During season four promos for Broad City, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson warned us that things were going to get dark this season. In a way, this was meant to reflect the political times: “With Trump’s election, their reality is just gloomier, as it is in the regular world,” Glazer said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly ((http://ew.com/tv/2017/09/13/broad-city-season-4-preview/). This show has never existed within a vacuum, and Glazer and Jacobson see it as their due diligence to reflect the times in which the characters live—and where both the characters and they themselves stand, politically—from protest stickers plastered on Ilana’s headboard to Abbi and Ilana escorting women getting abortions at Planned Parenthood.
This was also the first Broad City season that was filmed in the winter rather than in the summer, and as a result, the darkness and loneliness inherent to the cold months—especially in New York, which is notoriously a miserable place to live from January through April (and sometimes May)—are playing a significant role. The characters are also getting older; now that they’re in their late-20s, decisions start to have more gravity to them, especially those involving relationships and careers.
This week’s episode, “Abbi’s Mom,” actually grapples with a nexus of all three of those things: the dark political climate of 2017, the depression inherent to winter in New York, and the learning curve of these young women discovering, once and for all, how to take care of themselves.
Like the title implies, Abbi’s mom is coming to visit. We’ve met her dad already (Tony Danza, in season three’s “Philadelphia”), who was characterized as a benevolent and wacky father, and we know from little asides here and there that her parents’ divorce was pretty traumatic for her. Abbi is nervous about hosting her mom, someone who is, as Abbi tells Ilana, “pretty conservative.” It’s clear she’s anxious to please her. (A hard-to-impress Jewish mother? Unfamiliar territory.) The two of them spend the morning before Abbi’s mom’s arrival hiding Plan B, weed, and dirty clothes, and covering rings on the coffee table with a menorah.
While Abbi puts together an artisanal cheese plate, Ilana zones out, uncharacteristically quiet. In the middle of Abbi making a “cut the cheese” joke, Ilana gets up and turns on a SAD lamp—a bright light box that’s meant help those with seasonal affective disorder (“the annual cycle of depression that I and others like me experience every winter, all winter. And fall. And, like, the end of summer, too.”). Ilana instantly perks up from the lamp, which of course isn’t exactly how these things work, but that becomes part of the gag throughout the episode—that this artificial light source works as instantly as a hit of heroin would. The crash is instantaneous, though, too—as soon as the lamp turns off, Ilana slumps back into her depression. Abbi suggests that Ilana increase her medication during the winter, which Ilana quickly brushes aside.
Abbi’s mom, Joanne, arrives (Peri Gilpin, AKA Roz from Frasier!!!) and she is not at all the uptight figurehead we may have expected her to be. Joanne confesses to Abbi that doctors recently discovered a lump in her breast. It was benign, but the scare has given her a new lease on life and helped her to realize all the things she still needs to check off her bucket list: drinking a martini, going to a play at night (“matinees,” Abbi knowingly nods), and “wearing clothes made for black women” (“That’s an interesting one,” Abbi says quietly to her mom’s casual racism). Joanne asks Abbi if they could have a “naughty girls night out,” and although Abbi is slightly taken aback, she says yes. (This is followed by a wonderful scene of Bevers entering the room in his tiny red underwear, sharing a flirtatious moment with Joanne, which utterly grosses Abbi out.)
At Sushi Mambeaux, where Ilana is still working as a waitress, Marcel (RuPaul, back for more!!!) tells the staff that they’re doing something called “spring cleaning” that night, a ruthless competition: Whoever makes the most tips gets all the tips, and whoever makes the least tips will be fired. Dramatic, reality competition-esque music swells. (Sandra Bernhard is also thankfully back as the restaurant’s veteran server, with several wonderful one-liners.)
Abbi and Joanne come to Sushi Mambeaux for dinner, Joanne wearing Abbi’s famously flattering blue dress. At the table, Joanne orders martinis and shots, which she’s never done before. Ilana, meanwhile, is struggling to make her tips tonight; while trying to butter up a table, her depression creeps back in. She runs to the supply closet in the kitchen where she’s been keeping her SAD light, and finds that its efficacy is waning. Abbi comes to find her and uses aluminum foil to reflect the light, which does the trick—for now. Abbi confides about her mom’s situation, and Ilana comes up with her favorite solution: give them a blunt.
Mother and daughter smoking pot in the parking lot—Joanne’s first time ever—is an adorable bonding scene in which Joanne is genuinely heartened by her daughter calling her “dude.” Stoned at the table—honestly, seeing Roz play stoned is enough in itself—Joanne asks Abbi how many men she’s slept with. She’s curious because she herself has only slept with three (to Abbi’s 32), and is seeing, in comparison to her daughter’s adventurous youth, the boredom in her own sex life with her second husband (“It’s more like ‘making like’), and the risks that she herself didn’t take when she was younger.
The conversation getting way too TMI for Abbi’s liking (“Last week I penetrated myself with a bottle of cough syrup,” her mom hilariously confesses), she runs back to the kitchen to find Ilana in the supply closet once again, her face under a heat lamp and the entire closet wallpapered in aluminum foil. Nothing is helping. Finally, Abbi puts a 10,000-watt lightbulb into the SAD lamp and Ilana comes back to life. But Sushi Mambeaux can’t handle it, and they blow a fuse.
Back in the restaurant, Joanne, who is now completely wasted, stands on top of the table, yells, “My daughter f*cked 32 guys!” then proceeds to fall into the koi pond. Marcel schools Ilana in the kitchen, an episode-stealing scene: “Look, I don’t know what kind of strong-Island honkies you brought up in here, Other Tonya, but this is not Billy Joel’s go-to Dave & Busters.” Ilana admits that she’s depressed, she doesn’t care about the job anymore, and Marcel should go ahead and fire her. He doesn’t mind that she’s depressed; in fact, it works for the job. “This depression shit—that’s next level bitchy. I hope you never get better.”
The episode concludes with Joanne making out with Ilana’s 20-something coworker, Owen, in the alley, who Marcel fires on the spot in order to save Ilana’s job (Owen: “I blew you, dude!” Marcel: “And?”). Joanne rejoices: She can cross off her bucket list that she made out with a bisexual guy. In the closing credits, Ilana admits to Abbi that she should, after all, up her medication in the winter. “I was trying to decrease to be like, pure and strong or something, but that’s shame and stigma right there. So I get sick sometimes and need medicine.” It borders a little on PSA, but I’m glad that if anyone is trying to confront and destigmatize mental health issues, it’s these two.
There have been shades of this maturity and growth during the first four episodes; this fifth episode, the midway point of the season, actually reckons with serious issues head-on. It’s become clear that Broad City is a far cry from the slapstick, laugh-out-loud show it was in seasons one and two, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While some viewers may be disappointed by the change, I find it commendable that Jacobson and Glazer are willing to dive into the deeper aspects of their characters. I hope we continue to get more of this growth as the season enters its second half—and more RuPaul, too.