Girls vs. Broad City: Which Show Is Actually the "Voice of a Generation"?

by Vanessa Willoughby
There's something about Comedy Central's Broad City. Whether featuring a hygienically-challenged roommate or the thrill from running into a neighbor crush, the show gives a fresh take on the twentysomething grind. And as the series nears its season finale this week, it's clear that stars and creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer have succeeded in creating a hilarious alternative to the often self-contained, whitewashed bubble of Girls. Although Lena Dunham & Co. have made efforts to appease the more vocal, obvious criticisms of the HBO show (Donald Glover's arc instantly springs to mind), it struggles to balance its various high-stakes plotlines, leaving some characters and some scenarios feeling half-baked (read: Shosh). By contrast, the stakes are usually pretty low in the world of Broad City, but a Seinfeld-ian willingness to hyper-exaggerate the mundane gives it unexpected resonance. While we give props to Girls' commitment to depicting the messy cluelessness of urban twenty-somethings, here's five reasons why Broad City does it better.

1. Setting
Though New York City is a major part of both shows Broad City makes better comedic use of the city's challenges. It treats New York as an actual character that fights the two hapless friends at every turn. Girls uses New York as background material. As much as Girls is associated with Brooklyn life, many other creative urban enclaves -- the Mission, Pilsen, Echo Park -- could likely provide equally effective backdrops. As Hannah's famous "I may be the voice of my generation line" tells us, the show is about her and everything is filtered from her unique perspective, rather than a universal one. New York is just the backdrop for her and her friends' growing pains.

But Broad City couldn't exist anywhere but the Big Apple. In the premiere episode, we watched Abbi and Ilana trying to dig up enough money to pay for Lil Wayne tickets and get into the sort of "only in New York" shenanigans that don't require the audience's suspension of disbelief. (S/o to Fred Armisen who made a memorable cameo as a mustached-creepazoid  from the bowels of Craigslist, who hired the girls to clean his apartment while he was dressed like a baby.)

2. Structure
Broad City doesn't have much in the way of a specific storyline. This allows for spontaneity; Murphy's Law expands to cartoonish proportions. It doesn't spend time wondering about the stability of Abbi and Ilana's friendship either -- that comes pre-established. (See episode seven, "Hurricane Wanda," for an example of their rock solid trust in action.) Girls', on the other hand, is fixated on the four women's relationships with one another and there's a constant "breaking up and making up" see-saw that can feel contrived.

Broad City focus is not on any specific endgame or Abbi and Ilana's journey to achieve self-enlightenment. Its lax, episodic structure means the show's plot can go anywhere. There's nothing too weird or too wild or too unbelievable about the world in which it exists (in the same way that New York city itself is an epicenter for the strange and unique). 

3. Nudity
I'm not bothered by the amount of nudity on Girls but it often feels a touch exhibitionist -- especially Hannah's. I have no problem with Dunham's appearance or personal politics but each time Dunham's character is nude, it sparks endless debate, ultimately detracting from critical analysis of the show itself. Reporters and trolls alike feel compelled to comment on Dunham's nude scenes and this focus on the actress' body has even gone beyond the show. (See: Jezebel offering $10,000 for Dunham's untouched Vogue editorial pictures, citing that the photoshopped images were counteractive to Dunham's "body positivity.") Broad City's usage of nudity is strictly for laughs. Rather than distracting the audience from the story arcs, it enhances them. 

4. Friendship and Sympathy
Broad City celebrates the strength in friendship while Girls examines the dissatisfaction. Perhaps this is why the latter is often so polarizing. The show is explores the perils of twenty-somethings in a way that asks for viewer sympathy it doesn't always deserve. Broad City doesn't want your sympathy. You're allowed to just sit back and enjoy Abbi and Ilana's frequent mishaps.

5. The Absurdity of Youth
Broad City's first season has been filled with "crisis" after "crisis" -- and not of the existential kind. As Flavorwire's Pilot Viruet says in a recap of episode four, "Abbi and Ilana can't concern themselves with book deals or opening a cupcake shop because they're too busy just trying to scrounge up enough money (or office supply gift cards) to buy weed...Sometimes you can't focus on the overall, bigger picture because it's daunting enough to try and make it back to your bed in one piece every night."

 It's those micro-dramas and mini-stressors that take up most of our days, and BC does an excellent job of finding the absurdities in everyday moments. It's crafted a snapshot of urban twentysomething anxiety that's  relatable -- and recognizable -- for a broader and more diverse swath of viewers.  

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