The Unicorn Scale: Broad City

2/19/2019

Whuddup, my Unicorns? I hope today finds you delicious mortals happy and fulfilled, your manes lustrous, and your farts 100% made of rainbows.  It’s the only way to be, after all.

Today I am adding to a new sub-category in this column I’m calling “How Have We Not Covered That Yet?” This includes the previous installments of David from Schitt’s Creek and Rosa Diaz of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Both bicons, both covered so much in queer media I could have sworn we had written an article on them. So by the time I finally got around to binging Broad City, I assumed we had already written extensively about Ilana Wexler. Oh, how wrong I was. But now we can talk about this irascible character together! And hey, just ‘cause I feel like it and I’ve gotten good feedback from readers enjoying my music accompanying these reviews, here’s my new favorite body-positive jam while you read.

Before I go any further with this review, here come the customary warnings: I will need to use SPOILERS up to and including Season 4 for making my arguments, so you’ve been warned. Also if you need a reminder of what the Unicorn Scale is all about, here’s the original article where it all began, which includes the metric at play.

Broad City focuses on the hilarious and messy adventures of Ilana (Ilana Glazer) and Abbi (Abbi Jacobson), two twenty-something besties living, toking, and working on “making it” in New York City. “Making it,” of course, doesn’t necessarily mean becoming stars or established. Abbi is a cleaner at a gym who dreams of becoming a trainer and illustrator, and Ilana …. well, Ilana just wants to live every aspect of life to the limit, pushing boundaries to the very hilt. While Abbi is a touch more level-headed, the two embark in bananas-level adventures making their way through the bright lights in the big city.

WHAT I LIKED:

I admit, I wondered if Ilana was going to actually say she was bi or had bi-curious tendencies. Throughout the first season she alludes to being attracted to Abbi (and her ass in particular), but I thought maybe it was just a writing tease. However, I did appreciate that Abbi seemed pretty at ease about the whole banter about this attraction. It clearly didn’t mess up their dynamic, even if sometimes it got played for creepy/cringe laughs. Their friendship seemed to just get stronger as the episodes went along. I appreciated seeing that on a personal level, as I’ve felt (or been on the receiving end of) same-sex attractions with buddies and it ruining the friendship if it did not pan out.

So as the seasons wore on and Ilana started having same-sexcapades and using the term “bi” with gleeful abandon, I was delightfully surprised! Sure, some of these ideas were introduced in a comedic way, what with her first major on-screen encounter with Adele (Alia Shawkat) as her doppelganger and the like. But it was still very much in the subversive nature of the show. Broad City may have blue humor, but its messages are a bit sneaky and cumulative, like its overall feminist viewpoint. Plus it’s nice to see a show have it both ways – with Ilana tumbling through doorways mid-coitus with girls or long-term fuck buddy Lincoln (Hannibal Buress). It’s normalized but Ilana also freely uses the term “bi” for her sexuality. It’s nice to see queerness both get its due and not be taken too seriously (but still not be the butt of the joke).

It’s also lovely to see a bi character be unapologetically funny and messy. That’s what I really loved about this show. In the post-Bridesmaids world of comedy, it’s great to see three-dimensional female characters that also display gross humor. But it’s safe to say this flavor of stoner/shock humor isn’t for everyone. Hell, there were some sequences that went too far even for me (and I’ve done sketch comedy where I pretended to insert a dildo into myself. With my mother in the audience). But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for it in the comedy landscape – and it’s something that comediennes didn’t get access to for decades, unless going for shock humor in a stand-up routine (Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, to name a few).

It’s fun to note Abbi and Ilana developed the original webseries loosely based on their lives. And while Ilana doesn’t identify as bi, Abbi just came out as bi last year in an interview with Vanity Fair, so these storylines are likely coming from experiences as much as from flights-of-fancy.

In addition to these concepts, I also appreciate that Ilana explores a poly setup and uses the term in the third season. Just as with her sexuality, using these terms and exploring the pros and cons of these aspects come naturally to her curious personality. What a joy to see a non-monogamous relationship model explored on a major TV program.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

All of these things said, and me being me, I still had a few points that did not sit well with me. Ilana’s explorative tendencies often came at a price. Not only did she seem at her core unaware of the consequences of her actions landing on Abbi’s head most of the time, but her continued dismissal of those repercussions came across as callous after a few seasons. Yes, Ilana is clever and quick and resourceful, but her levels of self-involvement often veer past the “messy bi” idea and into the dangerous “bis are selfish” trope. We don’t need more of that garbage polluting the media landscape.

I also feel the need to point out that Ilana is pretty appropriative in her fashion choices. While it’s fine to be sartorially curious like she is, it’s not cool for a white woman to wear hoops that say “Latina.” I’m grateful her roommate Jaime pointed this out and she corrected that instance, but there were other moments where her clothes emulated hijabs and the like – and this was after the earrings discussion. I know Ilana as a character was designed to push the envelope, but this indulgence got to the point of distraction. I would almost hold my breath when I would fire up a new episode, hoping Ilana wouldn’t wear something “borrowed” from yet another culture.

I also lament that the idea of polyamory for Ilana is dumped almost as soon as it gets introduced. True, it was pretty clear Lincoln was interested in Ilana from jump, but once he dumped her, I’m surprised her liberal personality didn’t seize on the idea – maybe not when they started to date again seriously, but when she was single and out of her depression. Perhaps that is something that will get explored in the final season.

THE RATING:

While I would probably get annoyed beyond belief with Ilana as a person if I met her in real life, I love that she exists as a character. She has multiple arcs, faults, dreams, fears, and development over the course of Broad City. She knows how to have fun and how to get out of a sticky situation but the show also isn’t afraid to show she is on the anxiety-depression spectrum (even if it takes her a bit to admit her consistent need for antidepressants). And at the end of the day, it’s really lovely to see a hilarious, supportive female friendship at the forefront of a show. If you can take some dirty humor, then YAAAAAS – I would recommend this without hesitation.

Jennie Roberson
Jennie Roberson is a comedic actress and screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. She just finished her first novel (a bi coming-of-age tale, naturally) and hopes to share it with the world soon. When she's not busy binging on Star Trek or dreaming of her future cat army, you can find her occasional thoughts between mountains of re-tweets at her Twitter handle, @JennieRoberson.