Comedy Central’s Broad City was one of the funniest shows on television. Every episode can stand on its own as an outstanding work of comedy: shocking, honest, fun, and heartwarming. And when considered as a complete body of work it becomes so much more than just comedy—Broad City is a love story between two best friends who would do anything for one another, and an inspirational journey through the f*cking “kuku kaka insahno” life phase (in the words of the show) that is your 20s.
A few weeks ago, Broad City ended, following a spectacular five-season run (or a ten-year run, if you count the webseries that preceded the television show). As creators and stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer say farewell to their badass eponymous characters and pursue new projects, I began searching for something else to fill the vacancy.
I was sold on Broad City from the pilot. The episode’s plot revolves around Ilana’s character (Glazer) attempting various schemes to earn enough money to buy herself and her best friend, Abbi (Jacobson), tickets to a Lil Wayne concert. Their quest takes them all over New York City and through a series of increasingly ridiculous plans (such as stealing and reselling office supplies and cleaning a stranger’s apartment in their underwear), but in the end, their foibles lead nowhere and they spend their evening not at a Lil Wayne concert, but wearing a stranger’s coats and drinking on the sidewalk (file under: things you should not do in New York City). In that moment, Ilana turns to Abbi and tells her, “Dude, I would follow you into hell,” and Abbi responds in kind: “I would take you on my shoulders, I’d strap you up, and I’d be like, ‘Let’s go to hell.’”
Most episodes, and the entire show’s arc, follows a similarly unstructured format. With few exceptions, each episode is simply a day in the life of Abbi and Ilana without a long-term agenda. The women are both the content and the purpose of the show. The arc of its five seasons takes an honest look at the process of these two young women figuring themselves out, but beyond that, there’s not some grand scale or lesson to take away from it. The show’s just about two young women living their lives together and their devotion to one another.
It’s hard for me to write a send-off to this show. On the one hand, I’m glad Jacobson and Glazer are choosing to end it before they feel the need to jump any sharks, but on the other, I feel like I could watch Broad City forever. Fiction often acts as a looking glass in which people can see parts of themselves, but Broad City for me has been a floor-to-ceiling mirror. And god have I loved looking at myself in it.
Broad City is about two weed-loving, bisexual best friends trying to figure out their confusing, chaotic lives in the confusing, chaotic landscape of a big city. Ilana’s bold, performative, attention-seeking personality and Abbi’s awkward, introverted, artistic charm combine to create a comedy with heart. Despite often different temperaments, the two best friends make each other laugh like no one else can, they understand each other like no one else does, they’re always each other’s partner in crime and savior when things go wrong, and they love each other so, so, so much.
The other thing about Broad City that made it so special is that shows like it that focus solely on deep, loving friendships between two women are still, unfortunately, few and far between. Oftentimes, I’ve found that shows that focus on women’s friendships (I’m thinking shows like Gilmore Girls, Desperate Housewives, or even The Bold Type) don’t centralize those relationships the way Broad City did. There’s often something else: romantic drama, or professional trouble, or petty fights. That’s not an indictment of those other shows—such subplots make for engaging television—but the lack of these distractions as important threads is what, to me, makes Broad City special.
Broad City was the first female-driven comedy that felt utterly honest to my own experience in more ways than just the similarities I could pick out between myself and Ilana, or my best friend and Abbi. The things that made it groundbreaking for me are bigger than that: it treats the friendship between the two protagonists as central rather than secondary. The most important relationship I have in my life right now is between myself and my best friend, and it was a relief to watch a show that took that relationship just as seriously as I do, rather than dismissing it in favor of romantic storylines, as so often happens. The narrative never punishes its women for being less-than-ladylike: for their frequent drug use, for their sexuality, or, to put it bluntly, for not having their shit together. It allowed its female characters to be complicated and messy and funny stoners (or, in the words of the show, weed-heads) in a way that has historically been reserved for male characters of the Seth Rogen variety.
For the next few weeks, I searched for other shows to fill the space Broad City left. In the process I discovered Netflix comedy Tuca and Bertie and Hulu comedy Pen15.
Tuca and Bertie, created by Lisa Hanawalt, is an animated series done in the same style as Hanawalt’s other popular comedy, Netflix’s Bojack Horseman. Tuca and Bertie focuses on the friendship between loud, wild Tuca the Toucan (Tiffany Haddish) and quiet, anxious Bertie the Bird (Ali Wong). The pair are former roommates, current besties who still do most things together. Much like Broad City, the pair navigate their wacky day-to-day lives by one another’s sides. It’s funny and endearing and heartfelt, and watching it feels like being ten again and watching a Nickelodeon cartoon–except for chaotic, adrift grown-ups.
The other show that grabbed my attention was Hulu’s Pen15—created by and starring Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle. The show follows the middle school versions of eponymous Maya (Erskine) and Anna (Konkle). It’s outrageous and hilarious and refreshingly, endearingly honest, not just about female friendship but also about the confusing, often awful life phase of the preteen years and the importance female friendships have for young girls.
Both shows are a great start for filling that Broad City-shaped void. Broad City was a game-changer in the way we approach female comedies, and I’m glad to see more shows of its kind following in its steps. Hopefully, Tuca and Bertie and Pen15 are only the start of a fresh, feminist new genre of comedy
Find all 50 episodes of Broad City on Comedy Central’s website or Hulu; find the first seasons of Tuca and Bertie on Netflix and Pen15 on Hulu.