Sometimes I’m not sure if I like Broad City, or more that it’s that I find the experience of watching it refreshing or illuminating. There’s a diminishing returns on its format and its characters, but these are characters that feel rare for television, and a point of view that is polished and distinct.
“Rat Pack” didn’t actually make me laugh much, but I don’t think I disliked it. On a technical level, it seemed to work better than the last one, and it did a lot of things I was hoping the show would eventually do. There’s way more Lincoln and Jaime—more characters in general for Abbi and Ilana to bounce off of—and while it still has a sketch comedy feel, it also finally felt like it had some structure. At the same time, it felt a little flat, a little lifeless, and while some things really tickled me, a lot of the show was kind of boring?
Is being “good” making Broad City worse? I’ve been thinking about it and honestly I don’t know.
In “Rat Pack,” Ilana decides to throw a rent party because the exterminator cost $400 and they need the money. Meanwhile, Abbi made out with Trey at a work party and joins Tinder out of a sense of creeping anxiety. As Abbi greets her suitors at Ilana’s party, they discover, of course, that the rat isn’t dead.
I really liked the set up for this episode because it gives the characters a lot more room—last episode felt a little too plot heavy and constrained, where here the problem is defined so simply that there’s more freedom to explore. When I say that Broad City sometimes feels like sketch comedy, what I mean is that this episode was basically a series of vignettes on the concept of “there is a rat in my apartment.” And that’s good! This is what this show excels in more than that anything else. The montage where Ilana finds weed in her vibrator, wall, hair and nose was paced beautifully, escalating in grossness so subtly.
The episode on the whole escalated in the same way, with Ilana’s increasing desperation to kill the rat growing in extremes until she is poised over it with a knife in her hands. Broad City is something that clearly takes a lot of skill to make, especially because it feels off kilter and random. There’s a harmony to it that you can’t fake.
Unfortunately that means that the more polished the show gets, the less anarchic and special it feels. Last week suffered from that more than this week, but the remnants are still there. Abbi’s big problem this week was slightly more banal, although her performance of “woman who is mortified that she is attracted to someone that still makes ‘that’s what she said’ jokes” was truly incredible. It’s fine to have a normal ass problem in a show that thrives on being as far from normal as possible, and actually I think it can be an asset to have half the show be slightly more grounded in reality. But there was something overly structured about how Abbi’s situation was presented, and it kinda took the wind out of its sails.
I don’t think Broad City is running out of ideas, but it’s starting to feel a little bit like when your favorite punk band starts to realize they know more about how to make music than they did on their first album. It might be technically better, but is it actually better? Does anyone really prefer In Reverie to Through Being Cool? I’m not saying that Broad City is the Saves the Day of comedy, but I am also, a little bit.
Gita Jackson is Paste’s assistant comedy editor.