By Shannon Carlin
Shenanigans happen on Broad City.
The Comedy Central show stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer as best friends Abbi and Ilana—playing heightened and often high versions of themselves—and each and every episode is a hi-jinx-filled lesson in survival.
Sometimes the two women have to clean the house of a diaper-wearing-man-child just to scrounge up enough money to see a Lil Wayne concert. Other times they need to pretend to be RA’s to get back the air conditioner (and the weed stashed in the dorm wall) that is rightfully theirs.
But whether it’s learning to do one’s own taxes or buying marijuana alone for the first time or earning your first substantial check deserving of a Drake-assisted trip to the bank, Abbi and Ilana support one another—no questions asked.
That support can actually be quite literal, as we saw in season one’s finale, where an adrenaline-fueled Abbi carries a shellfish-allergy-suffering Ilana out of a fancy restaurant that B-Z (that’s Beyoncé and Jay Z) once ate at.
It’s the two of them against the world, and the world should probably watch out.
This female dynamic echoes that of another legendary TV duo, Lucy and Ethel, two women who certainly knew their way around a good caper.
In the 1950s, I Love Lucy gave the world two women who could do the housework and have dinner on the table, all while still having a bit of fun. And that fun was even better if you had your best girlfriend by your side.
In hindsight, I Love Lucy is criticized for not pushing hard enough for women’s issues. But for a show that was airing before the start of the women’s liberation movement, it had its share of feminist moments. It was one of the first TV shows to feature a female lead. It was the first show to feature a pregnant character—despite the fact that they weren’t actually able say that word (“pregnant”) on TV and were forced to instead use the word “expecting.”
To put in perspective how far women in TV have come, one of the obstacles Broad City had to deal with recently was convincing Comedy Central to darken the blur used to cover Ilana’s vagina in a scene so it looked like she had pubic hair. Win one for every woman who refuses to go Brazilian.
Ethel was tasked with being Lucy’s support system anytime she wanted to try and get a role in one of Ricky’s shows, most notably when she teamed up with her for a performance of the “Friendship Song.”
Though Ricky was always apprehensive about allowing Lucy to join any of his club’s shows, we imagine Abbi’s lounge singing alter-ego Val would have earned a slot at the Tropicana. Or, at the very least, Ricky would have enlisted Abbi and Ilana to put their bibs on for a bucket drum performance of his signature song “Babalu.”
I Love Lucy poked fun at female caricatures by also poking fun at the men who believe in them. Lucy and Ethel may be bad at navigating a speedy belt of chocolate, but Ricky and Fred are worse at doing the ironing and getting dinner on the table. Lucy and Ethel’s mishaps were not weaknesses but a chance to show that women don’t have to be pretty, perfect and poised—they just have to be human.
This is something the Broad City women also seem to take to heart, allowing themselves to be raunchy, neurotic, incompetent versions of themselves who don’t give a f–k about the three Ps. They instead live by the four Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle, Rihanna.
I Love Lucy was one small step for funny women and their equally funny female friends. But Broad City is one giant leap for quirky female friendships everywhere. Chicks before d—s is the motto…unless one of the chicks is wearing a strap-on, which yes, is something Abbi did on a date with her next-door crush this season. (What does Ilana think of it? She’s completely supportive of the whole thing. In fact, she’s jealous she didn’t hit the milestone first.)
While revolutionary in its time, there’s no doubt that I Love Lucy‘s roles were very clear: Lucy was the star and Ethel was her sidekick. On Broad City, however, those boundaries are erased. Abbi and Ilana take turns being the “Lucy,” with the other being her willing and able “Ethel” who gives her full support and attention to the task at hand. You see it when Abbi (wo)mans the coat check so Ilana can make out with her doppelganger soul mate (a perfectly cast Alia Shawkat), and in reverse when Ilana becomes a doo-doo ninja to keep Abbi from utter embarrassment.
Strap-ons and doo-doo aside, the bottom line is that with Abbi and Ilana push the idea of female BFFs to a progressive new high. For instance, Broad City doesn’t just pass the Bechdel Test—the three question rubric created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel to figure out if a work of fiction is gender inclusive—it aces it with flying colors. The show has two women in it, they are always talking to each other and they always have something other than men to chat about. Even when they do talk about the men in their lives, it comes from a supportive place. These girls are too busy trying to find Kelly Ripa’s coat or the home of a dog that looks suspiciously like Judith Light to waste time fighting over a guy.
For any woman who wondered whether they were a Lucy or an Ethel, we suggest they now start asking themselves if they’re an Abbi or an Ilana.