Predictability can kill you in comedy. Just ask anyone lamenting the last decade or so of Adam Sandler’s career (with the exception of Funny People, I suppose). Take a single persona, bit or format in the same direction for too long, and you go from fall-down funny to fall-flat old news.
For the past two years or so, Broad City creators and stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (who appear in the 20Q section of our March issue) have been riding a wave of critical acclaim and building a devout fandom with their Comedy Central series. They’ve been lauded as fearless comedians and feminist hellraisers, and anticipation for each new season of their show is only growing. Tonight, Broad City is back for Season 3, and while that event brings with it a new level of confidence and sure-footedness for Jacobson and Glazer, it has also raised the dreaded specter of predictability. By now we know their characters and the twisted version of New York City they inhabit. We’re intimately familiar with the non-sequitirs of Lincoln (Hannibal Buress) and the omnipresence of Bevers (John Gemberling). We know that Ilana would like things to get weird with Abbi, and that Abbi’s not entirely aware of it. What if it all becomes boring?
Broad City saw this coming, and its Season 3 debut both plays into the predictability and subverts it. In hilarious ways.
Very Mild Spoilers for the season premiere ahead.
Like I said, we know these characters, but Jacobson and Glazer know them better. To prove it, they open their season with a split-screen sequence showing each of the leads living out daily life in their bathrooms. Abbi is very predictably Abbi: awkward and self-aware, yet boisterous and constantly living in fear of Bevers barging in on her. Meanwhile, Ilana is very Ilana: free and gregarious and getting up to weird sex stuff on the toilet. Also, of course, there’s weed. This is a mission statement. The creators are telling us that they know what we think we’re about to get, and they give it to us in microcosm. Then they give us something else entirely.
The season premiere, titled “Two Chainz,” follows a formula that will be familiar to Broad City fans thanks to episodes like Season 1’s “Destination: Wedding” or Season 2’s “Hashtag FOMO.” The basic setup is delightfully simple: Abbi and Ilana have to accomplish a simple task—in this case, get to an art gallery opening for one of Abbi’s friends—and they screw it up entirely. This could have been a stale plot device, but because Broad City knows what it’s doing now, the very fact that this episode could’ve been so predictable becomes a weapon in its arsenal.
I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that a huge chunk of the episode revolves around Abbi and Ilana needing to pee. There are pee jokes that other shows might get away with just once, but Broad City strikes at least four times, including one instance that is the hardest Abbi Jacobson has ever made me laugh (and that’s saying something). The comedic trick that the episode pulls off is that, while we’ve seen this formula applied to Broad City several times by now (including the pilot episode), Jacobson and Glazer are both happy to give the people what they want and evolve the very notion of this kind of episode.
The world of Broad City has grown increasingly bizarre since the series premiered, and in “Two Chainz” Abbi and Ilana milk every bit of that strangeness. This is no longer a story about two best friends surviving the Big City. This is a story of two heroines fighting against a world that seems determined to keep them down, and that’s underlined by a number of references to feminist struggles made throughout the episode. For Ilana and Abbi, life is as much about trying to find a decent shirt at a pop-up warehouse sale as it is about lamenting the plight of third-world women and their male oppressors. It’s just as much about contemplating the fluidity of the sexual spectrum as it is about finding a place to use the bathroom. Broad City has always delighted in the mundane, but this season it seems to wield the mundane as a weapon to get us to the profound, while making us laugh at the same time.
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are comedy icons, but they’re also, on some level, still shouting to be heard, and Season 3 of Broad City is a brilliant exploration of that duality. The season premiere embraces the strange and the real all at once, takes the show to a new level, and conjures hysterical laughter as it tricks us into thinking we know what’s coming.
Broad City returns tonight, Wednesday Feb 17, at 10/9C on Comedy Central.