Given its similar focus on twentysomething women navigating the professional and personal challenges of being a female millennial in New York City, Broad City has often been compared to Girls. Less remarked upon, though, is its kinship to Seinfeld. Both shows, after all, generate much of their humor from exaggerations of the absurdity of everyday human behavior: miscommunication, culture clashes, class assumptions, and so forth. But for the best friends played by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer on Broad City, navigating the city’s almost carnivalesque circulatory system becomes a badge of honor, even when it leads to their horrified embarrassment.
In the show’s third season, Abbi and Ilana continue to run up against caricatures of class and privilege, from a snooty waitress at a hot brunch spot who can’t be bothered to hide her annoyance when Abbi makes her wait for Ilana before seating them, to the Greene Hill Food Co-op’s imperious, holistically obsessed owner, played to the hilt by Melissa Leo as a ratty-haired nightmare vision of clean living. Of course, and with the exception of Ilana’s quasi-boyfriend, Lincoln (the magnetically nonchalant Hannibal Buress), most of characters that flit about Abbi and Ilana are etched in the same grotesque register, sometimes awkwardly clashing with the show’s penchant for sharply observed slice-of-life humor. The effect doesn’t always escape the feeling of the deck being too easily stacked in order to make Abbi and Ilana seem comparatively like the most normal people in the world.
This is the same us-versus-them worldview that was at the heart of Seinfeld, with Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer reacting to the awfulness of the world by withdrawing into their own collective bubble, where they were free to scheme, parse, and criticize to their disaffected hearts’ content. But instead of retreating from the often tough and unforgiving world around them, Abbi and Ilana press on—living, striving, and meeting all challenges with equal parts tentative optimism and carefree exuberance.
It’s fitting, then, that some of the show’s most stellar episodes have been quest narratives, with Abbi and Ilana facing myriad obstacles to get to a particular destination. And the third season’s premiere episode operates in that same adventurous vein, featuring a journey to an art-exhibition opening that includes such indelible bits of screwball comedy as Ilana trying to use a piece of gum to retrieve a bike-chain key stuck in a sewer and Abbi being trapped in a port-a-potty as it’s being loaded onto a truck to be taken away.
Broad City exudes a warm empathy, however selective, that distinguishes it from the more openly misanthropic Seinfeld—which isn’t to say that Jacobson and Glazer let their main characters off the hook. One brief moment in the premiere offers a pointed jab at the kind of big-city privilege even relatively struggling twentysomethings can fall into when Abbi and Ilana, as the latter rants about the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia, become upset over the disappearance of bottomless mimosas on the brunch menu.
In the especially uproarious “Game Over,” a team-building exercise at Abbi’s gym brings out the character’s heretofore unforeseen ultra-competitive side, which at once alienates and attracts her co-workers. Later, Ilana inadvertently gets herself fired from her job, sparking an extended, Sister Act-inspired dream sequence—Whoopi Goldberg even makes a cameo—in which her long suffering co-worker, Nicole (Nicole Drespel), expresses her euphoria at finally being rid of her slacker cubicle-mate. Regardless of how their behaviors are received, though, Abbi and Ilana seem to understand that they’re entirely responsible for their joys and disappointments. And hapless though they may be, they at least still have each other to lean on through it all.