Part of the beauty of Broad City has always been that it remained determined to focus on a female friendship that existed without any underlying conflict. Abbi and Ilana were not “frenemies” or secretly competing to one-up each other. They were full and open friends in the truest sense, encouraging each other’s successes and providing comfort after failures. They defied the conventional wisdom that women in each other’s lives must compete over work, over clothing or, worst of all, over men. Instead the show gave us women who were truly happy to both languish and grow together, helping each other gain a toehold up on the ladder of life by lifting as they climbed. In many ways, their friendship was a kind of platonic ideal; an adult friendship full to bursting with all the same fervor, intensity and passion as the ones we have in elementary school. Like Hulu’s new series PEN15 and its preteen girl protagonists, interactions with men and boys exists not just for their own pleasure, but as continuing fodder for their relationship to each other. To borrow from another great television friendship, they are the sun and the men in their lives merely orbit the axis that is their inseparable bond.
Broad City gave us women protagonists who were radical in their grossness, in their honesty and in their frankness. They shared every experience, every hookup and every triumph and were defined by their devotion to each other. Nothing was too vulgar to merit exclusion from the shared narrative that was their deeply intertwined lives, whether it was weed hidden inside their vaginas or their first time pegging a partner. Abbi notes in the finale how strange it is that they had managed to walk the Brooklyn Bridge separately but not together, given how much of their time was spent in each other’s company. It’s a testimony to the profound sadness of their split. Despite being each other’s primary partners, there are still experiences they have not shared and may now never get the chance to. It infects this final half hour with a kind of lament. This is the best decision for the right reasons and yet it still aches.
But it’s also important to recognize that their relationship was not always all good: as Ilana succinctly stated in the show’s penultimate episode, the two are codependent in a way that is ultimately unhealthy, leading them to monopolize each other’s time and prioritize their shared relationship to the detriment of forming deep, meaningful bonds with other people. In true Broad City fashion, the two come to this conclusion together, and it helps them accept the need for the separation to come. It’s easy to see why they rely so much on each other. Ilana brings Abbi out of her shell, making her daring and occasionally brave, and Abbi tries to ground Ilana in the reality of their lives. They balance each other out, and they love each other endlessly, but they need to loosen their joint vice grip in order to let themselves grow and change.
It’s fitting then that the show ends by allowing them to cherish this phase of their lives that they have spent wrapped up in each other; they can memorialize it together and move on. Their lives do not end without each other, they simply expand infinitely, blossoming with possibilities for their future. It feels intentional that the finale mimics many of the beats of a traditional romcom: the tearful early goodbye, the reconciliation, the final separation, and the view of a better life. The central purpose of their lives for the last five years has been to be each other’s friend. Their declarations of love on the Brooklyn Bridge are as real and true as any romance. The distance between them fundamentally changes the nature of their relationship, but it doesn’t end it; their bond transgresses space and time. But without the immediacy of each other’s influence, they give each other the gift of self-reliance. They have the opportunity now to become full people rather than one half of each other.
I didn’t realize what the “broad” in “Broad City” stood for until early last year. A reclaimed historical term for a promiscuous woman, I had always assumed it was merely a reference to the vastness of New York and its never-ending scope for mischief and adventure. It may well have been, but it was also primarily a nod to the ways in which Abbi and Ilana did as many unfairly maligned women have done throughout history, which was simply to move through the world with the confidence and self assurance of a man. The grooming, comportment and stature of the “ladylike” are of no consequence to them. They have only ever performed for an audience of one.
In the end, Broad City was radical in the way it repeatedly asserted that the primary, most beautiful, intimate, and meaningful romance of your life can be the relationship you have with your best friend; its closing shots were a nod to the fact that the city they love is full to the brim with such friendships, blooming and growing everyday, and deepening in their significance as they endure. Abbi and Ilana were a perfect encapsulation of a very specific millennial experience, and the show will stand as a monument to the intensity and devotion that women can have for one another when they stop squirming under men’s gaze and reject its existence altogether.