Broad City Season 4 Episode 2: RuPaul, Wanda Sykes & An Unfunny Shania Twain

Last week we had a sweet if minor episode about Abbi and Ilana’s origin story that was a tribute to the 1998 rom-com Sliding Doors (an episode truly after my own heart). Unfortunately, this week’s Broad City is uneven at best, with an unfunny Shania Twain appearance and a plotline involving magical aluminum foil (as confusing and strange as it sounds). Luckily, cameos by RuPaul and Wanda Sykes, and the return of Trey (Paul Downs), provide some much-needed laughs.

Abbi’s got a new job at a graphic design company called “Graphix,” and we open on her sitting in a spacious all-white office with an iMac on the desk, leaning back in her chair like she owns the place. Turns out the office belongs to her new boss, Dara (Wanda Sykes), who seems more preoccupied with Abbi picking up organic kitty litter for a nonexistent cat than she is in Abbi actually doing any office work.

Meanwhile, Ilana wakes up in the arms of a svelte woman in Calvin Klein underwear; she rummages through the apartment, taking stuff from the bathroom and a baked potato wrapped in aluminum foil from the fridge, before leaving a post-it note on the woman’s head (“Thxx for the Bang-Hang. Took some toiletries. L8TA.”) While eating the baked potato at a bus stop, the tinfoil seems to contain some sort of magical properties, and Ilana brings it along with her for good luck to her interview for a waitressing job. (This was as ridiculous and absurd as it sounds; I could not explain the reasoning behind this if I tried.)

Back at her actual desk, Abbi gets a call from UPS: A package was delivered to Soulstice, her old place of work, and a fraught spot for her since things ended with Trey. (Apparently, she lied about winning the Powerball in order to quit the Soulstice job rather than confront Trey about not wanting to see him anymore.) After deliberating with Ilana, Abbi decides to lie to Dara about getting out of work, telling her she just found out her parents are getting a divorce and she needs to go to an “emergency therapy session.” Abbi thanks her for letting her go; “Thank you for being so honest about your need for mental health,” Dara responds, in adorable earnest.

Ilana shows up for her interview at Sushi Mambo, where the boss, Marcel, is played by RuPaul, the hands-down savior of this episode. He judges her quickly, in fabulously bitchy RuPaul fashion: Ilana is not tall enough, and certainly not mean enough. Ilana then consults her magical tinfoil (???) and launches into a bitchy diatribe in order to nail the job: “Just because Sex and the City filmed here 25 years ago one time doesn’t mean that I need this.” Marcel hires her on the spot.

rupaul broad city

Abbi arrives at Soulstice to see Trey finishing up a training session (“No, I wouldn’t recommend steroids for you yet”). Turns out the woman he’s training is none other than Shania Twain, who Abbi used to lie about training herself. She hides behind a life-sized cut-out of Maria, who was once Abbi’s coworker as a bathroom cleaner at the gym and has now been upgraded to “TRAINER OF THE YEAR.” Abbi calls Ilana to tell her about the Shania sighting; she of course doesn’t believe her, as Abbi has been lying about this for years.

She goes back in to sneak pictures of Shania to prove it to Ilana, but Maria catches her and takes her in a headlock. Trey spots her now; Paul Downs’ portrayal of the lovably clueless fitness bro is, as always, a bright spot in the show. Trey confronts Abbi about how things ended between them. “Before I knew it, you quit cause you ‘won Powerball,’” Trey says. Abbi somehow convinces Trey to let her train Shania with him. This whole storyline felt improbable: Abbi was pretty cruel to Trey the last time we saw them, hiding her involvement with him from Ilana because she was embarrassed by him, even though he wanted to have a relationship with her. Trey may be dumb, but he seems to know himself, and about what he can or cannot take emotionally, and it’s out of character that he seems to fall back into things with Abbi so quickly.

While Abbi and Trey train a reticent Shania (who, by the way, really, really can’t act), their chemistry grows, partially due to Trey’s excellent Ross Gellar impression, which puts Abbi in stitches. Shania, quickly catching onto the spark between the two of them, is lazy and bored, and has Abbi and Trey show Shania training moves rather than do them herself. They essentially end up pantomiming sex, shocked and pulling away from each other every time Shania reminds them she’s present. There’s a belabored “girl talk” between Shania and Abbi when Trey leaves the room, and Shania convinces Abbi to pursue things between them again. At one point, Shania dispenses advice that becomes a lyric, and she sings into a voice memo in her phone: “If there’s a spark, you’ve gotta ride it.” It’s kind of funny, because it sounds like a song Shania would sing, but it would be a lot funnier if her comic timing wasn’t so terrible.

Back at Sushi Mambo, RuPaul is carrying the episode as he introduces each of the other servers with their nicknames. “That’s Cara. Call her ‘The Wall.’ Drake texts her; she doesn’t text back;” “That’s Owen. Call him ‘Valtrex.’ No shade, most people have herpes.” He tells Ilana that if she’s good enough, the nickname will come to her. Ilana being bitchy to customers works great at her new job. (Ilana: “Did you guys take the bridge or tunnel to get here?” Customer: “We’ll take one of everything, you whore.”) But then she goes to the bathroom and inexplicably consults with her aluminum foil, which apparently only she can hear. The foil somehow convinces her to be nice (again: ???) because being mean just isn’t in her nature. She tries to quit the job but accidentally trips Brenda (an underused Sandra Bernhard), which Marcel takes to be intentional. “Doing bodily harm? You’re a regular Tonya Harding.” He anoints her with her new nickname: Other Tonya.

Ilana ends up making a killing, leaving with eight hundred dollars that night. Does this mean there’s more RuPaul in our Broad City future? One can only hope.

Back at Soulstice, Trey and Abbi are going at it in the sauna. Shania walks in on them having sex and starts singing lyrics from “You’re Still the One.” Alarmed, they abruptly pull away, injuring Trey’s penis (somehow? I had a hard time understanding how this worked, considering the physicality of, um, how sex works). Shania calls 911; “it’s your standard penile fracture,” the cute paramedic tells Trey.

We get an honest and bittersweet conversation now between Trey and Abbi: Trey tells Abbi that she’s just not the relationship type, and although it seems that Abbi is hurt by this, and perhaps wants to prove Trey wrong about that, she doesn’t. Trey is then wheeled off with an ice pack on his crotch, and Abbi asks the paramedic, Mike, for his number.

The episode ends with Abbi back at Ilana’s apartment, showing her pictures of Shania. “This one is Shania’s feet under the bathroom stall. She wasn’t even peeing—she was just watching an episode of Scandal.” Turns out the package she had sent to Soulstice was a four-year supply of Plan B. “If we ever have any other female friends, it’s available to them.”

This a pretty weak episode—the RuPaul bits are great, as are Ilana’s interactions with customers at Sushi Mambo, but the Shania Twain stuff is really a reach. It was great for the ongoing gag of the show to have her there, but it would have sufficed to have her show up for one scene—she’s just not funny enough to carry it for the whole episode. And the inexplicable aluminum foil serving as Ilana’s voice of reason, plus the improbability of Trey’s decision making, made the whole episode feel confusing and misguided.

I do hope this isn’t the end of Trey, purely because Paul Downs is so damn delightful. But it seems that he and Abbi’s romantic storyline is done; hopefully their conversation about Abbi’s potential for a relationship, followed by her asking Mike out, is a sign that Abbi is going to become more assertive in the future. It is nice to continue to see an Abbi who goes after what she actually wants, even if it means that we lose Trey in the process.

Photos courtesy of Comedy Central

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