In Broad City's third season, the friendship deepens along with the comedy

The better we know Abbi and Ilana, the more satisfying the cult sitcom gets


Broad City's third season begins with a montage. It's a split-screen shot: Abbi's bathroom is on one side, Ilana's on the other. In two minutes' time, Broad City's heroines (played by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer) take refuge in their porcelain sanctuaries, peeing, puking, eating pizza, dancing around in Madonna costumes, shaving their pubic hair, straightening their pubic hair, hitting bongs, and (in Ilana's case) doing sex stuff. The scene is like a speed-induced primer on the themes of Broad City — a primer that the show's legions of cultishly loyal fans probably won't need, but will be happy to have. It feels like a homecoming.

Most sitcoms are at risk of eventually getting lodged in a permanent stasis, in which time doesn't move forward and nothing ever changes. Long-running shows like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, How I Met Your Mother, and New Girl have cycled through the same settings, plotlines, and even conversations over the course of several seasons. Because Broad City's core cast hasn't changed, and Abbi and Ilana still live in the same apartments and still work at same jobs (Abbi is now a trainer at the gym, instead of a custodian), the show's general premise hasn't shifted (at least in the first three episodes) in any significant way. Just as Broad City's first two seasons were a series of misadventures, so too is the third: a lost bike lock key, a shirt with the security tag still attached, and a traveling port-a-potty are all just catalysts for Abbi and Ilana to get into more of the same trouble they've always gotten into.

You don't have to live in New York to get the New York jokes

What has always made Broad City both appealing and potentially alienating is its commitment to mocking the lives of (mostly white, young) New Yorkers. That doesn't change in season three. Abbi spends hours standing in line with other grumpy New Yorkers to buy the city's newest novelty pastry (a churon, that's a churro-macaron). The manager at the organic food co-op tells Ilana that "today's the last possible day you can complete your shifts for this moon cycle." And, at a gallery show, Abbi's old roommate describes her artistic process thusly: "I painted it with the end of a feather. Not the end that you write with, the soft end." You don't have to live in New York to get the joke; these people are strange, and their passions are as off-putting as their word choices. But sometimes the bit can feel stale or overused, like when every man working at the co-op twists his fingers through his bedroom hair and confesses to being a diehard Phish fan.

The best parts of Broad City come not when these outsiders toss out a screwball line or two, but when the show's supporting cast returns, like beloved old sweaters pulled out of a flea market bargain bin. Chris Gethard returns as Ilana's anxious boss, and his perpetual frustration with and fear of Ilana continues to be a source of some of the show's funniest moments. And Hannibal Burress as Ilana's confusingly mature, kind-of-boyfriend Lincoln blessedly remains in the picture, despite Ilana's tendency to get bored easily.

Broad City

Comedy Central

Broad City has reached a point, as almost all sitcoms do, where the effectiveness of the jokes grows in proportion to how well the audience knows the characters. Two seasons deep and with three more still on the horizon, Abbi and Ilana's idiosyncrasies are so well-documented that subtle jokes can sometimes feel more like world building, less like intentional one-liners. That the pair refuse sparkling water at a restaurant until they're told it's free isn't a joke, it's logical for them. Abbi's declaration that her shirt looks "urban... like Urban Outfitters" sounds as natural as anything she's ever said. And Ilana's snapback with the word PERV streaming across the front barely warrants a second glance. This doesn't mean the jokes are too subtle, rather, it's a testament to the care with which Glazer and Jacobson have shaped their characters over the course of three seasons — when you've settled into their world, their oddities are no longer quite so odd.

Despite this seamlessness, there are moments in the new season when Abbi and Ilana's distinct personalities become, not just part of the joke, but the joke. After being told she needs to complete a six-hour shift at her neighborhood co-op to remain a member, Ilana asks Abbi to cover her shift by pretending to be her. So Abbi dons hoop earrings and a crop top, and performs a terrible but sincere public mimicry of Ilana's most outrageous traits. But the choice to make Abbi be Ilana perhaps unintentionally serves as a reminder of the most irritating aspects of Ilana's character. Abbi waves her hands around while talking, elongates her vowels, and makes up slang; she contorts her fingers and throws up a westside gang sign as she leans back and poses. Ilana's meme-in-human-form personality feels tight and uncomfortable in Abbi's hands. In this scene, it's as if someone who hates Broad City was given the chance to remind you why they hate it.

Part of the appeal of a show that revolves around an enduring friendship is the implication that the viewer is also involved in that friendship. And, as with any lengthy friendship, there will inevitably be times when someone in your group will make you want to pay your tab and leave the bar immediately, while knowing full well you'll still be there later to hold their hair back in the bathroom. This is the point at which Broad City's third season begins: Abbi and Ilana are going into the bathroom together, but they'll leave the door open for you.