Television

How ‘Broad City’ Defied Expectations and Opened the Door by Putting Friendship First (Column)

After five years of wild misadventures and invaluable life lessons emerging through generous clouds of pot smoke, the final season of Comedy Central’s “Broad City” pulled one of its riskiest moves to date: it let its brassy heroines grow up. After spending most of their 20s attached at the hip, Abbi (co-creator Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (co-creator Ilana Glazer) found their own paths, independent of each other, and a new gear in which their relationship could thrive even across state lines. From its opening minutes to its poignant closing moments, “Broad City” told the story of a fiercely devoted friendship with expert clarity, empathy, and of course, some of the most ridiculous New York City detours television has ever seen.

What “Broad City” accomplished with its five-season run isn’t limited to just the show. The TV landscape it entered in 2014 looked nothing like the one it left behind in 2019, and not just because there are approximately a million times more television, period. It’s easy to forget that when “Broad City” premiered, its focus on “female friendship” was such an anomaly that it kept being compared to HBO’s “Girls,” another show about female friendship that nonetheless shared very few similarities with Jacobson and Glazer’s zany vision. It’s not that TV was a total stranger to series concerning female friends. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Sex and the City” would have some things to say about such a claim. But even in 2014, the idea of a show that centered on the friendship between two women, and not their search for a romantic partner, remained a novelty. Now, as proved by the promising year of television that followed “Broad City’s” series finale, that is thankfully no longer the case.

Take “Tuca and Bertie,” Lisa Hanawalt’s Netflix cartoon about 30-something (bird)women that felt like a spiritual continuation of “Broad City,” albeit one with cool girls with plants for heads and caterpillar trains. Like “Broad City,” it featured one completely uninhibited woman (voiced by Tiffany Haddish) and a nervously determined one (Ali Wong), but the focus of the series is shifted toward them working through such issues as anxiety, trauma and sobriety.

Or take “Pen15,” Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle’s love letter to their teenage selves that premiered on Hulu in January just as “Broad City” was bowing out. In 10 episodes as hilarious as they were heart-wringing, “Pen15” honed in on that particular slice of teenage life in which two girls recognize something of themselves in each other and latch on, sharing every secret insecurity and fervent dream in the hopes of feeling less alone. Also in this adolescent realm is “Euphoria,” Sam Levinson’s trippy and devastating drama about teens struggling to right themselves in a world that feels constantly on edge. Without the close and complicated relationship between Zendaya’s Rue and Hunter Schafer’s Jules anchoring it, the show would have trouble feeling grounded at all.

And then there’s “Dead to Me,” Liz Feldman’s Netflix dramedy about two women finding an unlikely friendship through the overwhelming fog of grief. As portrayed by TV veterans Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, Jen and Judy are aching and furious, shattered and lonely — but when they find each other, not even the strangest circumstances can break their bond. Also from Netflix came “Unbelievable,” an extraordinary drama (co-created by Susannah Grant, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman) that told the story of a true serial rape case with meticulous care. At its heart are detectives Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Karen Duvall (Merritt Weaver), consummate professionals with their own way of investigating, who lean on and respect the hell out of each other.

Perhaps the best part is that this list, though, could easily be twice as long. Where TV was once hesitant to center on women’s bonds with each other without giving equal weight to some guys waiting in the wings to sweep them off their feet, it’s now made ample room, and television as a whole is better off for it.

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