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Jewish Journal

‘Broad City’ a broad mess

by Melissa Weller

January 24, 2014 | 4:44 pm

Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson in "Broad City"

A favorite sport for entertainers, writers and the writers who write about them is diving into the vast swimming pool of millennial content. One of the more recent participants comes in the form of Comedy Central’s Broad City, which premiered Wednesday after its graduation from a Web series to the bigger small screen. “Jewess” creator-stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who play themselves, hail from famed Upright Citizens Brigade in New York and operate under the expert eye of executive producer Amy Poehler, herself a UCB alum. Promising, right?

Out the gate, critics love loving this show. Robert Lloyd of the LA Times graciously compared the show in concept and attitude to the sorely missed Flight of the Conchords, which starred New Zealand comedy lords Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie and Rhys Darby. A comparison wholly unearned, as of yet. Willa Paskin wrote in a piece for Slate that “Broad City’s broads, deep down inside, have good hearts. It’s hard to know anymore if the girls of Girls have hearts at all.” (Following the two hapless twentysomething gals around New York, the show has earned nearly every comparison to Girls under the sun.) Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker is an early advocate as well, though I only know because I follow her on Twitter. Still waiting on her column.

Favorable throwarounds also include “delightful, knockabout new sitcom,”  “ecstatic,” “contagious” and, most offensively, “funny.”

The first episode features hesitant, homebody Abbi and scrappy, libidinous Lil Ilana huzzahing their way through town trying to earn enough money for a secret Lil Wayne concert that night. Enough for a respectable amount of weed for said Weezy show, too, because of course. I don’t want to walk through it again, but there’s a mop bucket drum circle involved. The premiere’s one saving grace was a Fred Armisen appearance, when they agree to clean his apartment sans shirts and pants for $200. Armisen hilariously out-creeps them and they leave empty handed.

I really wanted to like Broad City, so finding it nearly unwatchable came as a disappointing surprise. But their various encounters and tribulations on the quest for dope dough feel almost haunted. Haunted with the faint stench of stale coffee from the morning brainstorm about what the kids laugh at these days. There’s a desperate air to the show whereas, say, Girls, is confident in itself. Though set in the same city, these shows are worlds apart. The multi-dimensional damsels of Girls may do some unforgiveable things and think some unforgiveable thoughts, but they’re 100 percent assured in their characters. They’re organic, therefore creating organic humor.

When I read Paskin describing Abbi as “the kind of girl who affixes Post-its to her vibrator reminding herself to masturbate,” my jaw nearly hit the floor. Who and where are those “kind of girls?” And are there really enough of them to constitute an entire category? And what of Ilana’s Lil Wayne desktop pictures? When did she transport to a 2007 San Diego State dorm room? This is not organic, this is not assured, this is flailing.

Nobody Skypes, not even with their best friend, while another human is inside of her – unless she’s in an SDSU dorm room. Nobody keeps Post-it schedules on a vibrator. And certainly nobody gets out of work by nonchalantly telling their boss they might have AIDS. Abbi.

The situations feel forced and the deliveries reflect that. Punch lines roll off like they’re being read from a teleprompter stuck on fast-forward. True, the transition from 3-4 min webisodes to dishing – not haphazardly overstuffing – a half hour of coherent television is no walk in Bushwick Park, and it’s not like the show is unsalvageable. Glazer and Jacobson have a knack for the funny and there were a few moments when it burped out a little. But timing and tone are off and the girls might benefit from a lesson in comedic subtlety. Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture wrote “If Broad City were more sure of its mission, its tone, or both, it could turn into a genuinely impressive show.” I cautiously agree. They also aren’t relatable, at least not yet, and given the show’s target generation is known at best for valuing individuality, at worst for unbridled narcissism, identifying with characters and seeing ourselves in them is crucial. Especially when content and stylistics are less than on point.

I hope Broad City finds what it’s looking for. 

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