From the first shout of “four and three and two and one” at the start of the “Latino & Proud” theme to its terrific curated soundtrack, Broad City is a show that takes music seriously. But some of the funniest moments in the series have come when the show abandons musical taste in favor of over-the-top musical comedy. Broad City’s musical sequences are some of the most elaborate on television and, more importantly, they give us a glimpse into Abbi and Ilana’s elaborate fantasy lives. There’s a core optimism running through Broad City that sets it apart from a comedy like Louie, which also toes a surrealist line in a New York City setting. Usually that optimism is a low hum that permeates Abbi and Ilana’s friendship through all of their misadventures. But sometimes, we get to hear it at full volume in the form of a song. Here are the five best times that has happened so far:
In the cold open of season two’s “The Matrix,” Abbi and Ilana are locked in what appears to be an epic drum battle but what is quickly revealed to be the duo being obnoxious on two kits at Brooklyn’s Main Drag Music. It’s not a terribly long sequence—and, as we’ll see later in this list, a Broad City season one episode had already mastered the punctured fantasy format by the time this episode aired—but it has an impressive attention to detail. As the camera whips back and forth between the dueling drummers, Abbi and Ilana’s wardrobes become increasingly ridiculous. First Abbi’s sleeves disappear, then she has a mustache, then her neckline dips lower. Ilana’s black tee is replaced by a rainbow fringe bikini top and her hair expands to three times its original size. A falcon gets thrown into the mix for good measure as the two drum and headbang furiously. Broad City is cleverly written, sure, but its physical comedy like this that makes Glazer and Jacobson such a joy to watch.
The differences between Abbi and Ilana are the engine that drives Broad City. As a unit, the two are engaged in a constant push and pull: Abbi tries to keep Ilana’s feet on the ground while Ilana entices Abbi out of her shell. The two share the vast majority of their scenes. But season one’s “Working Girls” uses a cold open set to Ana Tijooux’s “1977” to pull back the curtain and show us how Abbi and Ilana live when they’re not together. As Abbi deals with subway harassment, dirty toilets, and an awful boss, Ilana smokes weed and naps at work, which she does for about a third of the whole bit. Sitcoms aren’t great at showing us the quotidian filler that occupies most of their characters’ lives—and, to be fair, we probably wouldn’t want to see much of it anyway—but a musical montage is the perfect way to flesh out characters like Abbi and Ilana without sacrificing comedy in the process.
Between cleaning up pubic hair at a high-end gym and dealing with her roommate’s de facto live-in boyfriend, Abbi is a character who is hemmed in on all sides. We so rarely get the chance to watch her let her freak flag fly. That’s exactly what makes Abbi’s “Edge of Glory” sequence so satisfying. Presented with the rare opportunity of a Bevers-free apartment, she dances alone to the now slightly-dated Lady Gaga hit. Even if the choreography weren’t perfect, even if Abbi weren’t completely naked, and even if we didn’t get to catch a glimpse of the Oprah tattoo on Abbi’s lower back, it would still be gratifying to watch her act as uninhibited as Ilana always does. With all of those elements in place, however, the scene easily crosses over the edge of glory into full-on glory. But it still can’t quite compare to another musical sequence in the show when Abbi is so carefree that she becomes another person entirely. Speaking of which…
If the “Edge of Glory” sequence showed us how Abbi acts when she’s all alone, the “Hashtag FOMO” episode revealed Abbi’s weird inner showboat, an alter ego that can only be unleashed by a massive amount of booze. In the episode, we follow Ilana as she discovers that her friend becomes Val, a lounge singer at an underground prohibition-style bar, whenever she gets blackout drunk. Abbi-qua-Val only sings “Get Happy” for about a minute before the scene advances but it’s enough to cement it as one of the finest in Broad City history. Clad in a recreation of Judy Garland’s iconic 1950 outfit—a fedora, suit coat, and stockings—Val drips with a sexual confidence that we never see from Abbi. It’s breathtaking but Broad City also has to be careful with moments like these: indulge in them too often and we might lose sight of the repression that defines Abbi’s character.
One reason why Broad City connected with viewers so forcefully in such a short time is that so many of us are just as broke as Abbi and Ilana. We laugh at the idea that Abbi’s $8,000 check for an illustration would inspire her to roll up to the bank to the tune of Drake’s “Started from the Bottom,” but it’s a mirthless sort of laughter because it shouldn’t be that much money for a college graduate. But alas, between stagnant wages and soaring student debt, $8,000 is a big deal. But enough with the social commentary. As pure comedy, this sequence is probably Broad City’s finest surreal moment. Abbi dancing through the bank in a Missy Elliot-inspired inflatable garbage bag suit is an unforgettable image, one that makes the inevitable back-to-earth reveal at the end of the sequence even more jarring. It is the most accurate representation of how it feels to cash a large check as a money-strapped millennial wrapped in all of the trappings of a hip hop music video.
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.