Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer started making their web series in 2009, and they didn’t stop to look back until it was done.
“‘Broad City’ wouldn’t exist without social media,” Jacobson told IndieWire. “It was created on YouTube, but then we spread it on Facebook — that’s how anyone knew about it.”
Now, as the Season 5 premiere kicks off the comedy’s final 10-episode stretch, things have changed. Jacobson and Glazer are icons with burgeoning solo careers and a booming production slate. Comedy Central went from taking a chance on two new stars to developing more projects from the many talented voices who worked on “Broad City.” The way people consume entertainment is changing, and the two creators recognize as much — especially when it comes to how people engage online.
“Social media has been made more and more accessible, constantly, to everyone,” Glazer said. “Before everyone had a smartphone, there was just a separation. It was like doing emails at home versus doing emails all the time: ‘Why didn’t you respond? Did you get my email? Because it’s available to you right now.’ The world has amped up in only five years with immediacy, urgency, and all this — us becoming robots, basically.”
Doing what they do best, Jacobson and Glazer distilled all these changes into a new episode of their show, “Stories.” Without naming a specific app or platform, the entry is told through the framework of a social media “story” — the temporary string of photos and videos users create to share with their followers via Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and more social media apps. Abbi (played by Jacobson) and Ilana (Glazer) are documenting the former’s 30th birthday, as they travel from the “tippity-top of Manhattan to the tippity-bottom of Manhattan.”
What ensues is a spirited burst of unfiltered creativity, largely captured on iPhones. Gifs of Abbi modeling her “chic” walk-wear are set to music. Emojis, icons, and text pop up onscreen to punctuate visual gags. Polls are taken as if you could tap the screen to vote — “Is Abbi hitting on Ilana in the shoe store? Yes or No” — and every shot is framed from Ilana’s perspective. (Meta trivia: Episode director Nick Paley gets tagged onscreen when Ilana is trying to find out who stole Abbi’s credit card number.)
“We were talking about something that would be a little different for the open of this season, [like] Ilana documenting Abbi’s birthday,” Glazer said, noting how the character’s 30th birthday — and what that means to them both — will frame the season’s arc, too.
“They actually kind of deal with stuff for the first time, and turning 30 we felt was a big milestone, especially in New York,” Jacobson said.
But telling their episode through “stories” wasn’t a random gimmick. Jacobson and Glazer have spent a lot of time thinking about social media’s power, influence, and addictive nature.
“We’re always talking about social media and how we want to get off it — it’s terrible or it’s good,” Jacobson said. “It just felt like we should just lean into it. Also, it’s used, for the most part in this episode, in such a positive way, I think. But it also shows how we are all over the place.”
“The show wasn’t as known until Season 3 or so, and that I think was an inflection point of being like, ‘What is this tool? Why are we using it?'” Glazer said. “Some people have Rinsta and Finsta. Do you know this? Fake Instagram and Real Instagram, [where] my real Instagram’s my private shit to my friends, and my Finsta’s [for] my public whatever.”
Glazer said she only has one Instagram account and “it’s really meta,” but she recognizes how many people try to project a certain image online. “These days we’re all super conscious of our public versus private lives. Our consciousness as a society is growing of who we are as individuals.”
This is where the ending of “Stories” comes into play. [Editor’s Note: The following portion of the interview contains spoilers for “Broad City” Season 5, Episode 1, “Stories.”] After being thrown out of a mall by a protective parent, Abbi and Ilana are later chased down by the same mother, who chucks their phone in the East River. She’s been watching their “story” all day, and thinks their obsession with documenting everything they do is a sign of self-absorbed millennial overindulgence.
The girls quickly counter, explaining that’s not who they really are and accusing her of setting an impossible standard for them to live up to, anyway. “You’re the one with the perfect fucking life, always posting pictures of yourself on vacation, on beaches, and stuff,” Abbi says. The mother says that’s not who she is either, and admits she’s been “struggling.”
“We have a skewed version of what everyone else’s life is like,” Jacobson said. “I think [it’s] from what they post on Instagram. It’s like you know everything about people, but it’s only a curated version of that person.”
The three women hug, but the episode ends with Abbi and Ilana being forced to appreciate a triple rainbow without their phones. Later, sitting on the couch reflecting on their day, they realize they don’t remember anything else that happened. “It feels like because we were filming it, it’s not even our story anymore,” Abbi says. “It’s like Stories’ stories,” Ilana adds. Ominous music starts to play and the episode ends.
So do Jacobson and Glazer feel the same way about “Broad City” as Abbi and Ilana do with social media? Did documenting their lives through the show rob them of their experiences while making it?
“You know that’s such a bizarre thing, that last shot,” Jacobson said. “I never really thought of it as such a meta statement. That was not intentional.”
But Glazer sees truth in the comparison. “It’s like my entire 20s was ‘Broad City,'” Glazer said. “I didn’t have those experiences. I wrote them and then enacted them, but I didn’t experience them. I’m feeling that now. Really, looking back and being like, ‘Wow, the past 10 years I’ve been writing and curating and acting.’ Not solely, but I’ve been thinking about the gap between Ilana Wexler and Ilana Glazer more.”
That’s partly why the series is ending now. Jacobson and Glazer have laid a solid foundation to continue working together — they’re currently writing a buddy-comedy titled “The Bodyguard” for Paul Feig — but they’re also exploring new mediums on their own. Jacobson’s first book, a memoir titled “I Might Regret This,” was released in October 2018, and Glazer is exploring stand-up comedy and starring in movies like 2017’s “Rough Night.”
They have their own stories to tell, and even though they contend their solo work “adds to the show,” the creators don’t want to short-change each solo experience by tying them all to “Broad City.”
“I think we always knew that this show had to end to still feel like this flash-in-the-pan experience — this quick, specific, ‘everything’s moving so fast’ both in the city, but in their minds, between the two of them,” Glazer said. “I think part of us knew that this was going to end at this point and started getting other projects on our plates.”
Jacobson said with her book, “I needed to define myself from the character in the show. The show is such a collaboration — there are so many people, it’s so big — and this thing is so small. I am the only person that can do it. It was such a challenge. I think it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, because Broad City, it’s Ilana and I. It’s so difficult, but I just know that Ilana’s there. [With the book], it’s just totally me and I like challenging myself in that way every once in a while. I have to go back to that.”
Now, it’s 2019, and the co-creators can take a breather. They don’t have to document everything. They don’t have to post on social media all the time. They don’t have to worry about breaking through. They can tell their own stories, and maybe find a way to hold on to them, too.