Television

In Broad City’s Surprisingly Sincere Finale, It’s We Who Must Move On

Abbi and Ilana aren’t breaking up, but it’s time for us to say goodbye.

Arturo Castro, Ilana Glazer, Paul Downs, John Gemberling look downright celebratory in this still from Broad City.
Arturo Castro, Ilana Glazer, Paul Downs, and John Gemberling in Broad City.
Matthew Peyton

There was time when I watched Broad City beyond faithfully. The comedy—which follows the best of besties, Abbi and Ilana, played by series creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, as they cavort through New York City in a bubble of mutual admiration, weirdness, and weed smoke—made me laugh harder than just about anything on TV. The show was good-natured, wacky, and actually funny, a rarity in a TV landscape overpopulated by melancholic semi-comedies—until it, too, en route to Thursday night’s series finale, became melancholic.

When Broad City premiered in 2014, Abbi and Ilana, a frazzled everygirl and a curly-haired imp, were in their early 20s, agog at New York City and at each other. Hand in hand, they navigated Craigslist, UPS package drop-off, roommates’ boyfriends who never leave the couch, low-level jobs, and rodents. They gallivanted around, occasionally drop-kicking rotisserie chickens, putting strap-ons in the dishwasher, and starring in fantasy music videos, an inseparable team, a dynamic duo. But change comes for you, even when you’re avoiding it. You do the exact same thing every day, and one day you wake up, and instead of being a 23-year-old living a carefree life with no real job, income, or prospects, you’re a 30-year-old with no real job, income, or prospects, and it all doesn’t feel quite so carefree anymore. Stasis is a hard state to maintain.

The final season of Broad City engaged in direct conversation with this predicament, which also happens to be the inherent predicament of the old-school sitcom. During the glory days of network TV and reruns, the goal was to create a show like Broad City: one audiences could turn on and watch, no explanation necessary, no scenes from last week, just the characters they loved behaving in the funny ways they usually did. (Broad City was not typical of a network comedy insofar as it was a female-created series about two wilding, stoner women that got its start as a web series.) But this structure, in certain circumstances, usually after Season 4 or so, can become suffocating. The show starts to trap the characters in the setting of the show itself.

Broad City, during its final season, was keenly aware of this, essentially making it the subject of the show itself. In one of Broad City’s closing episodes, titled “Shenanigans,” Abbi, who had recently started dating women, was dumped by her older, more accomplished maybe-girlfriend Leslie (Clea Duvall). “We’re just not on the same page,” Leslie told Abbi. “You just don’t feel like an adult yet. I’m sure your life is fun, but it’s really just a series of wild shenanigans.” Abbi responded to this charge by losing her temper and then spending the day posting Instagram stories of herself doing “mature” things, until falling headfirst into an air shaft while trying to take a selfie. It was enough to convince her she really ought to apply for an artist’s residency in Colorado.

There was an edge of desperation to Jacobson’s performance in the final season that wasn’t there before, a broadness to it. Abbi seems less like a real person and more like a caricature of a real person. Glazer’s Ilana has always been a kind of wackadoo extraterrestrial, a woman inhabiting her very own plane of existence, Ilanaland, where she’ll still be high-kicking when she’s 90. But Abbi is Broad City’s audience surrogate—a regular woman, slightly anxious, aware of what people are thinking of her (which is why she liked Ilana and weed so much: They help her care less). I’m not sure it was all entirely intentional—it must be a drag to play the relative straight woman to the whirligig that is Glazer all the time—but as Jacobson’s performance got bigger, Broad City picked up some pathos while losing some humor.

When what was once fun starts to make you sad, maybe it’s time to do something else. As Broad City ended, Ilana and Abbi decided to do just that. After weeks of prep, in the finale, Abbi finally leaves New York City for that residency, and both she and Ilana (heading to Hunter to become a shrink, where she will surely make enormous contributions to therapist fashion) swear to each other that the move is for the best. Standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, Abbi reassures Ilana, “Me and you, we’re still going to be us, that’s never going to change.” Ilana tearfully replies, “I know, but it is going to change. But this is still going to be the most beautiful, deep, real, cool and hot, meaningful, important relationship of my life,” as though they’re breaking up, parting in some irrevocable way, left with only a fallback plan to meet in St. Louis when the apocalypse comes.

It’s sweet and sincere, and though it feels real to them in the moment, it’s only for TV; as the finale also makes clear, Ilana and Abbi get to talk and text and see each other every day. It’s just the rest of us who don’t get to enjoy them in the same place, in the same time, in the same old TV show—and that’s probably for the best, too.