If sitcoms are like hot dogs, then guest stars are like condiments: you need some for flavor, but add too many and you overwhelm the main ingredient. So far, Broad City has managed to find a sweet spot, bringing in enough celebrity friends to make things interesting without losing focus on the core interaction between Ilana and Abbi. (And may 30 Rock forever serve as a warning to up-and-coming shows like Broad City to keep it that way.)
Broad City has already attracted around two dozen guest stars and has even sent its own leads off to guest star on Inside Amy Schumer. Of these guests, some have basically played the same character they always do (Seth Rogen as one of Abbi’s lovers) and others seem to have been brought in to establish the show’s credibility early on (Fred Armisen as a “wittle baby”). Some were underused (Rachel Dratch as a temp agency exec, Janeane Garofalo as a veterinarian) and others should have been used differently (Kumail Nanjiani as an Amazing Race hopeful).
A truly great guest star should be used for their strengths, not their fame. With that in mind, here are the 5 best Broad City guest stars so far—not the most famous, and not necessarily the most likely to go viral, but the best.
5. Susie Essman as Bobby Wexler in “Knockoffs” (S2E4)
Alia Shawkat was terrific as Ilana’s doppelgänger-turned-lover in “Coat Check.” But Susie Essman (Curb Your Enthusiasm) is even better as Ilana’s doppelgänger of a mother. The two mirror each other several times during “Knockoffs,” when they’re shaking nail polish bottles, complimenting Abbi’s butt, and yelling at cops. Alia Shawkat and Ilana Glazer may look alike but Essman and Glazer must share a soul. During the episode, Ilana and her mom embark on an epic quest to find the best counterfeit handbags in the city. Yes, at this point, there are more Jewish mother stereotypes on sitcoms than there are fake Prada bags in Manhattan, but Essman is a perfect addition to Broad City’s universe. Her best line comes after she blames something on Bloomberg and someone informs her that he’s no longer mayor.
“That’s what he wants you to think,” she fires back.
4. Kelly Ripa as herself in “Coat Check” (S2E9)
We’ve seen celebrities play themselves against type so many times by now that we almost expect it to happen. And after Neil Patrick Harris’ turn as a heterosexual, pill-popping bad boy in the Harold & Kumar movies, the practice probably should have ended. But Kelly Ripa’s turn as a horny, moonshine-swilling BDSM enthusiast is so good that we can probably afford to extend that expiration date just a little. Ripa has since referred to the version of herself on the show as her “alter ego’s alter ego, an alter ego twice removed,” and that’s apt because she doesn’t seem to be playing the opposite of herself, so much as she brings the strangest version of herself to life. With Neil Patrick Harris, the joke was that he wasn’t actually any of those things. With Ripa, the joke is that we can actually believe she might be some of them.
In “Coat Check,” Abbi and Ripa end up partying together through a series of strange events, but Abbi runs off once two gigolos show up. And when Ripa calls after her, “Abby, no! I ordered Domino’s for after,” there’s a desperation in her voice that seals Ripa’s commitment to the bit. Well done, Ms. Ripa.
3. Amy Poehler as Cheryl the chef and Seth Morris as John the server in “The Last Supper” (S1E10)
It’s impossible to separate John and Cheryl on this list, even though some space would probably do their characters good. John (played by Funny or Die veteran Morris) and Cheryl (played by Broad City EP Poehler) play a boyfriend-girlfriend duo who work together—but far from harmoniously—at the elite New York City restaurant where Ilana and Abbi have chosen to celebrate the latter’s 26th birthday. John is a server who closes off lines like “We like to say here that ramp is the truffle of onions” with a perfect affected laugh but, once he enters Cheryl’s kitchen, the veneer of sophistication is peeled away and he bickers with her. Bitterly. Poehler brings all of her inner ferocity to her role but it’s Morris who gets the best barbs like “This is why I want you to go to Al-Anon” and “I hope you die in your sleep.” As Parks and Recreation was wrapping up in such a saccharine way, it was a delight to watch Poehler play with the gloves off. And the seething acrimony between her and Morris was the perfect counterpoint to an otherwise sweet episode that ends with Abbi and Ilana sharing a molten lava cake in a hospital bed.
2. Amy Sedaris as Pam the real estate broker in “Apartment Hunters” (S1E9)
In a post-Strangers with Candy world, it’s always a delight when someone lets Amy Sedaris be as manic as she can be. Her stint as Abbi’s real estate broker is brief but memorable, and she tears through her five minutes of screen time like a whirlwind. Driving up to Abbi in a Smart Car and dressed in a neck brace, leopard print shirt and white pant suit, Pam is a character who immediately raises more questions than the show can possibly answer. Each of her lines only adds to the mystery from “I make dolls out of human hair” to “I slept in a coffin once. It wasn’t that bad except for the body.” Pam clearly has a rich backstory, but the sort that you don’t even want to know. Her best line? Abbi asks where the bathroom is in a tiny railroad apartment, prompting Pam to throw her hands up in the air and shout, “Where isn’t the bathroom?”
1. Academy Award nominee Patricia Clarkson as Timothy’s mom in “St. Mark’s” (S2E10)
Where isn’t the bathroom, indeed.
A lot of sitcoms make the mistake of bringing in typically dramatic actors and asking them to play zany roles. The season 2 finale of Broad City, on the other hand, brings in decorated actress Patricia Clarkson to give a dramatic performance that is only funny because it is out of place and over the top. Clarkson plays the beleaguered but menacing mother of a 34-year-old grad school dropout who steals from Abbi and Ilana. Turned down a few notches, Clarkson’s performance would actually work in some sort of intimate upper-class familial drama but, delivered at full volume, it’s hilarious. She doesn’t have any memorable lines but she doesn’t need any to be one of the best guests the show has seen. Her humor lies in the little details that she executes with expert precision: the way she hikes up her dress when she sits down on the stairs, the way her lips wrap around the word “loser” as she repeatedly yells it at her son, the way she hefts the wine bottle in her hand as she shouts. Clarkson’s a pro and Broad City doesn’t waste her talents.
May Saunders is a professional dog walker living in Minneapolis and an occasional freelance writer. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her cat, who does not need to be walked. Follow her on Twitter.