Abbi and Ilana are the latest late-night comedians to take on Trump’s America.
I can’t tell if Trump is good or bad for comedy.
On the one hand, Armando Iannucci (Veep), was right when he said, “What can you do and say that hasn’t already been said and done by him?” Iannucci’s not wrong. The idea of trying to craft a character that is Trumpian is a losing battle. Truth is stranger than fiction with this administration. The act of trying to keep ahead of what’s going on is damn near futile. You can’t what if when the real world is making that what if a what now.
While on the one hand, infotainment, late-night monologues, and Saturday Night Live are in their element. The very act of fact-checking through ridicule becomes low-hanging fruit when that politician is Trump. He’s a seemingly shameless man. When Trump’s behavior dictates your jokes you don’t lead the conversation, Trump does. That is the comedy climate we are in right now, a reactionary world. An oh-dear-God-what-now universe.
Broad City‘s “Sliding Doors,” knows how to mine Trump for comedy. Broad City has found a middle ground between what now and what if. All it took was some alternative universes and Abbi and Ilana’s friendship.
Broad City is about two-20 something women living in New York. As selfish and irresponsible as the two can be they still genuinely care for each other. Abbi and Ilana have a friendship with no boundaries, no edges, and no end. A friendship built on unconditional love. The foundation of the show is this friendship.
Season 4 gave us a meet-cute for their friendship that revolves around missing or making a train. (It’s a parody of Sliding Doors, the film. You remember, with Gwyneth Paltrow before she trafficked in vaginal steaming and jade eggs.) Broad City takes this train driven narrative device and runs with it.
A Tale of Two What Ifs
In “Sliding Doors” we see two parallel universes. First, one in which both women make it on a train together and have the worst day of their lives apart from each other. A dancer accidentally kicks Ilana in the head. She makes some race driven judgments. She gives a disastrous presentation in her NYU class. Her roommates tell her off. As Ilana puts it, she’s having a “salty diarrhea” kind of day.
Abbi’s having much the same. A man with a bubble gun harasses her. Another man cuts her ponytail off at Grey Dog. Further, we see how Bevers got the idea that he has a license to eat all of her food, use all her things, and never clean up after himself in perpetuity. The day ends with Abbi running into Ilana while getting some sadness pizza. The two meet in seriousness. They bound over their bad day and eventually write their names in wet cement. The bad universe is the universe set in the cement of our current timeline.
Contrast this bad, though actual, universe with the idealized universe depicted on the show. The version of reality where both women become friends first because they miss the train. Abbi and Ilana spend the day together. Abbi and Ilana visit a park. They tell off the bubble guy. Notably, they want to be members of a “throuple” with Barack and Michelle Obama. They can’t wait for the next president to be a woman and the march of progress to move forward. Only instead of being blindsided by election results, the universe throws a The Apprentice ad covered bus at them. (The bus does have a great appropriation of Trump’s own The Apprentice ad. That “America is watching, ‘You’re Fired'” copy is deliciously subversive in the context of this show.) It’s a graphic depiction of what Abbi and Ilana will go through after the election.
Basing an episode around a what-if narrative when a season of television will focus on the fallout from the 2016 election is brilliant. Last year, Hillary Clinton had a memorable cameo. So much of the post-election discussions have revolved around hindsight and alternate universes. What if this and what if that.
Currently, none of that matters. We’re in the bad day universe. Our roommates are going to scold us. We’re going to eat our sadness pizza, but at least we can do it together. We’re better that way.
So, What Now?
My guess shared trauma will run through this season. Not just electoral shock but the trauma of expectation being defeated by reality. That is the real narrative to be drawn out of this past election cycle. Understanding that how you want things to be and how they don’t always match up. It takes maturity to face defeat and then roll up your sleeves and keep working for change. That’s resilience.
I don’t think this season of Broad City will be a quiet one. It’s going to be reactionary and forceful. For example, Trump’s name is even going to be bleeped. There is an upcoming episode about Ilana failing to orgasm post-election. Broad City is going to get down and dirty with its feelings about Trump’s election. In the deft hands of its staff, it’s the only show that gets what it should be doing. We’re in a what now world. The time for what-ifs is over.