The Season 3 premiere of Broad City begins with a split screen of the bathrooms in Abbi’s and Ilana’s apartments. For 1½ minutes, the camera cuts from one scene to the next while Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) jump in and out of frame. You would have to watch the intro several times to work out layers of all the jokes that pass by in quick succession. In one scene, both women are clad in rainbow-themed attire—they’ve presumably come from the Gay Pride Parade—and Abbi is flushing her dead goldfish down the toilet while Ilana makes out with a sexy brunette. In the next, Ilana receives oral sex from her boyfriend Lincoln (Hannibal Buress) while Abbi sits reading Hillary Clinton’s memoir. A few seconds later, Abbi drops another dead goldfish in the toilet while Ilana reads the same Clinton memoir. Each scene gestures at a story rich enough to fill an episode, if Jacobson and Glazer wanted it to. Starting the season this way feels like an audacious boast: We have so many funny ideas we’re going to go ahead and burn through a dozen of them in a single cold open.
This will not surprise fans of Broad City, which in its first two seasons had the main characters put bags of marijuana into their vaginas, transport human feces from a toilet to a garbage chute, hallucinate a giant stuffed animal with a Whole Foods addiction, and attend a dog wedding, among other adventures. The first three episodes of the new season display more of the surreal, scatological, and sexual comedy that Glazer and Jacobson honed in Season 2—in fact, they’ve gotten so good that their show’s rapidfire rate of gags per minute seems to be accelerating.
After the head-spinning montage that opens the season, Broad City finds Abbi and Ilana in familiar form: narcissistic, oblivious, yet—within the slightly absurd universe of the show—totally loveable. Their conversation shifts seamlessly between superficial concerns and their slightly unhinged social-justice philosophy. As they catch up over brunch, Ilana is horrified that women in Saudi Arabia have to ask their “ ‘keepers’ permission to ‘leave the house’ ”—with exaggerated air quotes—while Abbi is concerned that her shirt is too urban (“like Urban Outfitters”) to wear to an art show.
The conflicts that fuel the new episodes are slighter than slight: Abbi and Ilana both have to pee but can’t find a bathroom. Ilana has to work a long shift at the food co-op to avoid getting kicked out. Abbi has to compete with her colleagues in a team-building field day. Naturally, Glazer and Jacobson spin zany gold out of these wispy premises: inspired riffs, quotable one-liners, memorable set pieces.
The new season will be particularly (though by no means exclusively) appealing to people who know New York City. As it has in seasons past, Broad City enthusiastically parodies Big Apple institutions: bargain-basement outlets like Filene’s where deal-seeking women play tug-of-war over marked-down blouses; Brooklyn food co-ops filled with sanctimonious environmentalists. Granted, the show’s spoof of the cronut is a few years too late, but Broad City’s “churron”—a colorful amalgamation of a churro and a macaron—is preposterous enough that you’ll overlook the tardiness of the joke.
Broad City has always excelled at physical humor. But this season, Abbi and Ilana take the slapstick to new heights. They’re good at coming up with one-off stunts—for instance, while grocery shopping, Ilana squeezes an orange and then compares it to the texture of her breast. But they also have a knack for coming up with slightly absurd physical constraints, and then inventing truly imaginative outcomes for those physical constraints. In the premiere, Ilana finds herself with a thick bike chain lock fastened around her waist. In another show, this predicament might set up a single big punch line—in Broad City it sets up three. And though the show has historically given the acrobatic Glazer the lion’s share of physical labor, the new season puts Jacobson’s athletic body to good use, too: Abbi teaches an aquatic exercise class, schools a bunch of preteens on the basketball court, pummels a co-worker with a pugil stick, and even does a handstand. Never has Broad City divided the stunts so evenly between its two leads.
It still sometimes feels like Abbi is playing catchup with Ilana, characterization-wise. Whereas Ilana sprang fully formed out of the series pilot as a singular, insane, hypersexual cartoon, Abbi has sometimes felt like more like a foil for Ilana than an independent person. Abbi’s development continues this season—we find out that she loves Phish, for instance, and has a violently competitive streak. Perhaps Abbi will never be as vividly, viscerally real as Ilana—but that’s not really the point. At its best, Broad City showcases the unique comic skills of both stars: Glazer’s rubbery facial expressions and habitual mispronunciation of vowels, Jacobson’s impeccable timing and uninhibited line reading, both comedians’ prodigious imaginations. And this season, Broad City is at its best.