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tv talk: sex in the broad city

broad city

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Cult-comedy Broad City recently wrapped up its first season and judging from the above quote taken from its series finale, with Broad City, almost anything sexual is on the menu.

Broad City began as a web series that was known for its ‘sneak attack feminism‘. The TV series has the show’s creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer playing heightened versions of themselves. The show follows two twenty-something Jewish girls in New York City, but before the Girls comparisons start rolling in, Broad City is a class of its own – primarily through its refreshingly earnest portrayal of sex and sexuality.

The two girls are strikingly bold when it comes to sex. Both girls sleep around with different guys, and do not express any guilt or remorse from doing so. In Broad City‘s sex scenes – the girls are always receiving oral sex, and never giving it. It’s almost too good to be true! The girls enjoy getting laid; sex is sometimes seen as weird, but always fun. In contemporary television, characters that sleep around and yet do not suffer from any serious repercussions are predominantly male (Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother, Joey from Friends). When female television characters “get around”, they unfortunately fall under a lazy character trope (Samantha from Sex and the City) or are played mostly for laughs (Eric Foreman’s sister Laurie from That 70s Show, Penny from the utterly unfunny The Big Bang Theory).

Thankfully, Broad City subverts from this awful double standard entirely. Take Ilana. She spends an entire episode on the hunt for “pink dick”, boldly complains she is ‘so hard right now’, and has a separate mobile phone just for dick pics. She has a guy, Lincoln (Hannibal Buress), on the side, but enjoys sleeping with other men anyway. In addition, Ilana’s physicality and her style appear to be a natural extension of her sexuality. She seduces men with a series of bizarre nods and dances practically everywhere – from a party where no one is dancing to a twenty-seven minute church bell techno song to the back of a moving truck on the way to a wedding. According to the show’s costume designer, Staci Greenbaum, Ilana often wears revealing clothing that is not overtly sexual but is instead an expression of her own identity. It is undoubtedly refreshing to have a female protagonist who enjoys sex but is not punished for it.

Arguably, it would be easy to pigeonhole Ilana as the promisicous girl and her partner, Abbi, as the uptight one – but, no, Broad City is far above this. Abbi has a terrible crush on her neighbour, but she still gets around, much to the delight of her best friend. She sleeps with a guy even though he was boring – he spent forty minutes explaining the rules to the game Settlers of Cattan – and Ilana congratulates her for it. In the finale, Abbi has the misfortune of peeing out a condom, but it was not from sex she had last night, but with another guy four days ago. Ilana comments, ‘Normally I would be overjoyed that you had sex twice in one week’, and comforts her by saying, ‘So what? You’re a nasty bitch. Who cares?’ It is this sort of absurdist humour that Broad City runs on, and their sexual encounters are often hilariously wacky scenarios that the girls can easily shrug off. From cleaning a creep’s apartment while in their underwear to being asked to leave after perving on guys in basketball shorts, Abbi and Ilana react to these situations as though they are perfectly normal, and it becomes just another day living in the city. Like 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, Abbi and Ilana fall under being the ‘grotesquely sexual‘. They are goofy, totally wild and filthy, but they still can get laid and freely talk about getting laid without apologising.

Lastly, in Broad City, sexuality is seen as fluid, and at times, even applauded for. Before Ilana gets in bed with a blonde guy, he first admits that he is bisexual. Lost for words, she shakes her head and says: ‘That is true masculinity, you are truly evolved…and I am truly wet’. Most strikingly, Ilana also appears to have a thing for Abbi. Her unwavering love for her best friend is scattered throughout the series – she shows pictures of Abbi to strangers in bars, she confesses that her two favourite things are hamburgers and Abbi, and her bucket list includes being held in Abbi’s arms. It quickly enters the realm of the weirdly sexual where, for instance, she seems adamant to have a threesome that includes Abbi, Lincoln and herself. The pilot begins with Ilana skyping Abbi while doing it with Lincoln; the next episode has Ilana and Lincoln making out in his office, while Abbi tries her best to sneak away from Ilana’s grasps; in ‘The Lockout’, Ilana pulls in Abbi’s hamburger art to bed while making out with Lincoln. Ilana has elaborate sexual fantasies about Abbi too, including a ‘totally non-sexual’ manoeuvre called the Arc de Triomph and an extremely adult version of ‘parallel play’. Ilana’s “thing” for Abbi is most evident in the episode ‘Destination: Wedding’, where Ilana expresses her agony over Abbi making out with a girl in the past.

In an interview with Broad City’s executive producer Amy Poehler, she says, ‘I’m always asking Abbi and Ilana questions about their lives, because I’m fascinated..I mean, everyone under 26 seems gay to me. Both men and women. I often ask myself, “Is everyone gay?” There’s this gender fluidity that I think is generational, and that’s new. But young women now are so interesting and are taking full advantage of their opportunities.’

Truly, in Broad City, the girls are taking full advantage in exploring their own interpretation of sex and sexuality – something that is fundamentally normal. The series ends off with both girls talking about who is in their “gross sex lists”. Their friendship is fortified by their brutal honesty and openness to each other, which allows the show to normalise their sexual experiences. Sex and sexuality is a topic that the girls share and laugh about, and after a while, it becomes something of a non-issue. These two broads are certainly on their way to change how we view sex in the city.

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  1. Pingback: Selected Features | Patricia Tobin

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