Broad City is back! The fourth season of Comedy Central’s female-focused hit premiered on Wednesday night. But we didn’t get to catch up with present-day Ilana (Ilana Glazer) and Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) as many of us expected. Instead, we got their origin story. The entire episode was set in 2011, giving us at least two different versions of the day that Ilana and Abbi met. A lot can change in six years, though. And the beginnings of the friendship at the centre of Broad City felt a lot more like something from Girls, and not in the good way.
While many people have heralded Broad City as the woke alternative to Lena Dunham’s flat portrayal of millennial New York women in Girls, I’ve always considered the two shows to be different sides of the same coin. Unlike Girls, Broad City has had the decency to include more people of colour in their portrayal of life in the Big Apple. Characters like Lincoln (Hannibal Buress) and Jaime (Arturo Castro) have added perspective to Broad City. But in terms of both series’ main characters, I’m not sure I’m ready to champion Abbi and Ilana — both of whom are white, by the way — as the winners for “getting it”.
In terms of productivity and success, 2011 Abbi and Ilana aren’t any better off than they were when we left them last season. Ilana gets fired from two jobs over the course of one episode, and Abbi is overexcited about a job at a coffee shop. Joyful underachievement as the defining characteristic of millennials is a trope that centres on those with wealthy families, racial privilege, and other safety nets as a backup plan. The mere thought of not having sustainable income sends me into a panic. There is nothing fun to me about the idea of losing an hourly job. With the exception of Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), none of the main characters on Girls found gainful employment to be a priority, either.
And then there’s a weird interaction between Ilana and some black guys on the subway. The dudes are performing dance routines on the same car as her, and she takes it upon herself to enter their space. She accidentally gets kicked in the face as a result. It’s a risk you take when you don’t mind your own business. I immediately pictured Hannah (Lena Dunham) in this very predicament, holding her eye and assuring the dancer that it’s okay. When the kid who kicks Ilana offers to give her the money he made as an apology, she says “I’m just a silly upper-middle class NYU bitch, so I wouldn’t take money from you.” This is exactly something Marnie (Allison Williams) would say. And when the same train dancer responded that they, too, were NYU performing arts students, Ilana took $20. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) would have done the same thing.
With different versions of the fateful day that the two women met playing out alongside each other, it’s not entirely clear which version of events actually happened. Either way, it was probably awkward and full of privilege-fuelled antics. But here is where Broad City will always one-up Girls: self-awareness. Glazer and Jacobson have the humility to put their shortcomings on full display. I’ll always appreciate them for that.