Image: Broad City (Comedy Central)
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“Running around the city with your little foibles and your little mishaps and your little shenanigans,” Abbi’s former college friend known as Cheese rants after spending her afternoon following them so that she could confront them for making fun of her on Instagram. Here words are, in a nutshell, a perfect summary of Broad City’s stripped-down premise, its almost-too-simple formula that has nonetheless powered the comedy series through four excellent seasons of television.

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Now in its fifth, Broad City has the luxury of a planned ending. Promos for the final season have teased major cliffhangers and dramatic endings for the two best friends, but it’s safe to assume that the series will end without too many theatrics. It’s just a show about two friends running around the city with foibles, mishaps, and shenanigans. And yet, as its creators and stars, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, and the team they’ve assembled have consistently taken everyday, simple scenarios and pumped them with genuinely weird, specific comedy. In a comedy landscape that increasingly skews high concept, it’s a breath of fresh (though weed-laced) air.

Technically, the premiere goes high concept, but in typical Broad City fashion, it’s also deceptively simple at the same time. Most of the episode unfolds in the form of an ongoing Instagram story, interrupted once when Ilana drops her phone in the river and then again at the end of the episode when Cheese knocks Abbi’s phone out of her hand. As a gimmick, the Instagram format works, allowing Broad City to play around with fun editing stuff like filters, animated gifs, clumsy zooms, and other embellishments that mimic the Instagram experience. Broad City has excelled with these kinds of technical experimentations in the past, too, epitomized in the mostly animated mushrooms trip episode. In “Stories,” a close-up of Ilana’s face appears in the corner of the screen to emphasize her pursed-lipped reaction to Abbi ranting about how the child they found could technically be hers. The episode gets a ton of mileage out of on-screen text jokes. A snippet of “Ocean Eyes” by Billie Eilish hilariously plays over a very annoyed employee at the shoe shop they stop at.

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But beyond just providing a fun format for the show to play around in, this premiere just feels so distinctly Broad City. It’s one of the best integrations of social media a television show has ever pulled off. It feels both true to Instagram aesthetics and rhythms but at the same time doesn’t suck up all the focus, still allows Broad City to maintain its voice and style, just packaged a little differently. In that sense, it operates as much more than a gimmick.

It even ends up having something to say about social media. And yes, that message is heavy-handed, Abbi and Ilana remarking that because they spent the whole day on social media it was almost as if they didn’t even really experience it, but that kind of revelation again feels par for the course for Broad City. The realization is relatable and real without being too deep about it. Abbi barely remembers her 30th birthday even though so much weird shit happens. They assume Cheese (her real name is Lindsay, but let’s please just call her Cheese forever) has a perfect life because of her social media presence, but it’s obvious that she’s miserable. And even though they do eventually take it in, both friends are still disappointed that they have no way to capture the triple rainbow they end up seeing at the end of the day.

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Abbi and Ilana decide to walk the length of Manhattan and post the whole journey to Instagram for Abbi’s birthday, allowing New York City to fittingly be a central character in the premiere. They hit up Marcus Samuelsson’s popular Southern food restaurant in Harlem, the bustling Manhattan Mall, Jewish appetizing legend Russ & Daughters. Ilana falls down a manhole when she’s too distracted by her phone. Even running into an old college friend in the middle of a massive, busy Midtown mall feels markedly New York.

The premiere also serves as a tribute to Abbi and Ilana. The setting of Abbi’s birthday allows for some character development, and the moment in the middle of the story where she disappears into the bathroom, takes far too long, and turns out to be suffering from “birthday blues” does add some depth to what is otherwise a very fun and light episode. But even amid all the shenanigans, there’s the strong foundational throughline of just how much these women love each other. Ilana presents Abbi with her present: a montage of her ass through the years. First of all, it’s very Ilana. Second of all, it includes clips that actually come from moments we’ve already seen before, evoking a sense of nostalgia in a very subtle, effective way. Even the run-in with Cheese is a callback: We first meet the character in “Pu$$y Weed,” the second episode of the series and one of its finest.

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Throughout the episode, it really does feel like we’re there with them. Glazer and Jacobson give very natural performances that, again, strongly capture what people are like on social media. Ilana talks to the camera in a slightly awkward, and she’s clearly concerned with looking at herself on the screen. “Stories,” despite the conclusion Ilana and Abbi come to at the end, is immersive and engaging throughout, of-the-moment without being hokey about it. There’s a sense that we could just keep on watching these friends run around the city with their foibles, mishaps, and shenanigans forever.


Stray observations

  • Reviewing the final season of this series is bittersweet!
  • The best part of Ilana Instagramming her entire day is that she only has 213 followers.
  • For Abbi, getting a second credit card signals maturity.
  • “Madonna, Rihanna, Ilana, Gadanna”
  • The dog animation after Gadanna calls Abbi “mommy” is so good.
  • Jaime has a new older boyfriend. That moment where Jaime realizes how old he is is very well done.

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