"Broad City"’s radical potty humor: The intimate truths inside Abbi and Ilana's screwball comedy

The buoyant comedy returned for its third season with a premiere that is both gross and inherently political

Published February 18, 2016 2:39PM (EST)

Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer in "Broad City" (Comedy Central)
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer in "Broad City" (Comedy Central)

It’s fitting that last night’s episode of “Broad City,” “Two Chainz,” revolves around bathrooms. The main plot is about the difficulty of finding a bathroom in New York—one that I can personally relate to—but the first few minutes are all about toilets, without any interruption. The cold open introduces us to a split-screen of two bathrooms, both alike in dignity, one in Abbi’s (Abbi Jacobson) apartment and one in and Ilana (Ilana Glazer)’s. It starts with just a few simultaneous activities on or around the pot—peeing, talking on the phone, vomiting—but as is the nature of “Broad City,” quickly becomes more and more ridiculous. Ilana receives an iced coffee from her roommate Jaime (Arturo Castro) and oral sex from Lincoln (Hannibal Burress). Abbi consigns not one, not two, but three dead fish to a watery grave, and then wears an absurdly sexy red dress when the hot plumber comes over to fix up the toilet. Sometimes Ilana’s in Abbi’s bathroom, both of them singing into hairbrush microphones. Sometimes Abbi’s at Ilana’s, as they stand back-to-back, either shimmying or trying to figure out who’s taller. And of course there is a lot of the other kind of pot, filling the bathroom with clouds and clouds of smoke before they pick up their phones, presumably individually on their way to seeing each other.

Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” which premiered its third season last night, feels like the most special and important comedy airing right now. Some of that is because the show’s humor is so surreal, buoyant, and loose—an effortless sort of screwball comedy that rolls from farce to farce with enthusiasm. And some of it is because Abbi and Ilana are women on screen like we have never seen them before. They are unfinicky and raw and physical with their comedy, an incarnation of womanhood so far removed from the mincing courtesies of “Sex And The City” that when that show is invoked—as it was last night, in a brief and hilarious conversation about trapezes—Carrie Bradshaw’s New York feels as strangely antiquated, compared to “Broad City,” as Edith Wharton’s New York might be. There’s an episode of “Sex And The City” where Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is terrified to poop at Big (Chris Noth)’s apartment—and then flees from his bed, under a sheet, when she farts under the covers. It’s difficult to imagine either Ilana or Abbi feeling remotely the same level of shame about their bodies; the closest “Broad City” parallel to Carrie’s pooping fears is probably the girls’ adventures in “Hurricane Wanda,” when the storm knocks out the plumbing and Abbi can’t flush down the deuce she just dropped. Ilana, who knows that Abbi will experience shame if the guy she likes walks in on Abbi’s floating turd, takes it upon herself to remove the evidence.

The show does not shy away from the physical reality of women, whether that’s whether that’s pregnancy tests or bleaching facial hair or the problem of a floating turd. So its cozy familiarity with bathrooms is the perfect introduction to this third season. They’re intimate spaces for intimate truths, and twined into the bodily functions is quite a bit of social commentary.

One of “Broad City”’s burdens, as it mushroomed into popularity over the last two years, is the unwieldy adjective “feminist”—one that implies that the show’s politics are as front-and-center as Amy Schumer’s for example, in “Inside Amy Schumer.” “Broad City” is radical, and it is feminist, but it’s both of those things through character and narrative, not through impassioned and snappy standup. The bathrooms are an excellent example of this—one that delves into the necessarily grubby and makeshift lives the women lead, as they scrape together Manhattan rent with questionable job security. But it also demystifies the female body, whether that’s Abbi doing a dance of celebration in the bathroom when her pregnancy test comes back negative or Ilana’s briefly depicted moment of shock at her presumably positive pregnancy test. Bathrooms are retreats and battlegrounds, private and shared, embarrassing and necessary. They are, grossly enough, “Broad City”’s sweet spot.

Broad City Returns For Season Three

By Sonia Saraiya

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