In the first episode of the final season of “Broad City,” BFFs Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) celebrate Abbi’s 30th birthday by walking the length of Manhattan, Inwood to the Battery. They shoot video of dirty water — “city juice” — on the subway tracks. They visit the stately Morris-Jumel Mansion. They get chicken and waffles at Red Rooster in Harlem. They get their hair braided on the sidewalk.
Then Ilana falls into a manhole. (Or as she calls it, a “womanhole.”)
The episode, an ingenious love letter to friendship and the city in the form of an Instagram Story, perfectly encapsulates the relationship of “Broad City” with the second half of its title. Its New York City is a frenemy that charms you and grosses you out, embraces you and picks your pocket, shows you a good time and tries to break your foot.
The series, returning Thursday to Comedy Central, heads up a group of recent series — including the just-returned “High Maintenance” and the also-ending “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — depicting New York life and hustle in the era of gentrification, student-loan debt and gig work.
If “Friends,” the Patient Zero of New York’s TV upscaling, was set in a fantasy Manhattan of cappuccinos and massive apartments, these series each present a version of the city that the generation raised on “Friends” actually found, landing in tiny flats that are a long commute from Central Perk.
Abbi and Ilana work a string of jobs in the online and service industries, the sort of work that reminds you the city is filled with people with more disposable income than you have, disposing it everywhere. (The new season has Abbi, an aspiring artist, working at Anthropologie, selling products like “robin’s nest Caucasian headdresses.”)
The absurd vision of “Broad City” reflects how money has warped the reality of the city itself. In a second-season episode, Abbi, whacked out on painkillers after wisdom-teeth surgery, goes on a shopping spree at the Gowanus Whole Foods, loading her cart with $1487.56 worth of manuka honey and hearts of palm, accompanied by the hallucination of a giant stuffed bunny.
It’s surreal — but then, so is building an upscale grocery paradise next to an industrial Superfund site. As Ilana says, as she bikes into the store parking lot to retrieve her friend, “Damn, this neighborhood is changing.”
A constant theme of “Broad City” is what adulthood means, and how much of that has to do with money. Often, it’s defined in small milestones. Ilana resolves to do her own taxes. Abbi decides, “I’m an adult; I should be buying my own pot.”
At the beginning of the final season, time seems to be weighing on the series’s mind. But to its credit, it seems to resist the standard conclusion of young-people-in-the-city sitcoms: that characters must “grow up,” which means getting a steady job, kids and a mortgage. When Abbi, in the premiere, runs into a college acquaintance who is settled with children, she feels inadequate, until she realizes that parenting has made her friend a stressed-out mess.
Free spirit Ilana, meanwhile, confronts her own crisis when her boyfriend, Lincoln (Hannibal Buress), reveals that he has a long-term plan to leave the city for the suburbs. This is a bridge, or tunnel, too far. “I’m only 27 — what am I, a child bride?” she says. “I’m on a New York City timeline.”
HBO’s “High Maintenance,” airing its third season Sundays on HBO, runs on a more stately, chill timeline. Simultaneously naturalistic and dreamy, it’s like the artsy cousin of “Broad City” that went to film school. In geography and spirit, though, its depiction of New York’s Kombucha Belt is much the same — even when, in its season premiere, it visits a pocket of the Catskills that functions as a kind of hipster-Brooklyn-in-exile.
Constructed as an anthology about a Brooklyn pot dealer (Ben Sinclair) and his clients, the show covers a wide swath of New Yorkers united by the need for weed. But money stress is a recurring theme: A couple saves cash by moving farther down the subway line, then buckles under the feeling of isolation; another couple wins a housing lottery but they feel like second-class citizens in their spiffy building, squeezed into a tiny space and barred from the bike room and sauna.
The show combines a winning slacker charm with a detail-perfect sense of life as lived, right now, in its slice of the city. It is particularly sharp on how the app economy has brought Airbnbs to every corner of the boroughs and flooded the streets with Lyfts — the virtual terraforming of the city into one New York of actual wealth and another of gigs and hustles.
For all that, there isn’t a touch of bitterness to the generous-hearted “High Maintenance.” (The second-season premiere, “Globo,” set after an unspecified tragedy — violent? political? — is a wry testament to the city’s neurosis and unbreakability.) It embraces its oddball subjects — con artists, Craigslist obsessives, exhibitionists, even dogs — and the city that, for all its demands, gives them the space to be who they are.
If “Broad City” is a story of febrile friendship and “High Maintenance” one of buzzed benevolence, then “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” which ends Friday on Netflix after four seasons, is like an affectionate Bronx cheer. Or make that an East Dogmouth cheer, named for the fictional neighborhood, somewhere in far north Manhattan, that took in the title character (Ellie Kemper) after she spent 15 years imprisoned by a misogynist cult in Indiana.
“Kimmy Schmidt,” from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock of “30 Rock,” has always been a comedy of trauma and recovery, which the final run of episodes underlines by tying its story, with mixed results, to the #MeToo movement that it anticipated. But it has also been one of TV’s sharpest satires of a changing city.
East Dogmouth is a little island in a borough drowning in money and being homogenized by corporations. (A sign at a construction site in Season 2 reads, “Coming Soon: 9 Banks!”) It is proudly unpretty, a stubborn piece of gum stuck to the $1,000 shoe of Manhattan, and that’s precisely what makes it affordable for Kimmy and her underemployed actor roomie, Titus (Tituss Burgess).
Its fiercest champion is Kimmy and Titus’s landlady, Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane), an anti-gentrification militant who chases off encroaching hipsters and fights the opening of a Whole Foods-like grocery store (Big Naturals, not to be confused with the local strip club of the same name).
Lillian, with a voice coated in five layers of peeling lead paint, is the pure, scamming heart of the city and one of the greatest New Yorkers TV has created. “Kimmy Schmidt” is itself a kind of anti-fantasy fantasy of New York, celebrating the city’s dirt in an era in which even “Sesame Street” has gotten an expensive face-lift, and Lillian is its indomitable Oscar the Grouch.
East Dogmouth may be gross and unmarketable, but that’s exactly why it can make a home for broke misfits like Kimmy and Titus. That openness to the weird and outcast is what “Kimmy Schmidt” and “High Maintenance” and “Broad City” love, in their different ways. It’s what Lillian hopes to preserve when she fantasizes about dying and becoming a ghost, so she can “make sure this neighborhood stays terrible forever.”
If that’s not the spirit of New York, what is?
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