Humans of the world, rejoice! After more than a year of waiting, our televisions, eyes, and hearts are finally lit with the return of Abbi Jacobsen and Ilana Glazer in the season 4 opener of Broad City, in which the duo simultaneously have the best and worst day ever. But for anyone watching, it’s just the best day ever, because Broad City is back and it is as beautiful, side-splitting, clever, and tightly executed as ever.
The episode is titled Sliding Doors, a reference to the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow movie of the same name. The premise of the episode is also the same: the future of our protagonists is dependent on whether or not they make it onto the subway car one afternoon. But I think we can all agree, the Broad City version of this AU storyline is pretty much guaranteed to be much more entertaining. (Spoiler alert: it is).
The entire episode is a flashback to 2011, on the day that Abbi and Ilana first meet. The opening scene was released on social media months ago, and I remember thinking then that it was some of the most genius comedy to be contained in one minute, 4o seconds. (I still think that and relished watching it again). Abbi is headed into the subway station but has insufficient fare; Ilana, who happens to be about to go through the turnstile next to her, decides to help her fellow woman out and swipes her card so Abbi can get through. Of course, then Ilana has insufficient fare, but when they hear the announcement for the approaching train, she jumps the turnstile and the two run toward the platform. This is where the realities diverge; in the first version, a businessman throws up over the side of the stairs, they run past a homeless man who says something incomprehensible, and make it onto the subway just in time. Once in the car, Abbi thanks Ilana, who responds, “No problem, ma’am,” and puts her earbuds back in. Abbi is taken aback by this and moves to a different part of the car.
We then see a literal rewind of this scene, and as Abbi and Ilana walk backwards at high speed past the homeless man, we hear that the the gibberish he spoke before are clear words in reverse: “Donald Trump will be president.”
BROAD CITY, EVERYONE. #praisehandsemoji
In the second version of the scene, the barfing businessman chooses not to lean over the stair railing but rather toward the stair in front of him, narrowly missing Ilana’s shoes. This causes a split-second delay, and they don’t make it onto the train.
Because this is a flashback, we know that the point of the episode is to illustrate how Abbi and Ilana became best friends, but the episode (which was co-written by them) pulls a bait-and-switch as to which version of the story the viewer assumes is the real one. In the second iteration of the story, they’re stranded on a platform together—one to which an announcement informs them no more trains will be coming that day—and spend the entire day together. Ilana decides to smoke weed instead of going to work (surprise!) because she’ll just get in trouble anyway, and Abbi joins her. They get harassed by a street vendor selling Finding Nemo bubble guns and Ilana tells him off loudly and without making any sense, winning some pretty epic heart eyes from Abbi. They get doused in sprinklers in the park and Abbi compliments Ilana’s previously straightened hair, which has gone curly after getting wet, and Ilana declares she’ll wear it that way for the rest of her life.
They go see Yoga Jones from Orange is the New Black, except in this world she’s a psychic, and she tells them they’re going to die today, so they decide to spend the rest of the living dangerously and get tattoos (Abbi gets and Oprah-portrait tramp stamp, which, amazing). They sit on a bench together and Abbi tells Ilana about her roommate’s boyfriend who is going to stay with them for a while. She’s referring to Bevers, who, as viewers of the show will know, is the most irritating irresponsible man-child (or, to use Nicole Haught‘s words, “boy man”) who squats in Abbi’s apartment, ruining her life and not paying rent. But at this point, she hasn’t even met him yet, and Ilana demands that Abbi call her roommate right that minute and tell her that Abbi isn’t comfortable with him staying more than a week. When she makes this phone call, it goes surprisingly well and it is strongly implied that Bevers won’t be living there after all. The two rejoice in their own power and the joy of their newfound friendship, relishing their amazing day, and make a date to hang out tomorrow.
This story is fairy-tale perfection and would seem to be the most fitting first friend-date for these two. But the ruse is already up, because the viewer knows Bevers never moves out. Instead, in this reality, Ilana takes another hit from her pipe before a siren starts blaring. Worried about cops, she quickly throws it into the street and grabs Abbi to run away, and they both immediately get flattened by a bus with an ad for The Apprentice on the side and you-know-who’s face beside the words, “You’re fired!”
Clearly, the second version of events is the true one: both women have extremely shitty days, apart from but parallel to one another. Abbi waits an incredibly long time for the restroom at a coffee shop to be vacated, but Jack the Snipper cuts off her ponytail while she’s waiting and she runs after him into the street. Meanwhile, the coffee shop manager unlocks the restroom door to find Ilana napping there and fires her. While Abbi goes home to find Bevers in her apartment and overdoes it in the “making him feel welcome” department, which he completely exploits, Ilana goes home to find her three well-groomed roommates (who she calls The Madisons) ready with a powerpoint presentation about why Ilana is a terrible roommate. (They make good points).
Later, Abbi and her new accidental 80s-hair-band ‘do eats frozen yogurt despondently as outside the window, an equally despondent (but much more vocal about it) Ilana runs by in her bra, having had her dress ripped from her body by a passing cyclist. Abbi watches longingly as a pair of women at a table in the corner laugh and feed each other their froyo. The queer undertones (they’re basically overtones, let’s be real) are clear.
Finally, Abbi spots Ilana on the same bench Reality #2 ended on, still smoking, but now wearing an oversized New York City t-shirt and looking extra sad. They recognize each other from the subway that morning, and ask about each other’s days. They bond over their mutually terrible 12 hours and instead of rushing into the street aka the path of the Trump bus, they walk leisurely in the opposite direction, and in this reality, it’s Ilana who compliments Abbi’s hair.
In the end, both days were the best worst day. But one of them, while it was more torturous for both Abbi and Ilana, was the ultimate best version. Because, well, they didn’t die.
I love love love this episode. The AU thing sometimes works for me and sometimes doesn’t, but in this case it really did, not only because it made for some hilarious moments on both sides, but because of all the layers in both versions of the story. Firstly, Ilana Glazer is an incredibly vocal, vehement opponent of the 45 administration, and both creators (and their team, which this season includes Phoebe Robinson as a writer, who is my FAVE) have never shied away from politics either within the show or their own public lives. It’s no secret that this season will heavily involve storylines that tackle living in the current political reality. But it’s hard to make such a farce of an administration funny, and so far, I like what I see. The backwards prophesy of the homeless man, the ad on the bus that kills them after their perfect day. It subtly illustrates the ways many people didn’t see this coming. It’s as if the show is pointing out how some thought we were having a perfect day under Obama, and felt hit by a bus on election night. Some should’ve listened more closely to the prophesy of the oppressed.
Aside from this rather serious undercurrent, I also love the way Broad City plays with feminism, queerness and female friendships. They never really talk about it explicitly on the show, except for the times when a lovestruck Ilana offhandedly declares her undying affection for a clueless Abbi, but in this AU episode, the roles were almost reversed. In the Perfect Day version, it was Abbi who seemed totally smitten with Ilana, whereas in most present-day episodes it’s the opposite. I really like this messy jumble of a relationship because it shows how entwined women can get in each other, how blurred the lines can be between deep platonic connection and romantic connection. (Not that this only applies to women, but this show is about two cis women).
Overall I rate this episode 10/10 Bed Bath & Beyond Bags. It was tops and I can’t wait to see the rest of the season.