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In season 4, Broad City became bleaker — and even more determined to celebrate what it could

Broad City’s fourth “friendiversary” finale capped a season of uncharacteristic introspection.

Ilana (Ilana Glazer) and Abbi (Abbi Jacobson), communicating volumes.
Comedy Central

Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for December 2 through 9 is “Friendiversary,” the fourth season finale of Comedy Central’s Broad City.

When I moved back to New York City after five years in Los Angeles, I realized how quickly I’d forgotten the sheer relief of a biting winter thawing into spring, the thrill of spring blossoming into summer. There’s no need to be grateful for a beautiful day in a city where every day is beautiful by default, but when you spend months wrapping yourself under layers upon layers to walk even a single block without wanting to turn around and go home, getting a few months of warmth — no matter how humid — feels like a miracle.

That place of total gratitude is where Broad City lived in its first three seasons. Abbi and Ilana (co-creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer) tumbled their way through a seemingly eternal summer of loving chaos, the series only showing us their lives during New York City’s warmest months and longest days. Every day Abbi and Ilana lived onscreen was the kind of “can you believe that even happened?!” day that goes down in friendship history. Showing how Abbi and Ilana spent their summers made perfect sense; their freewheeling chaos felt rooted in a determination to make the most out of every single moment they got.

But in its fourth season, Broad City took on a distinctly bleaker sheen by ditching summer entirely. The 10 episodes stretched over the fall and winter — specifically, the first fall and winter to unfold under President Trump (whose name the show decided to bleep out like it’s a curse word).

Leaving the summers behind to show how Abbi and Ilana grit their teeth and bear with the rest of the year was a risky decision, but one Broad City prepared for. Neither Abbi nor Ilana became different people in the colder months, per se. But showing us how they function during this time of the year versus the free for all that is a New York City summer gives us a keener insight into who they actually are, for better and for worse.

Ilana especially got more character development than she has in a long time: This season explored her depression and seasonal affective disorder, gave her a serious boyfriend in Lincoln (Hannibal Buress, a returning MVP), and helped her get over crippling Trump-related anxiety so she could have orgasms again. (I swear it makes sense in context.)

“Friendiversary” isn’t the absolute best episode season four had to offer — but it is a companion piece to the episode that, for my money, holds that title. “Sliding Doors,” the season premiere, showed us the story of how Abbi and Ilana became friends (plus a possible alternate timeline in which they became friends and died in the same day). “Friendiversary” celebrates, in perfectly bizarre Broad City fashion, that they stayed friends, and all the “can you believe that even happened?!” days they’ve lived through along the way.

“Friendiversary” is about one of Abbi and Ilana’s most bizarre days, but more so the friendship that got them there

Aww.
Comedy Central

The best episodes of Broad City are packed with more twists and jokes before their first commercial break than most shows have throughout an entire episode, a trend “Friendiversary” follows. It starts with Abbi waking up to a giant cardboard cutout of Ilana’s face and a cryptic clue, thus kicking off an elaborate, deeply personalized scavenger hunt to celebrate their friendship.

Even being a fan of Broad City from back when it was a scrappy YouTube series, I expected this scavenger hunt to be the entire episode — but it was over within five minutes. After careening from landmark to landmark (Ilana tailing her in covert disguises with frenetic glee), Abbi finds her best friend waiting for her at a cheap chain barbecue place with a tray of chicken fingers and her own cardboard effigy.

The first twist is that Abbi didn’t even realize this was all for a friendiversary; Ilana, being enthusiasm personified, would probably do something like this on a Tuesday if she had the time and motivation to do it. Ilana is always showing how much she loves Abbi, sometimes to the point where Abbi has no idea how to reciprocate, a problem that becomes impossible to ignore the second she tries to pass off a stray face mask in her bag as some incredibly sentimental present.

Eventually, Abbi gets to show how much she cares for Ilana when she thinks they’re being confronted by a murderer with a knife (brilliant character actor Denis O’Hare, doing his reputation proud) and leaps in front of her friend to take the blow. Because yes, of course their friendiversary night turned into a madcap rush to track down a possible murderer, who they thought they saw push a woman off a balcony, but who in actuality just dropped his sex doll.

And lest you think Broad City would ever judge him for having the doll in the first place, Ilana stages a passionate mini-sermon about how this guy’s just trying to find some peace “in this crazy, upside-down world” — a theme season four returned to over and over again, whether through that first episode’s parallel timelines, an animated mushroom trip through the city, or yes, Trump’s election victory killing Ilana’s typically hyperactive sex drive.

By the end of their nutso night, Abbi and Ilana sit on the park bench where they first became true friends in 2011, feet from where they inscribed their names in wet concrete, and reminisce over how much they just went through together. Directed by Nicholas Jasenovec, this final shot is a single take that lets Jacobson and Glazer trade lines back and forth in an easy rhythm, one they’ve honed over years together as collaborators, actors, and real life friends.

It’s a shot that has precedent in other Broad City season finales, my favorite being season two’s, in which they scarfed dollar pizza after another friendiversary night gone hilariously awry and made resolutions for the year ahead. But this particularly grateful coda caps a season that made room for more growth and introspection than Broad City has ever allowed into its chaotic universe, finding a way for Abbi and Ilana to celebrate each other at a time when celebrating can feel like the hardest thing to do.