Three episodes into its fourth season, “Broad City” is growing up, for better or worse. The series’ dynamic, often stoned duo — the no-holds-barred, ever-twerking Ilana and her more subdued best friend, Abbi — are changing jobs, developing a slightly firmer grasp on the conventions of adulthood and, most importantly, navigating the current political climate.
The final episode of season three, “Jews on a Plane,” found Abbi and Ilana on a flight to Israel. When Abbi realizes she’s just gotten her period and is without a tampon, her conversation with Ilana is mistaken by flight attendants for talk of a bomb. Needless to say, they don’t make it to their destination and wind up travelling back to New York. However, the season four premiere makes it clear that the city viewers left more than year ago is not the one they will be returning to. In “Sliding Doors,” the season’s brilliant first episode, “Broad City” fans are transported back to 2011 for the duo’s origin story.
As a burgeoning friendship develops between Abbi and Ilana, the show responds to the looming menace of a Trump presidency. Of course, the previous three seasons were a comedic response to the kind of oppressive patriarchy made explicit in the president’s comments about women, but here, those themes are explored in an unambiguously political light. The episode unfolds through two different timelines, one in which Abbi and Ilana spend the day together after both missing the subway and another in which they make their train and go their separate ways.
In the former timeline, Abbi and Ilana walk and talk about their love for Barack and Michelle Obama. “They’re so hot as a couple and as leaders of the free world. I’m so relieved we have a hot black guy as president,” Abbi says. The subtext is spelled out in bright flashy lettering: the current president is not hot or cool; he’s the worst. When 2011 Ilana gleefully proclaims, “Next is a woman,” the episode’s writers and the series’ co-creators, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, seem to long, through their characters, for a time when faith in progress was possible. Knowingly or not, they also capture the sense of liberal idealism that said a Trump presidency could never happen.
The former, seemingly idealized timeline, in which the duo shuts down a cat-calling street vendor, ends abruptly when Abbi and Ilana are hit by a bus plastered with an advertisement for “The Apprentice” bearing Trump’s face. Instead, the timeline in which Abbi’s ponytail is cut off and Ilana’s dress is ripped from her by a passing male bicyclist, is the one from which the entire series stems. The first three seasons of “Broad City” are full of scenes in which Abbi and Ilana deliver withering takedowns of terrible men — almost always to comedic effect — but here, Jacobson and Glazer appear to be wrestling with the implications of a Trump presidency for the comedy world they’ve built. In the New York of “Broad City” the patriarchy is real but not unbeatable.
The following two episodes are peppered with symbols of the resistance. “Twaining Day” opens with Abbi and Ilana talking about hairstyles, surrounded by the sounds of yelling. The context is soon revealed: they’re escorting a young woman to the door of a women’s health clinic, surrounded by a throng of anti-abortion protestors. Wearing one of the pink hats made famous this year by the Women’s March, Ilana blows a mouthful of marijuana smoke into the face of a protester and yells, “You don’t know how much you need that.” Later, in “Just the Tips,” Abbi dons a “Stay Nasty” T-shirt and Ilana’s room is plastered with signs from Planned Parenthood and mantras from the Women’s March.
For three seasons, “Broad City” has been practicing for this moment. The show makes use of all its available comedic instruments, often overlaying a joke in the foreground with something going on, almost imperceptibly, in the background. The second season finale “St. Mark’s” is constructed almost entirely around this comedic idea. As Abbi and Ilana interact just in front of the camera, trading jokes and doing bits, they pass by a series of increasingly strange scenes unfolding around them but don’t remark on any of it. In this sense, the viewer is simultaneously exposed to two levels of comedy. In season four, the humor derived from Lynchian visuals playing out in the background is largely supplanted by political symbols and interactions, so that the show’s quirky consciousness becomes political.
Abbi and Ilana are still their unfiltered, at times immature, selves, but as “Broad City” has always seemed to signal, none of that excludes its heroines from the political. Mark Twain once said, “Humor is tragedy plus time.” Jacobson and Glazer would almost certainly characterize the election’s outcome as tragic, which must mean season four of “Broad City” is what you get when you add time.