I don’t remember when I started watching Broad City – if it was before I came to New York for the first time in 2014, or after – but what I do remember is becoming so obsessed with it, so quickly, that I would ask everyone if they’d seen it and recommend it to anyone who was looking for a new show to watch.
Abbi and Ilana are two special, hilarious, and unapologetically badass women, living their New York lives the best way they can. The main reason I love this show way more than I love so many others set in New York (Sex and the City, Friends, How I Met Your Mother) is because it shows the real, gross side of New York.
All of the characters in the aforementioned shows live in Manhattan – except Robin who lives in Park Slope in the first couple of seasons of HIMYM, and Miranda who moves somewhere in Brooklyn (they only ever say “Brooklyn”, which is stupid since Brooklyn has heaps of neighborhoods and based on that alone, she could have lived in Brighton Beach, Park Slope, or Williamsburg which are all incredibly different places) in the last season of SATC – and we don’t see them use any public transport. Sorry, but Carrie getting on the subway once, ONCE, to get to FiDi from the Upper East Side doesn’t count.
Abbi and Ilana live in Astoria in Queens and Gowanus in Brooklyn (which is where I live, it was a coincidence I swear), respectively. They aren’t getting handouts from their family to be in the city, unlike Monica from Friends who’s taking advantage of an illegal sublet in the Village after her grandmother moves out. Aside from Abbi’s splurge on that blue dress, the one she wears to literally every big event for the rest of the show, and her spending too much money at Whole Foods when she’s high after getting her wisdom teeth out, they aren’t spending so much money that their credit cards have to be cut up while paying for a pair of shoes in Dolce and Gabbana (Carrie, duh), and they aren’t drowning in secret debt like Lily in HIMYM.
In fact, the first episode of Broad City is centered around Ilana learning she isn’t getting her paycheck for another week, which means she can’t buy tickets to see Lil Wayne. Instead of asking her parents to lend her money, or putting them on a credit card to pay off later, she steals office supplies from her job and sells them back to the store. She trades Jaime the gift card from the store for weed, and she and Abbi (unsuccessfully) try drumming in Washington Square Park to make more money.
The episode ends with the girls cleaning an adult baby’s apartment, while dressed in their underwear. The adult baby – played by Fred Armisen – refuses to pay them: “I’m a baby, I have no money!” “I can pay you in bwocks!” so they trash his apartment and steal bottles of expensive alcohol and fur coats. It’s clear from the start that Abbi and Ilana aren’t glossing over their New York experiences – they want to show how frustrating, how difficult, and how disgusting it can be.
They poke fun at how unreliable the G train from Queens to Brooklyn is: “I’m going to get the N to the R, and then be home in a tight 90 cos the G’S, NOT, RUNNING!” show that New Yorkers are some of the dirtiest people: “Let’s meet at the ATM where that woman threw up on you,” “The time that guy jerked off on your pocket book in Bryant Park,” and demonstrate that NO ONE who lives in New York EVER wants to go to Times Square, the Upper East Side, or Penn Station unless you’re chasing your phone around on “Find my iPhone” or trying to leave the city to go to a wedding.
They don’t make living and working in New York look easy and glamorous, because it’s not. Friends made it look like you’d all have time to sit around drinking coffee from huge mugs all day, and that your best friend will pay your rent and support you while you try to be an actor. Try again. Sex and the City made a freelance writer’s life look easy, when all the freelancers I know spend every waking moment trying to get more work, and don’t wear Manolo Blahnik shoes. How I Met Your Mother made you think you can rack up a huge credit card debt – “the size of Mount Waddington!” – and your husband will pay it off by landing a high-paying legal job right out of college. Nah mate.
When the Broad City girls are broke, they’re fucking broke, and they take care of it themselves. Abbi tries, and fails, to sell her clothes and her art when she breaks a mirror at Soulstice, and Ilana performs on subways to make money when she gets fired from Deals Deals Deals.
They call out the ongoing gentrification of their neighborhoods – Ilana and Bingo Bronson when they see the Whole Foods store in Gowanus: “This neighborhood is changing!” “It’s a whole new Gowanus,” and a woman in Abbi’s building who criticizes the price of sandwiches since millennials started moving to Astoria – and they don’t unrealistically spend all of their time in Manhattan.
Abbi and Ilana may be trying to live their best lives, but they inevitably demonstrate poor judgment and make mistakes. They are 20-somethings, after all. Abbi melts Jeremy’s special dildo in the dishwasher. Ilana gets fired from her job for uploading bestiality porn to the company Twitter account. Abbi leaves Soulstice after her relationship with Trey ends, but tells them she won the lottery instead of saying she found a new job. She then gets fired from her next job when her boss’s cat jumps out the window and dies at an event in her apartment, and then gets fired from Anthropology for making a window display out of rubbish Jaime cleared out of his room, and inadvertently putting a rat in the store.
They capture what it’s like to figure it out, day by day. They get blackout drunk, Abbi so much so that she morphs into someone called Val and performs at The Back Room. They smoke a LOT of weed and mix it with prescription medication – Ilana with her anti-depressants, Abbi with painkillers after she has her wisdom teeth out – and they try mushrooms and do MDMA together. They sleep with men casually, they go back to their exes, they experiment with other women, and they even go home with two DJs who were planning on tricking them into group sex.
Broad City showed me that you can be loud, own your sexuality, make mistakes, get fired, get drunk, get high, and most of all, simultaneously hate and love living in New York. Abbi and Ilana think about moving to Florida when they go to clear out Ilana’s deceased grandmother’s condo, but realize the cold, expensive, disgusting garbage island that is New York is their real home.
The most vivid memory I have of watching Broad City is when I was visiting New York in June of 2015. I was toying with the idea of moving here, and it was kind of a practice run for me. I was staying for two weeks, working in my old work’s New York office, and trying to live like a New Yorker instead of a tourist.
The biggest mistake I made on that vacation was not finding and packing comfortable walking shoes to wear in summer weather. I had boots, but they were rubbing against my ankles and giving me a rash. I had sneakers, but they didn’t go with the dresses I had to wear when it was hot and humid. So instead, I wore thongs (flip-flops). Don’t do this. Don’t. Just… don’t.
After the first day of wearing thongs from my Airbnb in the East Village over to Chelsea, and up to Midtown, my feet were completely black. I had to wear them again a few days later after the new flats I’d bought had given me painful blisters all over my feet. It was much hotter than it had been the first day I’d worn them, so my feet were sweating. That, mixed with the dirt I picked up off the street, the subway, and Washington Square Park created a gritty mud between my toes. It was disgusting.
I decided to get the subway home but went the wrong way and ended up somewhere on Canal Street. If you’ve ever been to New York, you’ll know that Canal Street is in Chinatown and features a lot of food markets. Food markets selling raw, fresh fish. It also features a lot of people – tourists and locals – who walk very slowly as they shuffle from market to market, meaning the streets are very crowded, it’s impossible to walk fast, and it SMELLS AWFUL on a hot summer’s day.
After that experience, I’d had enough. I got a taxi to my Airbnb, closed the blinds, turned the AC on and lay alone in the dark for a while. I thought about the possibility of living here, and whether I could handle a city like this all the time. I thought about whether I would end up having to spend a fortune on taxis everywhere, because people on the street were too annoying (yes). I wondered if I’d ever find a pair of shoes I could walk around in during summer (also yes). I thought about how hard it was to do simple things here, how hard it was to find some space. I couldn’t even find somewhere to sit down in the shade in Washington Square Park!
Instead of crying and complaining to myself all afternoon, which I really felt like doing, I realized I had Broad City saved on my computer, and watched some episodes from the first two seasons in the dark, air conditioned apartment.
Watching them talk their way through boring, menial jobs, give sass to strangers “OUTTA THE WAY, CLAVICLE”, and deal with the harsh realities of New York: being broke, hating your job, freeloading roommates, throwing up in public, being thrown up on in public, having your phone stolen, getting bedbugs, finding rats in your apartment, being forced to go watch some guy do Improv on a date, having the water and electricity in your apartment stop working during a hurricane, having an air conditioner you just bought get stolen off the street, and not having an air conditioner on a really hot summer’s day – made me realize life in New York would never be perfect. Instead, it would be dirty, messy, frustrating, heartbreaking and… worth it.
A year later, I arrived in New York – to stay – and though I’ve questioned it, cursed it, cried and thrown up in public, and downright hated it sometimes, I also love it and can’t imagine myself leaving any time soon.
Abbi and Ilana have been a constant in my life for years, and they’ve made some of the funniest, most relatable TV I’ve ever seen. I will miss them very much, and after their last episode airs on Thursday, you will find me crying in my room, saying “YAS QUEEN” to myself over and over, like this: