Sex and the Broad City

Two girls, one conversation about what it means to talk about female sexuality as examined through the lens of one particularly raunchy sitcom.

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Gabriella: As Broad City’s first season came to a close, the critical acclaim was overwhelming — and entirely well deserved. But before Slate and Vulture wrote it up, you may have been the show’s most vocal cheerleader: you gchatted me every day demanding that I watch it, sent me clips of the funniest scenes, and screencaps like this.

It was that last one that finally convinced me to watch the show, because if you know me, you know I have a soft spot for vulgar euphemisms. I love that the Arch De Triumph is a play on the Eiffel Tower (look it up, kids). Urban Dictionary is teeming with absurd sexual terms dreamt up by teen boys, most of which are entirely degrading to women. Broad City’s joke totally flipped that on its head, as it does with how the characters discuss sex in general. Every time I watch the show, I keep noticing that it’s both a novel portrayal of how women talk about sex on television and a realistic example of how the women that I know, myself included, discuss it amongst ourselves.

Eliza:: I realized I was in love with Broad City during “Pu$$y Weed” when Ilana and her non-exclusive gentleman friend Lincoln are making out after he gives her dental surgery (not a euphemism, although let’s revisit that). Ilana unsuccessfully tries to coerce a very stoned Abbi into the mix. Between sobs of joy, I managed to text you about the show, the first of many pleas to get you on board; in your defense, I have been known to strongly recommend banking services, so your hesitance was not unfounded.

Broad City is a total pleasure in so many ways, but one of the best parts is how the characters embrace sex. When Ilana reaches over to grab Abbi, she’s playing out a sexual fantasy (who even knew that women had those!?) which is awkward in execution, vaguely aggressive, but also sort of sweet: in other words, exactly what sex is when you’re young and horny and a little bored.

Gabriella: It’s true, when you switched over to Simple, you forced me to watch an introductory video for the bank and talked about it at every given opportunity. But I digress.

The characters truly do unabashedly embrace sex. It’s refreshing, as is their tendency to objectify men — Ilana especially — which is completely amusing to watch.

Eliza:: There is a physicality to this show — slapstick humor, but also sexual physicality — that’s generally reserved for male-centric shows (I’m thinking of Entourage, where they’ll sometimes have naked women hanging out simply because the characters and viewers want to look at boobs). The hilarious Broad City version of this is Ilana looking her one night stand up and down and literally admiring his dick.

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Gabriella: That scene’s been making me laugh since I watched it. Broad City didn’t invent “the female gaze,” but they’re making the most of it.

Another great example of outright physicality in the show is all of the shots of men going down on Abbi and Ilana. That’s huge — to casually show a girl getting eaten out, several times, without much fanfare. It’s a welcome departure from the typical depictions of sex on television: penetrative, twenty seconds long, and still somehow resulting in a female orgasm.

I like that on Broad City, sex occurs often, casually (see: Ilana and Lincoln having sex while she Skypes with Abbi), and because it’s a purely physical desire. We have noticed that Abbi is a little hapless and neurotic when it comes to her sex life, but it doesn’t have to do with any real feelings.

Eliza:: Common tropes like the uptight, busy woman with her hair pulled back into a neat bun, talking on a Bluetooth, too busy to be bothered with sex, are not entertained on Broad City. There’s never a question of “if” Broad City characters want to get laid. It’s all about the “how.” Abbi’s sex-related OCD (e.g., scheduling time to masturbate) doesn’t stem from negative connotations of sex as it so often seems to in other shows, but rather from a genuine desire to participate in sex and figuring out how best to get into it. For example, Abbi’s nervous to go on a blind date, and it turns out poorly (he spends 45 minutes explaining Settlers of Catan). But she still brings the guy home and victoriously Skypes Ilana from bed to report back.

Gabriella: So much of the discussion about sex that occurs on Broad City is facilitated by how close the two main characters are. It’s heartwarming to watch Ilana quiz Abbi about how well-endowed her latest partner is (“coke can…plantain big”), and then knowingly proclaim, “Abbi this keeps happening to you: you’re a magnet for elephant dongs.” It’s blunt, sure, but mostly, it’s telling: many young women swapping stories about their conquests are as crass and flippant as their male counterparts are purported to be.

Eliza:: It’s also worth mentioning Amy Poehler’s influence as executive producer of Broad City; this is perhaps most noticeable in Abbi and Ilana’s wonderful friendship, but also when it comes to their attitudes towards men and sex. Leslie Knope’s candid obsession with her husband’s butt on Parks and Recreation is totally the NBC primetime version of Ilana’s “pink dick” line.

Gabriella: That’s such an appropriate comparison. We’re seeing an overall rise in female comedians aggressively chipping away at the old “women aren’t funny” argument, and, to coincide with that, I think that comedy has become the most honest vehicle to talk about sex. To me, that’s a dual victory for feminism.

That, and I like a good dick joke.

Gabriella Paiella lives in New York. Yes, her name rhymes. Eliza Rosenberry lives in Brooklyn and works in book publishing. She is on Twitter @elizarosenberry.