We gave it a B+
For such a big country, residents of the U.S. sure have to spend a lot of time hearing about New York City. The Big Apple has been glorified in pop culture, literature, and film for decades. Most of those cultural depictions, however, have been either elitist (parodied by Saul Steinberg’s famous New Yorker cover depicting the “View of the World from 9th Avenue”) or unrealistic (portraying the city as a fantasy wonderland where dreams and nightmares come alive). But three years ago, Broad City achieved the remarkable feat of bringing New York City to life in the way most modern (largely millennial) residents actually experience it. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s New York was not filled with glittering Gatsby parties or epic Mafia struggles, but rather poop-smelling subways, unbearable menial jobs, insufferable roommates, and tiny apartments.
Now in its fourth season, Broad City retains its sense of the real New York. The season premiere, in fact, opens with Abbi and Ilana making a mad dash to a subway train — complete with a MetroCard malfunction, a guy in a suit puking in their path, and a desperate squeeze through the closing train doors at the last minute. But the show has gotten more stylistically inventive as well. Far from a one-off bit, that subway sequence is both the beginning of an episode-long flashback to Abbi and Ilana’s first meeting and half of a thought experiment, about how Abbi and Ilana’s friendship (and, thus, their relationship to New York) might have evolved differently depending on whether or not they caught that first train. The Sliding Doors format allows for plenty of other jokes showing why Ilana wears her hair curly and how Bevers (John Gemberling) came to live with Abbi. Broad City Begins! The half-amusing, half-chilling subtext behind the episode, however, is the recognition of how much simpler and sillier that pre-Trump world seems to us now.
Jacobson and Glazer are, of course, well aware of New York City’s most recent contribution to American life: President Donald Trump. In this season’s third episode, Ilana visits a specialist to help figure out why she hasn’t had an orgasm recently. Indulging Ilana’s fervent belief that witches are real, this woman’s consultation helps Ilana realize the source of her sexual struggles is none other than Trump (whose name is censored like profanity during the episode) and especially his infamous “grab ‘em by the p—y” recording. Fortunately, after the girls spend some time exploring their witch-y capabilities that montage is countered by another — this one a celebration of feminist icons from Malala to Rihanna — that helps Ilana find ecstatic fulfillment once again. After all, comprehensive political-comedy takedowns of the Trump administration are for the Stephen Colberts and Sam Bees of the world; Broad City is the story of two friends trying to get their highs in the chaos of modern New York, and it still tells that tale with insight and style. It is a bummer to see so little of Hannibal Buress’ Lincoln this time around, though, since Buress is one of the funniest comedians alive and his dry humor fit so well with Glazer especially. But the show has kept its essential core, and built increasingly interesting stories and structures around it—and what it really means to be a New Yorker. B+