t and her stifled embarrassment rang some chimes in me pretty hard, as did Ilana’s mid-crisis charade about Abbi’s “tiny, dainty feet!”
- “You think a dog tie is too on the nose?” “No, it’s perfect! You look great in themed clothing.”
- “I miss the blue light.” “I want to marry the blue light.”
- “What if I jump down in there and we scream for help together?” This seems like Broad City’s version of Leo McGarry’s “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”
- Thanks to Caroline Framke for letting me sit in on tonight’s episode! I’m throwing the cue back to you, Caroline, and thank you for letting me play.