Broad City – “Knockoffs”

Haven’t used this site in a *really* long time, because I’m lazy/was writing a thesis/mostly use Twitter as a way of distributing my work anyway, but I wrote a bit about last night’s episode of Broad City that, for a few different reasons, didn’t end up running anywhere. I love, love, love “Knockoffs,” and wanted to share the writing anyway, so here it is!

 

Broad City has become such a cultural phenomenon — finding co-creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer sharing the stage with Sleater-Kinney — that it’s sometimes difficult to separate “Broad City” and what it represents from the show itself. It’s not like there isn’t a history of zeitgeist-y sitcoms falling off in quality. But last night’s “Knockoffs” is the best episode of Broad City yet — and a strong frontrunner for the funniest episode of TV of 2015 — precisely because it blows off the show’s training wheels and fully commits to the wackiest possibilities of Broad City the TV show.

“Knockoffs” excels at everything that Broad City does well. Writers Paul Downs (of Body By Trey Dot Biz fame) and Lucia Aniello (who also directs) give it a dizzying density of small, comic moments (I’ve watched the episode at least ten times and am still picking up on tiny jokes). It’s unbelievably technically tight. And it’s a fresh look at female friendship via the introduction of Ilana’s mother, Bobbi, played to perfection by Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essman. The pair are so electric (even their outfits are closely coordinated), it’s almost enough to make you want Bobbi to kick Bevers out of Abbi’s apartment and become Broad City’s Frank Reynolds.

But the most powerful aspect of “Knockoffs” isn’t Ilana and Bobbi cursing out a “patriarchal motherfucker” on the street — it’s the demolition of the series’ foundational romantic (non-)pairing between Abbi and Stephen Schneider’s Jeremy. Even after watching the episode so many times, I’m still always briefly convinced that the two hooking up is some kind of dream sequence, or at least another drugged-out wisdom teeth fantasy. It has to be, right? The whole point of Jeremy’s character — and brass rings like him in every sitcom, ever — is that he’s unattainable, someone Abbi can lust after from afar. When Abbi says “Oh my God, I’m kissing Jeremy,” she’s speaking for all of us.

Jeremy replies “Oh my God, I’m kissing Abbi,” and “Knockoffs” really starts to shine — why shouldn’t he be just as into Abbi as she is into him? Sitcom leads often have to go through some sort of “character development” to attain their crush objects, but Broad City doesn’t think Abbi and Ilana should ever have to change. They’re a little awkward, but they’re also awesome, and it’d be silly to have Jeremy not recognize that. He genuinely likes Abbi (he wants to watch Six Feet Under with her!), which helps soften the impact of his unusual request in bed: to get pegged with a custom-made, all-natural dildo.

The mere act of pegging is usually depicted on TV as a source of homophobic gross-out humor, something that makes real men squirm. Often, guys get blackmailed with their enjoyment of pegging (one early episode of Entourage does this while also humiliating the character in question, played by Rainn Wilson, for being a nerd). Even Dan Savage uses pegging to make the “Stephen Colbert” character uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Broad City manages to work in a totally natural, empathetic, and funny scene explaining what pegging is at a spot-on Shiva for Ilana’s grandmother. The most sympathetic male character in the episode — Ilana’s father Arthur, played by Bob Balaban — agrees to get pegged to spice up his marriage.

The expected sitcom resolution of this plot would be Abbi getting scared away from Jeremy, having his sexual preference be a dealbreaker, ladies. Instead, she’s a little surprised when Jeremy asks her to bone him, but there’s never really any question that she’s going to do it. Nor is there any suggestion that it’s un-fun, or something anyone should be ashamed of. For a show that gets off on embarrassment, “Knockoffs” never suggests that Jeremy and Abbi are physically incompatible — most of the sex on Broad City is awkward and fumbling and played for laughs, but we don’t see Abbi peg Jeremy because that would turn it into a joke.

Instead, their relationship is nipped in the bud because Abbi and Jeremy are both unbelievably stubborn. (Maybe they might have been compatible after all). Their argument over the replacement dilo Abbi buys after nuking the original in the dishwasher is strikingly evenhanded — Jeremy is right to be a bit upset at Abbi’s pride in having pegged him, but he’s also the most obnoxious kind of “nice guy” (stop bragging about teaching underprivileged kids woodworking dude, it’s making everyone else look bad) and is way too aggrieved about Abbi’s good-faith effort to replace his Shinjo. And Jabbi implodes before it could even really start.

The end of “Knockoffs” is the first time Broad City has substantially messed with its status quo. Abbi is a “wild lady” now, and it’s easier to take her romantic interests seriously without her crush on Jeremy hanging over the show like a terrible will-they won’t-they. By blowing up that part of the show’s DNA, it frees Jeremy up to be a full-throated douchey, antagonistic, and much funnier asshole. (This season’s second episode is also its weakest precisely because it leans into another unnecessary part of the show — Abbi’s unfulfilling job as a “cleaner” at a gym.) Broad City is heeding Ilana’s advice by taking a risk and doing something new, and it might just mean that the show isn’t just as good as we all thought — it’s better.

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