Guest writer Laura Tansley details the feminist love story that is Broad City.
Do you remember The Sleepover Club? It was on CITV in 2002 briefly and I loved it. The Sleepover Club was about a group of thirteen-year-old girls living in Gold Coast, Australia. Every week there’d be some kind of low-stakes crisis, a crush, or a competition, the imminent closure of a milkshake bar maybe. Some choice words would be exchanged, boys would be gross, girls would be bitchy, finally there’d be a confrontation and true feelings would be revealed (it turns out she’d got her period and that’s why she went insane, or she actually fancied that guy and that’s why she was fucking rude to him for a week). Balance would be restored and they’d have a sleepover. AMAZE.
It wasn’t ground-breaking in any way, all the stereotypes were there. The Club consisted of a pretty, smart-ass leader, a superficial blonde with a heart of gold, an Asian-origin Man United obsessed tom-boy, a New Girl, and the other one with a twin brother that people secretly crushed on. Watching it on YouTube today reveals how it hasn’t stood the test of time, it’s not clever or original. And in 2002 I was 18. The Sleepover Club is not for 18 year olds in first year at university. I should have been out buying posters of Betty Blue, The Blues Brothers, Big Blue and Blue Velvet for my blue bloody walls.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t watch it because it spoke to my experience of growing up in the West Midlands in the ’90s. They hung out on beaches and said things like ‘case-in-point’. I watched it because it was about girls and friendship and it was one of very few shows on at the time that I could find on the rabbit ears of my three-channels-plus-S4C TV.
I love watching Broad City for the same reasons. I’ve never had a best friend that I would phone mid-fuck for advice on pegging, or smoked enough weed to do, well, anything except take a nap, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating how adorable, rude and funny the show is, as well as appreciating the focus on female friendship.
Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) are early-twenties New Yorkers living in a Louie-like hyper-reality. They have shitty jobs, baffling flatmates, sexual adventures and a love for each other that is so powerful it often eclipses everything else.
Broad City is not on UK TV right now. Neither is The Sleepover Club. So I’d like to refer you to YouTube at this point and insist that you watch a full episode of The Sleepover Club which you probably won’t enjoy but if you’re over 25 the experience will be give you such goose-bump-based memories of after school TV it’ll be like you travelled to Iowa to watch a baseball game played by ghosts.
If you haven’t seen Broad City take a look at the clip ‘Ilana gets in the mood’. It’s a minute-thirty scene about Ilana prepping for a wank. It sums up everything I like about the show: it’s great looking and sounding, it’s lovingly explicit about female sexuality, it makes me laugh (I’d like to own a pair of earrings specifically for wanking. Plus we should all wink at our own pussy’s more often), and the moment we see Ilana place her phone nearby with a picture of her pal Abbi smiling goofily warms my cockles.
Ilana loves Abbi so much that it crosses platonic boundaries at times. She might cut a hole in the bottom of a popcorn box, for example. And that’s not a metaphor. But whether she fancies Abbi or not isn’t really the point for me. It’s enough that it’s unspecified, undefined, demonstrating one aspect of a woman’s complicated sexuality. There are no sweeping generalizations here. So maybe the thought of Abbi gets her off, but what’s just as plausible is that Abbi makes her feel good because she’s 100% her friend so why not invoke the spirit of that through a photo of her awesome face and take that with her in to a sex fantasy.
The show’s not just about their friendship of course. It’s about the crush of that kind of early twenties idealism being pounded by real life and escaping in to the surreal for relief. It has a strong pop-culture core, they take some drugs and they dance to a lot of hip hop. It’s about as open-minded as it gets about sexuality – the pegging escapade that I mentioned gets discussed by Abbi with Ilana’s mum and dad (Susie Essman and Bob Balaban) at a funeral. The relationship breaks down after Abbi melts the ‘shinjo’ peg in question by putting it in the dishwasher. In the episode ‘Stolen Phone’ Ilana, seeking out some ‘pink dick’, picks up a man at a bar with a glorious head of blonde-boyband-curtains. Once home he’s naked almost immediately and confides that he’s bisexual. She responds, ‘that is true masculinity, you are truly evolved, and I am truly wet’. Finally he asks, ‘I hope you don’t shave down there,’ and Ilana’s mind is blown. She’s in 21st century feminist sexual heaven.
But at the end of every adventure it’s always Abbi and Ilana. And I think this is what makes Broad City unlike anything else. All the shows I can think of that include female friends almost always has the focus of friendship bumped for a central on-again-off-again romantic relationship. That’s not a flaw, by the way, it’s a feature. Friends is about 6 people, 2 of whom were destined for each other from the start. It never pretended to be anything else. From the moment the immortal words, ‘I just want to be married again’, are spoken by Ross in episode one and Rachel walks in to Central Perk wearing a wedding dress, the premise is locked. The show is called Friends, but we all know it in our hearts as When Will They Fuck from that first umbrella handshake. Same with Sex and the City, same with My So Called Life – two other shows I’ve watched obsessively at different times in my life. (SATC I watched when I was 16 and 27, first when it was on the telly, second time when the only female flatmate I had basically moved out and I was woman-starved. MSCL I watched when I was 11 and 30. That one should be obvious. When it was on the telly and when I had a decade-turning-breakdown about the inevitability of death. MSCL was suitable because it’s as similarly dramatic.)
The opening scene of Broad City’s first episode does a similar amount of establishing. Abbi looks at a vibrator with a post-it note attached: ‘Tuesday 7am’. Ilana Skypes in with news about a Lil’ Wayne concert she wants them both to go to but Abbi has a cashew stir fry she’d rather eat. Ilana accuses her of being the type of person who schedules when she jacks off. Tilting the screen slightly we realise that Ilana is actually having sex with Lincoln, an older guy with a more established life. He’s a Dentist. He gets shit done. Abbi is a little disturbed by this but Ilana is unphased, suggesting simply ‘I’m keeping him warm’. Hanging up Ilana is excited about how she sort of just had a three-some. Lincoln asks, ‘What are we doing here? Are we hooking up, are we dating?’ Ilana is honest: ‘This is purely physical’. Lincoln replies, ‘Why does this always happen to me?’
So Ilana is a little-too-free-spirited, Abbi maybe needs to lighten up, and not even Dentist dick is going to get in the way of their plans.
I’m not suggesting that Broad City is better, but it is different and because of that it’s well worth a watch. It’s a semi-platonic female rom-com. I’ve never had one myself but it looks great. Are you listening Comedy Central UK?
ABOUT THE WRITER: Laura Tansley’s creative and critical writing has been published in a variety of places including Short Fiction in Theory and Practice, The Island Review (with Jon Owen), Kenyon Review Online (with Micaela Maftei), New Writing Scotland and is forthcoming in NANO Fiction. C.J. Cregg is her TV inspiration, Jonathan Ames’ insecurity is her reality.