‘Broad City’ ends final season having grown into its own

Two characters from Broad City
Nishali Naik/Staff

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There’s a moment in the final season of “Broad City” in which, in a molly-fueled, Lil Wayne soundtracked emotional spiral, Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) essentially lay out every aspect of their relationship that has been building over the last four seasons. In the scene, they question their mutual codependency, the extent to which their lives have been intertwined to a tangle beyond unscrambling, and who they are as individuals outside of their insular friendship. It’s a reckoning four years in the making, and an apt thesis to the show’s final season.

“Broad City,” in its past five seasons, has, at its best, been a show about growth. Emerging in 2014 as the brainchild of creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (with a predecessor web series on YouTube), the show has followed main characters Abbi and Ilana through the ins and outs of their early to mid-twenties and thirties. As the season came to a conclusion on March 28, it was the end of an era for a show that has been labeled and lauded as zeitgeisty, genre-defining and a bastion of feminist work on screen — fulfilling each of those categories to varying degrees over the seasons.

Where “Broad City” has succeeded most over the years is as a case study in dealing with the forward motion of life — honing in on its two leads as they haphazardly navigate relationships, careers and mistakes in a city that appears to want to spit them out. In this last season, their tendency for shenanigans and overall dearth of maturity comes to a head, as Abbi and Ilana are dually confronted with what having direction means to each of them independently. It’s a season of change, for better and for worse.

There’s also an element of meta-ness in analyzing the growth of the show from its humble beginnings as a web series, mainly focusing on vignettes about the pair’s life in the city, to becoming a fully-fledged television show. Then there was even its internal transition from a buddy comedy — albeit a genre-challenging buddy comedy, subverting the typical formula of dudes being dudes in the city — to broad-stroked political commentary. Season 3 features a (now jarring to watch) guest appearance by Hillary Clinton, and later episodes also attempted to contend with the show’s frequent critiques of cultural appropriation and emphasis on white feminism.

These critiques are important and remain relevant in reflecting “Broad City” as a body of work. Even though the show is all about growth, this fact doesn’t excuse these early and frequent transgressions. The final season, however, succeeds in zeroing in nearly entirely on a high-definition focus on Abbi and Ilana.

This final season was also a lesson in expertly tying loose ends, making for a tight and consistently watchable set of episodes. The conflict of the season is centered around Abbi and Ilana spiraling toward what would have been inconceivable in seasons 1-4: being separated. The wedge in the relationship comes in the form of Abbi being offered an artistic residency in far-off Colorado, while Ilana chooses to stay in New York to pursue a graduate degree. While both finally hone in on a purpose and a path, conflict emerges when these paths appear to diverge — away from each other, their shared life and New York City.

The pair’s final days together in their New York bubble of friendship are treated with a tenderness that is fitting, having had five years together on screen. There’s anger, remorse and humor as this pivotal point comes to a head. It’s a true testament to the growth of both the characters and the show, ending on a note that isn’t incendiary or even the punchline to a joke. It’s heartfelt and, like any good conclusion, does justice to the scope of the series.

The tying of loose ends, however, isn’t limited to the central characters. This last season also gives dues to the secondary characters that have bolstered the show over the years. There’s Ilana and her roommate Jaime (Arturo Castro), who end their yearslong stint as cohabitants when Jaime moves to New Jersey with his boyfriend. Abbi and her sometimes-antagonist Bevers (John Gemberling) reach an amicable end, coming to terms after years of apartment-based tension. Ilana and on-and-off boyfriend Lincoln (Hannibal Burress) get a proper send-off, as do Abbi and Trey (Paul W. Downs), the lovable but cringy gym trainer. Though Abbi and Ilana are the centrifugal force of the series, it is satisfying to see the peripheral characters treated as fully-developed secondary players.

The end to “Broad City” is precisely what it needs to be, and has made for a satisfying conclusion to what has been a five-season arc of growth and change. It remains to be seen what the legacy of “Broad City” will be, but at its best (as in this season), it’s a testament to pure friendship and the ways that the contours of that sort of intense relationship can shift and expand. As Abbi and Ilana have found themselves, so has the show, making for a fully realized five seasons.

Camryn Bell covers film and television. Contact her at [email protected].