Broad City: in memoriam
May 3, 2019
On March 28, 2019 there was a significant passing in my world. The series “Broad City” aired its final episode after a wildly successful five season run. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Broad City is a raunchy buddy comedy starring two millennial women living and working in New York City. The protagonists, Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler (portrayed by comedians Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer), are Jewish. They’re not just Jewish like Harry Goldenblatt from “Sex and the City” or even Midge Maisel in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”; they embody cultural Jewishness as I know it.
I met Abbi and Ilana during the fall of my senior year of high school. Back in 2015, pirating videos online was still really easy, so I started watching with an old Hebrew school friend after hearing a cool older sister talk about it at a Temple luncheon.
Since then, I’ve been hooked. Never before had I seen Jewishness—my Jewishness—portrayed so genuinely. Growing up without many Jewish peers, it wasn’t until I watched Abbi and Ilana wreak havoc across Brooklyn and Manhattan that I started to see my cultural upbringing and ethnic background in such a multi-dimensional context. Abbi and Ilana are undeniably Jewish. But that’s not the point of the show; it is simply who they are. A lot of people can connect to these characters through their distinctly human traits, deep-fried in late millennial culture. But for me, the added bonuses were the very real subtleties of Jewishness that always shone through.
There are moments and even whole episodes with obviously Jewish plotlines, most notably season 4, episode 4 “Knockoffs,” season 4, episode 7 “Florida” and the digital exclusive clip “Yom Kippur.”
In “Knockoffs,” Ilana sits shiva for her grandmother, while Abbi finally hooks up with her neighbor. The portrayal of a shiva in this episode rang so true to me, and I remember my friend filming me crying from laughter—on her iPhone 4, of course. Shivas are meant to grieve the passing of family and close friends, but every shiva I’ve ever been to has been a mess of laughing, crying and petty arguing, just like any other Jewish event. That chaotic energy came through so clearly in “Knockoffs,” especially when Ilana’s brother sings a terrible rendition of a church hymn through a microphone to an audience of maybe five people, and even more so when Abbi rolls up with a dildo in her purse and Ilana’s family goes in on her recent experience with “pegging.”
The episode “Florida” is one long dig at the trope that almost every Jewish kid has older relatives living in retirement communities in southern Florida. From sorting through old, questionably valuable jewelry to the effect of the humidity on Abbi and Ilana’s heads of thick, dark hair, the entire episode—while admittedly one of the weakest in the five seasons (we don’t like to talk about season 4)—is a tribute to the hellish Jewish reality of South Florida that we, frankly, did not ask for but probably deserve.
“Yom Kippur” is one of the simplest clips from the show, but also one of my favorites. In this three-minute clip, we see Abbi and Ilana video chatting while lying in bed complaining (yes, Jews did invent complaining) about fasting, which is customary on Yom Kippur, our annual day of atonement. Ilana continually sneaks bites of food while Abbi isn’t looking. But in the end, they both decide to just eat the bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches (not kosher for so many reasons) that they bought for sunset, when the fast ends. The clip is goofy and all too relatable with its overtone of guilt, a staple in any good Jewish kitchen.
As I come out of sitting shiva for “Broad City,” I look back on the reasons I love it. Along with the moments I already mentioned, there are multiple references to body image and hair, both relevant topics in my family (read: things constantly commented on when I enter a room), and countless discussions about the general Jewishness found in using humor as a coping mechanism and welcoming chaos with open arms (and probably a kugel). Abbi and Ilana gave me a Jewish context for cultural appropriation (Ilana wearing earrings that say “Latina” or getting a long extension braid in her hair in season 5, episode 1) and whiteness (Abbi accidentally selling her art to a white supremacist dating site), in addition to countless other social and cultural topics.
So, “Broad City,” thank you for showing me the fun side of being Jewish, the side that would give my grandmother a heart attack. I dare anyone to try to beat me in “Broad City” trivia this summer—the only reason my curvy Jewish ass will actually spend money at a bar.
Hannah Schleifer is a member of the Class of 2020.
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