A few minutes into Wednesday night’s season two premiere of Comedy Central’s Broad City—starring comedy duo Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer as the wacky, winkingly fictionalized BFFs “Abbi” and “Ilana”—Abbi rapes a guy. It’s summer in New York, and when Abbi finally gets her date Stacy (played by guest star Seth Rogen) to stop cooking fajitas over a hot stove and have sweaty sex with her, he passes out from the heat with her on top—and she keeps going until she’s finished. The next day, when Abbi recounts the episode to Ilana, she informs Abbi that she’s totally a rapist, then riffs on the idea—“You know, I’ve never been to this neighborhood before, but I’m not scared because I’m with a stone cold rapist”—until she circles around to a justification: “Hey, it’s OK. It’s reverse rapism. You are raping rape culture. Yes!”
Rachel Syme, who spent months trailing the duo for Grantland as they filmed the second season, writes that “young, cosmopolitan women” became obsessed with Broad City “because they saw themselves, finally, on TV: Here were women getting blazed out of their minds, pulling off petty heists, fantasizing openly about getting and giving head, ditching work, smuggling drugs in their crevices, and dealing with each other’s shit (literally and figuratively).” But in the alternate universe constructed between Jacobson and Glazer, women engage in activities that were previously unthinkable not just on television, but in life. The typical gender hierarchy is suspended and replaced by an all-powerful female friendship that rules everything and everyone around it. Young women in particular are fascinated by the show not just because it revolves around them, but is set in a universe where the world revolves around them, too.
The result is a radical, sometimes disturbing, always hilarious fantasy. Jacobson told Syme that “when we make the show, we are always talking about how the show is really in between what we make and what the viewer thinks of it.” Or as Glazer put it: The “show may be a cartoon version of us, but the cartoon sometimes gets closer to reality than anything.”
Much of Broad City’s comedic dreamscape revolves around Abbi and Ilana’s desire, discussion, and pursuit of casual sex. In this episode alone, Ilana slaps a Hasidic man on the ass; gives the play-by-play of Colin Farrell’s sex tape in a Topshop changing room as she inspects her own vagina; and commands a college guy to inhale from a bong that she presents between her legs like an erection. Syme notes that even in Broad City’s version of sexual liberation, “things tend to go horribly wrong” for Abbi and Ilana—but never in the afterschool special kind of way. While the women of Girls brazenly tick off taboos—sex on the show has so far led to pregnancy, miscarriage, HPV, maybe rape, cheating, betrayal, and accidental anal—the sex on Broad City is completely untethered from all the typical social and physical consequences that our culture promises to sexually active women. When sex goes awry, Abbi and Ilana are the victims of their own idiosyncrasies, not male aggression. The women are consumed exclusively with what they want, and never what men do. The lesson Abbi learns from taking advantage of a passed-out Stacy is that she needs an air conditioner in her apartment to prevent guys from passing out again.
Broad City’s plot may often revolve around getting laid, but the most delicious element of its fantasy is how it recasts female friendship as a kind of superpower—together, Abbi and Ilana are capable of lugging an air conditioner across Brooklyn and building a moral universe where they always end up on top. It’s also the secret to the real-life Abbi and Ilana’s success. “Some people are scared of us, and some think we are dumb little girls. But the way we combat that is just being ourselves in meetings. And having a partner makes that so easy, because when all else fails, I’ll just talk across the table at Abbi like we are chilling by ourselves,” Glazer told Syme. “There is so much power in being able to look comfortable in a conference room, and I’m not sure dudes in suits are used to seeing women do that.”