Since FX premiered Louis CK’s groundbreaking comedy in 2011, people have asked, why hasn’t TV made more shows like Louie? The simple answer is because the world doesn’t make more Louis CKs: utility artists who can write, direct, produce, edit, and shoot a series all on a shoestring budget in exchange for creative freedom. But in a more general sense, there’s every opportunity for cable channels to make more shows in the spirit of Louie: small-bore, tight-focus comedies that reflect the first-person voice of a particular comic, with more room for experimentation and tangents.
Broad City, premiering on Comedy Central tonight, is exactly that kind of show. Its voice is first-person-plural, the persons being Upright Citizens Brigade comics Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who introduced their eponymous characters in the web-video version of Broad City. (The series is co-executive-produced by Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler.) The Ilana and Abbi of the show are twentysomething best friends, scraping together rent and weed money in New York City a nickel and dime at a time in various clerical and service industry jobs. (Among the work environments is a deadly parody of Soul Cycle where a request to clean up a mess in the toilets comes with a cheerful “Namaste.”) It’s the sort of milieu that tends to get called “slacker comedy,” though for slackers there’s a lot of emphasis on work here.
CBS’s Two Broke Girls delivers the mass-market version of this kind of income-inequality comedy: the diner where the protagonists sling hash and insults with a crew of working-class types while saving their paychecks toward a business. On Broad City (of which I’ve seen two episodes so far), Ilana and Abby’s quests are both smaller-scale and more bizarre: the first episode has them working a string of quick gigs to make money for a Lil Wayne show, while the second sends Abbi on a trek to retrieve a misdelivered package. (The latter storyline involves a Kafkaesque journey through a fictionalized outer-borough hinterland that is a little reminiscent of Louie’s more surreal moments.)
The core of the show is the dynamic between mild-mannered Abbi, who dream modest dreams of dating her next-door neighbor and being promoted from toilet-cleaning duty, and brash Ilana, an instigator with no sense of boundaries. (Especially, in a running joke on the show, over Skype.) But while Broad City is not heartwarming comedy, there’s an undertone of need and connection between them that helps their friendship make sense: Ilana needs Abbi’s dependability, Abbi needs Ilana to give her a kick into gear.
Together, they give the early episodes an off-kilter sense of fun that recommends sticking around for more. Broad City is not the next Louie yet, nor should it try to be, but it’s a promising version of itself.