Dear Television: Broad City, Season Two, Episode Three, 'Wisdom Teeth'

Dear Television is Evan Kindley, Phillip Maciak, Jane Hu, Sarah Mesle, and Lili Loofbourow. They will be writing weekly letters inspired by the second season of Comedy Central's "Broad City." These aren't full recaps, but spoilers abound. Read previous installments here.

The More Things Change...


Dear TV,

Broad City is not known for its strong seriality, especially when its most sustained narrative involves the will-they-won’t-they of Abbi’s crush on her neighbor, Jeremy. And up until last night’s episode, even this plot seemed to be straining: Abbi’s desire for Jeremy, present from the start of the show, didn’t really seem to be going anywhere. There was, in other words, little actual romantic development between them, and when you see Abbi on a date with “male Stacy” (Seth Rogen) in the season two pilot, you might even wonder whether Abbi has finally moved on. These miniscule shifts in the largely situation comedy that constitutes Broad City are clues to just how un-serialized the show is. In this world, Lincoln and Ilana never properly decide to become boyfriend and girlfriend; Bevers never leaves; and Abbi never asks Jeremy out. Until now.

“Wisdom Teeth” marks a significant advance in the more or less constant state of Broad City—an evenness that is paradoxically defined by a chain of unpredictable scenarios. And why not? Rolling premises are a comedian’s goldmine. Just ask stand-ups, The Simpsons, or, more recently, Simon Rich. In this week’s episode, however, the premise of Abbi’s awkward and possibly unidirectional crush actually evolves into a cliffhanger (or, at least, as much of a cliffhanger as a comedy like Broad City can offer). The episode ends on Jeremy agreeing to go on a date with Abbi, who—while on a double dose of Vicodin—asks him out over a 23-minute voicemail that involves, among other things, a (pretty uncanny!) Drew Barrymore impression.

It’s amazing to see a female and friendship-driven show in which so many plot points are motivated by drugs. Weed is often what gets Abbi and Ilana into a comedy-rich situation—as with the season one shellfish dinner finale—but more often than not, love is what gets them out. Cue Abbi carrying a red, swollen, and nearing anaphylaxis Ilana out of a restaurant. This season one finale concludes with Abbi and Ilana at a hospital—perhaps the institutional signifier of bodily emergency and danger—though neither appear at all under threat or harm there. If anything, it’s kind of cozy.

The situation comedy often traffics in ludicrous and potentially disastrous scenarios in order to get laughs, but in this scene, with Ilana and Abbi lying in a hospital bed, laughter has lapsed into a sweeter form. Ilana realizes she can cross “be held in Abbi’s arms” off her bucket list—a repeatable situation that, for the both of them, never gets old. As perhaps in life, drugs aid in precipitating new situations, but when Abbi (the designated ego of the show) does enter these drug-induced scenes, her actions are nonetheless expressions of her honest self. More than making Abbi comfortable enough to, say, tell a crush she likes him, however, Abbi’s opiate experimentations are a testament to how safe she feels in Ilana’s company. That too never changes.

Time has passed between then and this week’s episode, but (as the situation comedy dictates!) “Wisdom Teeth” is no different, nor is the fact that Abbi continues to trust Ilana despite the latter’s repeatedly questionable judgment. If anything remains the same in Broad City, it’s the fact that this mutual trust will never be placed into question. This episode makes it explicit by placing Abbi in Ilana’s sole care both during and after getting her wisdom teeth taken out. “I am Abbi’s keeper today,” asserts Ilana to Lincoln while Abbi gets anesthetized. “I am her mother, sister, father, brother.” Ilana makes a point in articulating this role multiple times throughout the episode, all the while seeming to dismiss the fact that she’s not all that responsible as “Abbi’s keeper” and, moreover, that she herself needs being taken care of.

Cue Lincoln. (Bless you, Hannibal Buress: Didn’t know how much I’d missed you until I realized you had been away so long.) As Lincoln puts Abbi to sleep for tooth surgery, he simultaneously tells Ilana a bedtime story to calm her nerves. In this case, it just happens to be the highly serialized narrative of Felicity. This scene also functions as a hugely creative moment of marking the passage of serialized time as ultimately unrepresentable in Broad City. What we get instead is a few seconds of Abbi dancing like a Charlie Brown character against a psychedelic backdrop. Lincoln’s story and the surgery (which apparently take the exact amount of time as recapping all of Felicity) are only implied by Ilana’s takeaway of the plot: “Sooo you’re telling me that out of the whole series there’s one black person, and she’s the one that gets killed off?” To which Lincoln responds, “Yeah, but you’re…kind of missing the point.” It wasn’t for lack of paying attention either; Ilana was presumably so focused on Lincoln’s narration that when he jokes to Abbi about having removed all her teeth, Ilana believes him as well.

Almost immediately after Ilana “misreads” both the plot of Felicity and the events of the operation, Lincoln gives her another set of instructions: Give Abbi two Vicodin every four hours. “Can you handle that?” he asks with genuine concern. “It’s a very strict schedule.” This moment is probably considered a “setup” to a premise, as Ilana will soon inadvertently feed Abbi four Vicodin at once, followed by her “Strega Nona recipe” of what looks like a S’more weed brownie churned into a milk smoothie. After downing the drink, Abbi (now simultaneously hopped up on multiple doses of drugs) leaves the apartment on an adventure through Gowanus with her mildly terrifying life-sized blue friend “Bingo Bronson,” a present from Ilana. This escape is prompted by just another moment of Ilana’s negligence, who is in the other room trying to decide with Lincoln over Skype just exactly which old person she’s drawn on her stomach. (I had never considered that boobs kind of look like eyes—it’s ingenious.) When Ilana returns to find Abbi missing, she leaves the apartment in a panic.

For viewers, though, we know Abbi is safe. Even Ilana’s alarm in this moment cannot undo the notion that will never be Ilana who puts Abbi in harm’s way. What occurs in the interim too is an amazing montage, fairly reminiscent of Teletubbies, that brings Abbi to a truly soporific site of surrealism: the Gowanus Whole Foods. Here, she spends a reasonable $1487.56 on groceries. This charge on Abbi’s OneTrust card is so disconcerting that she gets a call on her cell—which Ilana confiscated post-Jeremy high dial—confirming the transaction. It’s a happy ending: Ilana finds Abbi at Whole Foods, chatting with Bingo Bronson, at whom Abbi haphazardly throws a jar of manuka honey. (Don’t worry, no one important gets hurt.) The episode ends back in Abbi’s hallway, during which—plot twist!—her official date with Jeremy is cinched. Though what will an actual date with Abbi’s longterm crush prove? One easy wager: That relationship too will somehow make its way back to being about the romance of Ilana and Abbi.

I wanna go to Florida,

Jane

Wizard of Broads


Dear TV,

I have to start by echoing Jane’s appreciation for Hannibal Buress’ character Lincoln on Broad City: Buress is a master, not just of comic timing, but of comic stillness:

This could be a gif. That’s how good he is. Buress’ pauses, his “squinching,” as Jane called it, his side-eye—it’s all so worked and off-kilter but controlled and slow, and so is his delivery of this ominous line: “If I mess up this white girl’s teeth, the black dentistry game is over, forever. I’m gonna get these teeth, for my people.”

Let’s linger on that line a minute, and on what it means for Broad City. Compare Lincoln’s responsibility, his fear of betraying “black dentistry,” his reassuring Felicity story, his caretaking (of both Abbi and Ilana, as Jane points out), to Ilana’s carefree life lived in perpetual motion. It’s a contrast that really stood out in this episode as Ilana whizzed around the city looking for Abbi. Lincoln’s black, and lives in a world brimming with risk. Ilana’s white and lives in a world without it. The black character is the only one that dies? Yup! To her credit, she’s troubled by it.

Still, we’ve talked before about this Disneylandish quality of Broad City, thanks to which the girls seem totally immune to danger, and nowhere is this more explicit than in the cold open where Ilana bends herself into a pretzel and exposes every orifice to the art class, reassuring everyone that “it’ll honestly be worth it.” Ilana feels secure with her anus on display, while Lincoln feels vulnerable even with his blue gloves on. The show is drawing our attention to that discrepancy. Lincoln was touched in the pilot when Ilana gave him a stolen meal card. Ilana would have participated in the #CrimingWhileWhite Twitter campaign. She steals. She gets high. She risks saddling Abbi with severe liver damage, costs Abbi $1400, and doesn’t even notice she’s done either. And this all happens while she prides herself on being Abbi’s caretaker—flipping the script from last week, when Abbi was forced to take care of Man-Baby Bevers.

In this episode, New York is as safe as ever for the broads, but it’s less Disneyland than Oz. There’s a whiff of L. Frank Baum in everything: Ilana’s tirade against Dr. Oz and “Western medicine” leads a very high Abbi to dance her way to the magical land of Oz, which (for white girls living in Brooklyn) appears to be the Whole Foods in Gowanus. Abbi wanders down the bulk foods aisle in Dorothy’s braids, Divine’s blush, and the Scarecrow’s eyebrows. Ilana is Dorothy, too—pre-tornado—and a little bit of Mrs. Gulch: She rides her bike around town desperately looking for her Toto, Abbi. When they finally meet, “Bingo Bronson” calls Ilana the “weed witch.”

The difference between Broad City and The Wizard of Oz, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be a Kansas to wake up to in Broad City. No wreckage, no danger, no loss. Tornado? What tornado? The broads live in Oz, which, some might say, is what Gowanus with a Whole Foods is. Are the gals clueless gentrifiers? Are they the witches? Are they the tornado? (Abbi definitely left a path of destruction in her wake!)

Issues of race and class are bubbling—as they were last week, when Ilana got a little power and used it to boss minorities around. Evan asked whether that call from OneTrust meant Abbi had a trust fund. It seems possible? (If so, it explains why the gals seem totally unconcerned about the $1400 and the injured ankle—both details that left me rattled, especially since Abbi works as a cleaner, which doesn’t seem like it pays much.) It’s easy to imagine Ilana going on one of those rants she picks up but doesn’t actually believe (like her rape culture speech and her Western medicine spiel). She might say, for instance, that Gowanus with a Whole Foods is a shiny, colorful confection full of exploited dwarves, an Emerald City that covers up the displaced residents whose homes were destroyed BY A GENTRIFICATION TORNADO.

Here’s my final theory: The old man Ilana painted onto her torso? It’s THE GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ. Ilana’s the lunatic illusionist. She IS Bingo Bronson. She’s the woman behind the curtain.

Meanwhile Jaime, sweet cowardly lion that he is, is forced to scale an improbably high ladder for Abbi’s froyo while dressed as a sexy nurse. That was a terrific sequence, although the members of this particular lollipop guild were less than cheery. Arturo Castro is just so pleasant onscreen. I was thrilled to see him in this episode, but my favorite comic note goes to the beleaguered cashier who begs him to choose a flavor. “It’s all just chemicals,” she says, and then, when he vomits, she utters the most heartbreakingly hilarious “Come on.” Her timing is incredible. Her delivery is exquisite. If that “Come on” met Will Arnett’s “Come on!” as G.O.B. in Arrested Development, the universe would implode from the impact of the quietest comedy meeting the loudest.

(It turns out I prefer quiet to loud. On the whole, I prefer Abbi muttering into her phone about stained underwear, trying to cover her nervousness about Jeremy, over the zany weed and Whole Foods montages. I prefer Lincoln’s stillness to Ilana’s movement.)

Never mind what I prefer. The focus of this episode—like the focus of the art class in the cold open—is movement. Jane, your insight about things moving forward a click here seems really right. I remain attached to Abbi’s happy naked dance from last week, but this week she’s dancing all over the place: to psychedelic backdrops, outside Jeremy’s door, in the street, chugging Yoohoo! It seems like Ilana and Lincoln might be moving forward a click, too—she hates to admit that he has “boyfriend penis, brah,” after all, and during the “there’s no place like home” sequence with all three of them safe in bed, well, all three of them are safe in bed.

Does that mean anything?

May your pencil soften her crudeness,

Lili