Broad City is More New York Than Friends Ever Was

By  · Published on July 12th, 2016

The Changing Face of Sitcom Friendships

How Broad City is more New York than Friends ever was.

Comedy Central / FSR Illustration

Sitcoms often reflect the attitudes, aesthetics, and fears of their times. These reflections of ourselves in the faces of very pretty people is what makes sitcoms relatable and therefore engaging. Friends was a cultural phenomenon. Today, with the myriad of other content options available, sitcoms don’t reach the same level of viewership. Even with its diminished cultural significance, the sitcom is still a soft zeitgeist of our times, if Broad City is any indication.

Friends and Broad City share a core premise; they’re sitcoms about friendship. They’re both shows set in New York City. They’re both about the lives of somewhat privileged twenty-somethings – that was the original premise of Friends, anyway. The differences in the two shows reflect some greater differences between Generation X and Millennials, particularly in New York City.

As much as I love Friends, it is difficult for me as a Millennial to suspend my disbelief that six friends with jobs and lives of their own can coordinate time to hang out every single day in a pre-cell phone world. How are they always so free at the same time even though they work in extremely different industries? Broad City, on the other hand, focuses on a pair of very intensely close best friends who are not always depicted as being together in the show. We see Abbi and Ilana independently from one another, but they communicate even more regularly than the gang on Friends. It’s difficult to maintain very close friendships with five other people, I would imagine, especially a group so perfectly symmetrical as the Friends. A one-on-one best friendship seems imminently more plausible.

Millennials live in a hyper-connected world, and we have since childhood. We carry smartphones in our pockets that connect us to thousands of people at all times. We can spend more time online interacting with strangers in a day than our own families, and this has changed the way we approach friendships. Intimacy becomes a confusing experience when any and all experiences can be shared for the world to see; this is heightened by the fact that so much of Millennial humor is born and raised on the internet and can escape those who are less active users. Broad City captures this in a really pure way with the way that Abbi and Ilana FaceTime so frequently and the Twitter incident that costs Ilana her job.

Watching Broad City and experiencing the intimacy of Abbi and Ilana’s friendship also begs the question as to how close the group from Friends actually are. Sure, pairs emerge, but many of these are romantic like Monica and Chandler. The closest the show gets to extremely intimate platonic friendship is that of Chandler and Joey, but even they are not as close as Abbi and Ilana seem to be. Abbi and Ilana also put forth an occasionally ridiculous of amount of effort into helping one another. In one episode, Abbi impersonates Ilana to prevent her from being banned from a food co-op for not working. Ilana helps Abbi clean out the bedroom of her childhood home. Phoebe’s go to line is “I would help, but I don’t want to.”

The gang from Friends is also very closed in a way that Millennial friendships in Broad City aren’t. The gang don’t have any other real friends. They have boyfriends/girlfriends. They have co-workers. They have families and stalkers. Abbi and Ilana both maintain friendships peripheral to each other.

The nineties-New York depicted by Friends is misleading in many ways. They live somewhere in Manhattan. They presumably pay a king’s ransom for rent and other living expenses, and yet we never see them take the subway. Or bike. They either walk or take cabs to get anywhere they need to go. New Yorkers don’t take cabs unless there is an emergency or it is very late at night. There are surprisingly few people of color. Broad City takes a much more realistic approach to that, by including multiple secondary characters who are people of color. Broad City also depicts the spectrum of sexuality that is obviously present in New York City. The major LGBT representation in Friends was Ross’s ex Carol. Carol and Susan, her new partner, are regarded extremely negatively. Everyone else on the show are so heterosexual. Broad City includes LGBT representation without any negative subtext or really much fanfare. Ilana, one of the primary characters, is bisexual. Her brother and roommate are gay.

The world has changed pretty substantially since the days of Friends. The way that friendships work in the digital age is not what it was before. Broad City is a real friendship story for the twenty-first century, and is more New York than Friends ever was.

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