4 and 3 and 2 and 1: Counting Down the Best Episodes of Broad City

When Broad City premiered back in January 2014, it was easy to underestimate. Pitched as an affable stoner millennial version of Laverne and Shirley, it didn’t quite announce itself as the “voice of a generation,” like another hyped-up NYC-set girl-centric show. But as one of the first female-produced series to get a full order from Comedy Central, it had to thread a more delicate needle, smuggling in its fiercely feminist, queer worldview amongst the requisite scatological and drug humor, proving itself the more subversive in the process. Not that the women of Broad City would ever think of themselves as competing with anyone else. Ultimately what makes the show so memorable and endearing is the central partnership of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer and the specificity of the city they inhabit. The genuineness of their love for one another and the seat-of-the-pants mode of their survival felt more realistic to me as I navigated the same metropolis for over a decade (minus the Vicodin-induced Bingo Bronson sightings, regrettably). That I was preparing to leave New York just as the final season of Broad City premiered seemed oddly right. But wherever the series decides to send Abbi and Ilana next, their legacy will continue to live on in shows as varied as HBO’s High Maintenance and Insecure to TBS’s Search Party, and in every “Yaas Queen!” shouted to the heavens. Before we bid farewell, in true SportsAlcohol tradition, let’s celebrate with the five best episodes of this singularly absurd, delightfully daffy show.

The Five (Plus) Best Episodes of Broad City


Honorable Mention: “Stories” (Season 5, Episode 1)
Broad City has taken plenty of risks with its storytelling before. There’s the animated drug trip of “Mushrooms” and the (slightly) more grounded flashback episode that opened season four. But this is the sort of episode that could only work at this point in the show, when we know the characters well enough that the gimmick is enhanced by them, not vice versa. Following the girls along on a series of misadventures during Abbi’s 30th birthday, much of the episode is formatted as an Instagram story that Ilana is putting together in real time. As one of the last people on the planet without an account on that particular social media platform I was apprehensive about spending an entire episode immersed in filters and GIFs. But I should never have doubted the girls’ ability to get the most mileage they can out of a joke. In addition to being a giddy, authentic portrait of their friendship, it’s also a charmingly low-rent love letter to the city as Abbi and Ilana attempt to travel the entire length of Manhattan by foot. Their realization of how little of the day they’ve absorbed is perhaps a bit pat, but it’s also highly relatable, and lays the groundwork for a final season that will be as bittersweet as it is hilarious.


5. “Fattest Asses” (Season 1, Episode 5)
Thanks to its web series origins, Broad City already had a fairly strong grasp on its voice when it debuted. But it did take a few episodes before it felt like Jacobson and Glazer were making full use of the wider canvas at their disposal, and “Fattest Asses” finds the show settling into a nice groove by shaking up its central dynamic for the first time. Up until that point, the girls’ personalities seemed fairly established: Abbi was the more reserved one, pining after her neighbor and cleaning up pubes at a gym, while Ilana was the wild child, smoking one-hitters and napping in the bathroom at work. But after a missed opportunity to lead a class at Soulstice, Abbi decides to throw caution to the wind, buying an expensive dress (thus inaugurating one of the series’ best runners: Ilana’s obsession with Abbi’s ass) and snorting coke in a party bathroom before going home with some DJs, played with delightful obliviousness by Jason Mantzoukas and Badger from Breaking Bad. Ilana’s dream of the foursome performing an “Arc de Triumph” goes unfulfilled, but this remains one of the most wall-to-wall funny episodes the show has ever done, largely because of how much it breaks with our previous understanding of these two characters, and how they understand each other. It’s a fluidity the show would continue to play with, most memorably in the season three episode “Co-Op” when Abbi impersonates Ilana, proving in the process that a low-stakes, supportive female friendship is legitimate fodder for television too.

4. “Witches” (Season 4, Episode 6)
Roughly two years into this catastrophic administration (feels much longer, doesn’t it), television still hasn’t quite gotten the hang of how to deal with Trump. He’s already a figure who can’t seem to resist inserting himself into any conversation at the least provocation, so even carefully crafted attempts can come across as clumsy and cheap. Jacobson and Glazer reportedly struggled with how to reckon with the incoming president, scrapping much of an already written season to address the new (ab)normal. Part of their ingenious solution was to bleep out any mention of his name, like it was another curse word. But “Witches” decides to tackle the subject head on with a plot that likely struck a chord with a lot of female viewers: Ilana’s inability to orgasm since the election. What follows is a remarkably visceral depiction of the toll this administration has taken on our collective mental and physical health, the unrelenting bad news and how consuming it can be, funneled through a story that takes female pleasure seriously. Ilana has always been a radically sex-positive character and to watch her be thwarted by visions of Pence and audio of pussy-grabbing boasts is one of the darkest turns the show has taken. When, with the help of a sex therapist, she finally breaks through with a literally explosive montage of strong women through history, it’s a moment as funny as it is genuinely cathartic, a fiery political statement that fits in perfectly with the show’s established voice.


3. “Coat Check” (Season 2, Episode 9)
Stunt casting has a long history on network television, but it can be a risky endeavor, particularly for a show with as well honed an ensemble and comedy aesthetic as this one. But throughout its run Broad City has managed to seamlessly integrate stars as varied as Amy Ryan, Tony Danza, and Ru Paul into their storytelling, and this episode boasts two of the series’ best gets: Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development fame playing an Ilana doppelganger and Kelly Ripa playing a funhouse mirror version of herself. The sharp writing by Lucia Aniello and Paul Downs, who plays Trey on the show, goes a long way towards selling their appearances here. While a lesser series might have been satisfied with making the easy joke about how similar Ilana and Alia look, or Ripa skewering her golden girl image, “Coat Check” follows a more surreal path. Ilana, ever the queer queen, decides to hook up with her lookalike, at least until the experience proves too close for comfort; meanwhile Abbi finagles her way into Ripa’s apartment and discovers the talk show host’s unvarnished side (best embodied in her perfect delivery of “buckle up, buttercup”). This was also the point of the series when Ilana and Abbi were starting to sustain their own plotlines, and the scene of the two debriefing at episode’s end has become something of a tradition whenever they’ve been off on separate adventures since. While neither comes away from their experience here completely satisfied, at least they know they can always find understanding in one another.

2. “Burning Bridges” (Season 3, Episode 8)
One thing most television comedies struggle with once they’ve got a few seasons under their belt is the idea of “growth.” If characters are consistently making us laugh, does it really matter if nothing about them ever really seems to change? What’s worse: stasis, or unnecessary drama? Though I never thought Broad City went through any alarming rough patches, there did come a point in season three when I feared the show was beginning to repeat itself. What a delightful surprise, then, “Burning Bridges” turned out to be, as it took the patterns that had been emerging throughout the previous episodes (and seasons) and used them to push its characters to confront true change, all while remaining reliably hilarious. Unfolding via an elaborately staged homage to the final scene of Mrs. Doubtfire, Ilana must face the painful realization that her casual squeeze Lincoln (played with lethargic charm by Hannibal Burress) is moving on while Abbi is forced to reckon with her cruel treatment of fuck buddy and fellow trainer Trey. For all its gonzo energy, Broad City has always taken the emotions of every character, no matter how minor, seriously. Only a show that’s laid its groundwork carefully can have Trey deliver a devastating line about not being a joke one moment and have us laughing at a call back to his softcore porn past the next. Broad City didn’t need to nudge its characters to be better people, but its willingness to do so showed it had more on its mind than just scoring easy laughs.


1. “Knockoffs” (Season 2, Episode 4)
I’m sure a dildo made an appearance on television before this (in fact, I think there’s one in Broad City’s pilot). But there’s absolutely no way it was as integral and organic to the plot as it is in “Knockoffs,” hands down the most glorious episode this show ever #blessed us with. Prior to the elevation of more female creative voices, dildos in the wider cultural lexicon, and certainly in the comedy one, had largely been little more than one-off gross out joke fodder. And it’s probably best to not even speculate how lesser shows might handle the concept of pegging, which dreamy neighbor Jeremy asks Abbi to engage in on their long-awaited first date. Abbi is skittish and puts in a call to Ilana, resulting in what has to be the show’s most GIFed sequence. Better than that, though, is how insightful this moment is about the rapport that develops between women who know each other well. When Abbi says she isn’t sure what to do, Ilana fires back, “Bitch, you know. You wouldn’t have called me if you didn’t.” That’s ride or die friendship. Where this episode truly elevates itself to the top of an excellent pack is how it weaves this storyline in with Ilana’s in surprising and resonant ways. Ilana is in the midst of a down-the-manhole adventure of her own: searching for knockoff handbags with her mother (a perfectly cast Susie Essman) in Chinatown. That both of these plots lead to the characters having remarkably honest conversations, Abbi about sex and judgment and Ilana about her mother’s grief, is just icing on the weed brownie. Ultimately this isn’t a show that has to push boundaries for shock value because Abbi and Ilana’s relationship doesn’t have any. For the past five years, Jacobson and Glazer have let us into this same warm, collaborative space. Let’s hope they go out on a high note, in all senses of the word.

Sara

Sara is big into reading and writing fiction like it's her job, because it is. That doesn't mean she isn't real as it gets. She loves real stuff like polka dots, indie rock, and underground fight clubs. I may have made some of that up. I don't know her that well. You can tell she didn't just write this in the third person because if she had written it there would have been less suspect sentence construction.
Sara