You can make an argument, and you’d be extremely right, that Broad City and Girls aren’t in any type of competition except out there on the Internet where people like to debate things. If you’re a fan of actual character arc, Girls is likely the far superior show — you can argue with a lot of what happens there, but the characters do grow (or regress), whereas Broad City is more a collection of surreal-type stuff happening to two stoner friends in New York. If you think I’m being overly critical of Broad City in the last sentence, considering the fact that it’s a hysterical show, the creators (Abbi Jacobsen and Ilana Glazer) basically said the same thing to NPR recently: they aren’t sure of the characters’ evolution.
I’m a much bigger fan of Girls than I probably should be — in large part because of the male characters, actually — but recently, I’ve come to think Broad City is a far superior show at present. Here’s why.
The Two Main Characters Argument
In Broad City, there are very clearly two main characters: Ilana and Abbi. There’s a dynamic there and they get into misadventures and other people swirl around them. I’m not saying a sitcom or a comedy must have two main characters — in fact, I think the most successful comedies of all-time have been based on group dynamics — but the Broad City humor coming from two people (and their friends) is a stark contrast to Girls of late, where it feels like everything is tied back to Hannah (or perhaps more accurately, Hannah has all the meaty storylines). This was a bigger problem in Season 3, but it exists in Season 4. Consider the other three girls:
- Marnie fought for a relationship with a guy she now basically hates, and that guy is essentially a one-note character, making her even more of a one-note character. (At least when she was fucking Ray, there was a little bit of “Why exactly is she doing this?” in the bigger picture.)
- Shoshanna has been onscreen for maybe 3.5 minutes this entire season, give or take. Now she’s apparently dating a guy who yelled at her in a job interview, which we discovered completely devoid of context? (Yes, she had that walk in Brooklyn with Ray and that was something, but ultimately it was a dead-end character-wise, it seems.)
- Jessa … I kind of thought around Episode 2-3, it was looking like she would cheat with Adam (would have been juicy), but instead she introduced Adam to Mimi-Rose Howard.
On Girls, you basically can’t figure out who the show is supposed to be about aside from Hannah. All the characters have their arcs, but everything seems to orbit Hannah. After a while, if you don’t resonate with Hannah, can’t that get a little tedious?
Now, above I left out one clear person, that being Adam. For better or worse (better IMHO), the entire arc of Girls’ four seasons has been about Adam Driver and what it’s done for his appeal and personal success. He’s far and away the best, most nuanced character on that show. Since the show debuted, I’ve befriended women at weddings making that argument. That’s a true story.
I actually like Adam’s arc with Mimi Rose, because it feels like he’s starting to explore a different part of himself … and that’s character growth, which is important for any TV show. I fear he’ll eventually end up back with Hannah in a moment like when he ran through the subway to find her, but for now, it’s a good deal. That said…
The Male Character Argument
Both Broad City and Girls are about, predominantly, females. But Adam Driver has been amazing on Girls, and/but/or/well/stop Hannibal Burress might be better on Broad City as the primary male force.
In the most recent episode, Burress killed it about 10 times as relates to the wedding of two dogs.
“What about a dog tie? Too on-the-nose?”
Especially with Girls’ Seasons 3 and 4, where Adam was (a) getting ready for his play and (b) in NYC while Hannah was in Iowa, he faded to the background a lot behind the girls. Burress isn’t a major player on Broad City — I would guess over 60 percent of scenes involve just Abbi and Ilana, honestly — but when he’s there, he makes a difference. Driver had a hard time doing that until the last 2-3 episodes with the breakup and his new arc with Gillian Jacobs.
The Point Of The Characters Argument
Other than its obvious issues with representation, one of my main sticking points with Girls is the fact that its characters always toe an awfully fine line between grotesque distortions played for comedy and faithful representations meant to tell the dramatic, ugly truth. From episode to episode, it’s easy to conflate the two, often to a fault. Marnie and motorcycle fetishist banging to their own music is a distinct parody; Shoshanna tanking all of her interviews with her tactlessness is a hilariously perfect character plotline. But then there are times, mostly with Hannah’s story, where it’s less clear. Am I supposed to be abashed that, like Hannah, “I have no idea what’s coming next”? Is this the irredeemable parody Hannah, the darkest, ugliest qualities of the suburban millennial white woman magnified to a painful degree for laughs? Or is it the real Hannah, worthy of sincere sympathy because she seems like she might really be trying to be better? Maybe a little bit of both — like your younger sister, Hannah’s serious confessions make you stifle a laugh while also seriously considering her honesty. The ambiguity might be intentional, but at the very least, this episode crystallizes the source of those conflicted feelings.
Now contrast that with Broad City. There, the stuff is so surreal — Abbi’s first date with Jeremy involves her pegging him; the girls get high and make out with high schoolers; Abbi falls in a hole in the park and does American Idol with plant life — that you can’t really take it seriously. It’s just surreal and (usually very) funny. You’re not being asked to buy into any arc, or be confused by how horrible a person might be. You’re just being entertained.
The Arc Of The Creators Argument
A lot of people love Lena Dunham, but she can also get very pedestal-y on social media about the true values of journalism and morality and all that, such as:
One of my favorite of David's recent pieces. Shows his honesty and morality in spades: http://t.co/5954CGJe9D
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) February 15, 2015
The way in which you share your body must be a CHOICE. Support these women and do not look at these pictures.
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) September 1, 2014
Here’s what you get from Abbi Jacobsen:
To whoever prev. owned the Xbox I just bought: Thnks for throwing up on the controller! Thanks Game Stop!
— Abbi Jacobson (@abbijacobson) February 21, 2015
And here’s what you get from Ilana Glazer:
queen steals my weed??
— ilana glazer (@ilazer) February 19, 2015
Again, it goes back to this idea that Girls seems to be this show that often takes itself very seriously, even though they have whole arcs about She And Him and ass-eating; Broad City seems to take itself barely seriously at all, and produces some genuine funny moments as a result.
Plus, while everyone involved in these two shows worked hard for what they got and what they are and what they do and achieve, there’s something cool about the fact that Lena Dunham’s biggest hits before Girls were making a movie (Tiny Furniture) and writing for The New Yorker (two very conventional media paths), while Broad City was a web series before it became a much-bigger deal:
Dunham seems super-vetted (Taylor Swift, Judd Apatow, David Remnick, etc.), where Jacobsen and Glazer don’t (although they had Amy Poehler in their corner). Isn’t there a charm in that in this modern-day era where people are becoming household names because of f’n VINE?
I actually like the music on Girls better, especially when they used that Miguel song over Hannah and Adam in the tub a few seasons ago.
That said, the Broad City theme song — even though we only get a small part of it on the actual show — is really catchy, and I always find myself saying “4 and 3 and 2 and 1” to myself while I’m cooking dinner or whatever.
If you’ve seen either show, what do you think? Feel free to leave it in the comments.