Tell me which one of these episodes sounds more appealing to you, first described for someone who’s never seen “Broad City” — because, somewhat shockingly, those people are out there — and then for fans of the modern comedy classic:
Episode 1: Two 20-something New Yorkers go galavanting on random adventures across the city, often spurred on by the two besties’ immediate needs and complicated by the city’s challenging living conditions.
Episode 2: The more reserved of the two ladies is forced to take on the other’s identity in order to save their membership at a local co-op while her friend takes a daunting trip to the doctor’s that becomes even more complicated when someone gives her some stressful news.
“Two Chainz” (Episode 1): Abbi & Ilana’s brunch meeting sets them on a journey that will take them throughout New York in search of a bathroom and bolt cutters.
“Co-Op” (Episode 2): Abbi becomes Ilana to save their membership at a co-op, leading to each of them impersonating the other all day.
Objectively and subjectively speaking, Episode 2, “Co-Op,” sounds like the more attractive choice between the two, but here’s your two-pronged, spoiler-free reveal: First, they’re both insanely great episodes of television; alive in a way many comedies strive to be once or twice a year, but “Broad City” has consistently achieved throughout their first two, going on three seasons. Second, if forced to choose, it’s the premiere episode that’s the best of the first three sampled for critics, and it’s all in the elusive quality of “Broad City’s” makeup as to why.
We wouldn’t dare go as far as to spoil the jokes within “Broad City’s” epic premiere (airing Wednesday, February 17), but it’s important to note how the appeal — and brilliance — of the show is often hard to summarize. Sure, it’s told with fresh voices in a casually hip and incredibly confident way, and it’s always easy to sell simply because it’s so very, very funny. We could also point to it as one of the few shows on TV made by and about women, but calling out the creators’ gender as the show’s claim to fame or even as a primary reason to watch would be doing a disservice to its creative genius. While other current landmark comedies like “Veep” (with its skewering of American politics) and “You’re the Worst” (with its precise deconstruction of rom-coms) work within easily defined parameters, “Broad City” is built to be open and unpredictable, even in its lightly serialized format.
And that’s not a negative — far from it. Even in just the three episodes screened for critics, “Broad City” Season 3 serves as a showcase for the ingenuity of the series by making the most out of each chosen scenario. Watching Abbi impersonate Ilana is everything you imagine it would be, and the story they use to elongate the bit provides for deep, hearty laughs as well as an added appreciation of Ilana’s eccentricities, Abbi’s capacity to commit and the duo’s unbreakable bond. But the jaunt across New York City in the premiere provides ample fodder for satire, as Abbi & Ilana struggle with basic issues like where to go to the bathroom and trendy targets like the mania of a pop-up fashion sale. [Editor’s Note: Abbi & Ilana is not the grammatically correct way to write “Abbi and Elena,” but using two extra characters to separate their names seemed wrong, considering just how close these two friends are.]
More pertinent to my point, “Two Chainz” is packed with personality. The duo doesn’t waste a second of screen time, loading up the episode with off-the-cuff jokes and well-timed visual gags that come together to give the show a smooth, addictive pacing. And in case you might overlook the premiere as an easy re-entry into the established world of “Broad City,” the pre-title card split-screen sequence is a statement of purpose; a classic observational montage that tells us so much about the characters your eyes will be darting across the screen, desperately trying to absorb every bit of funny. (It’s also bound to be an internet sensation, via a clip on YouTube, memes or many, many hilarious GIFs — the latter of which may be the best way to appreciate each moment individually.)
Herein lies the glory of this chosen brand of comedy: While the intro from “Two Chainz” never really comes back into play over the next few episodes, a) it doesn’t have to, and b) “Co-Op’s” opening does function to set up events down the line. Unlike, say, the randomized pre-title choices of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Broad City” uses various elements of its episodes to create a unique blend of serialized and episodic structures; allowing for new viewers to tune in and laugh along with everyone else while rewarding weekly watchers with callbacks to earlier events. A tried and true practice on broadcast, “Broad City” represents a new, more intuitive interpretation of the blend, creating a rhythm all its own and building a universe with every passing week.
Each half hour feels as free-wheeling and wild as Ilana so boldly is, but also as meticulously put-together as Abby strives to be. “Broad City” as a whole is representative of its two main characters — but in ways far more intricate than you may expect. And just as its first few episodes embody the best of series so far, the integration of its two creators attitudes into the core makeup of the series helps to illustrate how groundbreaking “Broad City” really is.