I got on the “Broad City” train pretty late (By which I mean “I started watching on Tuesday”). After devouring the first season, I went back and read some reviews of the early episodes and noticed a common comparison that was made by both critics and commenters. Both groups were quick to compare “Broad City” to Lena Dunham’s “Girls.” On one hand, it’s an easy comparison to make. On the other, there really isn’t anything to this comparison other than “twentysomething girls in New York.” The two shows have about as much in common as “The Shield” and “The Wire.”
But I guess I can cut both the critics and commenters some slack; at the time none of them had seen the recent movie that “Broad City” does share a good deal of its DNA with: Gillian Robespierre’s hilarious romantic comedy Obvious Child. To be fair, the movie wasn’t out yet when “Broad City” premiered a year ago, so no one would’ve known back then that there was something brilliant to compare “Broad City” to. But with the advantage of hindsight, the recent influx of “Best of 2014” movie/TV lists, and Abbi and Ilana making their terrific return to Comedy Central this week, there’s no better time to compare these two terrific works of art.
For those of you who didn’t see this hilarious film, Obvious Child is about a twentysomething stand-up comedian living in New York who gets pregnant after a one night stand and decides to have an abortion. You might be thinking that doesn’t sound very much like “Broad City” at all, but this comparison isn’t about plot, but tone and character. Obvious Child is a special movie because of its beautiful depiction of one woman’s choice to get an abortion, but it’s also an entertaining movie because it’s a comedic romp that’s anchored by a charming friendship between two women. The difference being that in Obvious Child, the “straight woman” (Gaby Hoffman) mostly hears about the crazy one’s (Jenny Slate) adventures the morning after. In “Broad City,” Abbi is right there with Ilana for all of the craziness, and starts to have more crazy adventures herself as the series continues.
It’s this central relationship between Abbi and Ilana that makes the comparison to “Girls” fall flat for me. I always feel like the girls in “Girls” are never more than a few words away from setting off a powder keg and ending their friendships, whereas I feel like Ilana and Abbi would literally kill for each other (Ilana would probably cook up a complicated plot for revenge, while Abbi would just Hulk-out).
But for the kinds of stories that “Girls” tends to tell, the relationship between the main characters is probably a good thing! “Girls” is way further on the drama end of the spectrum than “Broad City,” and the relationship the four “Girls” girls have is way riper for drama than the relationship between Abbi and Ilana in “Broad City.” That doesn’t make either relationship inherently better or worse, just different. And considering the lack of great female-female friendships on television, both of these approaches are without a doubt valuable.
In terms of comedic tone, “Broad City” and Obvious Child are incredibly similar. “Broad City” tends to go much bigger in terms of its zaniness or surrealism, but if you enjoy the humor of one, you’ll find yourself in familiar territory with the other. If you’ve yet to watch either of these two fantastic things, consider this your wake-up call. One was one of the best movies of 2014, and the other was one of the best shows of 2014. If Wednesday’s premiere is any indication, “Broad City” is likely to be one of 2015’s best shows as well. Don’t be like me and wait another year to catch this train.