The second season of Broad City ended last spring with Abbi and Ilana snuggled together on a Manhattan sidewalk, eating pizza and discussing their goals for the next year. The highwire comedy returns Wednesday night with a wordless sequence that picks up right where that episode ended, catching us up with the duo’s last twelve months of adventures. It’s 90 seconds of unbridled, irrepressible joy, cataloguing life in New York as seen from each girl’s apartment bathroom: Halloween costumes and New Year’s celebrations, party dresses and pregnancy tests, dancing alone and dancing with each other. Watch it now, and then watch it again—the anarchic and intricately constructed montage is filled with tiny jokes and character moments that reward repeat viewing. (Keep an eye out for Hillary Clinton’s memoir!)
Sitcoms—and despite its adventurous spirit, Broad City has settled comfortably into the sitcom form, with episode plots usually driven by Seinfeld-ian misunderstandings and hijinks—are rarely so aware of time’s passage. Yet Broad City doesn’t veer so far from the status quo in the third season. It’s a year later, and Abbi and Ilana are largely unchanged: The season premiere takes the BFFs on another quest narrative across New York City, stumbling through its urban obstacle course and surviving deranged encounters with pop-up shops and trendy brunch restaurants.
But the confident new season sharpens the dynamic between its two leads. In its earliest episodes, Broad City was a buddy comedy between two familiar archetypes: the zany free-spirited slacker gliding through life with oblivious narcissism and the neurotic straight man whose dreams are repeatedly dashed. The innovation was that they were women, inhabiting these roles without apology or reservation. In a review of Broad City’s first season, Slate’s Willa Paskin described Ilana as a “female Bill Murray character,” something she hadn’t seen before. In an essay celebrating Abbi’s character last year, Laura Miller labeled Abbi the Buster Keaton to Ilana’s Harpo Marx.
Just look at the last time the two Broad City gals’ bathroom activities were juxtaposed. In an early season one cold open, we are shown Abbi and Ilana’s workdays side by side: Ilana smokes a bowl in her office bathroom and naps, while Abbi resigns herself to cleaning up vomit in the toilets of Soulstice, the Equinox-style gym where she scrubs floors. This was the relationship in a nutshell—Abbi had unrequited crushes and unfulfilled ambitions, while Ilana flouted rules and emerged untouched. Ilana has sex and gets stoned without anxieties; Abbi does the same, but is a bundle of nerves the whole time. Abbi is anxious to be liked, while Ilana assumes everyone loves her as much as she loves herself. You might say that for many women, Ilana was the dream and Abbi the reality.
These are the sort of familiar dynamics that many close friendships fall into over time: the one who instigates and the one who yields, the one who holds back and the one who pushes them both forward. But those roles can’t tell the whole story about a person—you can be the Ilana of one relationship and the Abbi of another—and Broad City, to its credit, continues to deepen its characters. In its second season, Broad City showed us sides of Abbi that Ilana had never seen: the Abbi who has secret handshakes with Bed Bath and Beyond employees and the Abbi who drunkenly transforms into Val, a surreal nighttime alter ego who charms the elderly with cabaret songs. Ilana may be the flashier role, but actress Abbi Jacobson invests her character Abbi with a pathos that the show needs. Broad City’s third season reveals Abbi’s aggressive side, which emerges during times of competition—“all-caps Abbi,” in Ilana’s words. The new season—which includes, in a classic sitcom plot, an identity swap episode—goes farther in playing with the idea of Abbi and Ilana as types.
Halfway through the season three premiere, Ilana and Abbi have a conversation that should be familiar by osmosis to any woman who lived through the 2000s: Are you a Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, or Samantha? Abbi identifies as a Miranda/Carrie—“with like, a little bit of Charlotte, even though she really annoys me,” she adds. In terms of Sex and the City characters, Ilana, the polysexual hedonist, is a Samantha. Hannibal Buress’s even-keeled Lincoln—Ilana’s quasi-boyfriend and the show’s most reasonable character—speaks earnestly of “the Carrie in me” and “the Miranda in me.” (Of course the most fervent SatC fan on Broad City is a dude.)
Broad City’s freewheeling comedy shares little DNA with Sex and the City, but like that earlier ode to female friendship, its sharply divergent characters stand in as personality blueprints for young women—and men—looking for easy labels. Are you an Abbi or an Ilana? The new season makes the answer a little more complicated.