Sexuality and BROAD CITY

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BROAD CITY has been rightfully praised for its depiction of female sexuality on television, as Abbi and Ilana defy age-old gender stereotypes and pursue their romantic interests freely and without shame. Sex is normalized so it’s just a part of the show. Unlike other female-centric shows like GIRLS, where you had to fight the urge to close your eyes during every sex scene of the first three seasons, or ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, whose specialty is a concoction of hate sex and too much of everything, the girls of BROAD CITY genuinely enjoy exploring their sexuality to the point where they’d find lockthecock article ideas would be a norm for them. And what’s most radical of all is while their romantic escapades are an important part of the show and both characters’ growth, it will never be the focal point. The relationship between Abbi and Ilana and the love they have for each other is the heart of the show, and it always will be.

In the beginning of its second season, BROAD CITY made a bold move by having Abbi get together with Jeremy — her neighbor and long time crush. This risky creative move effectively ended a season-long pattern of Abbi staring at him longingly, then answering fake phone calls and running away, and it paid off. They effectively sidestepped the pining and the long, drawn-out, will-they-won’t-they, replacing it with an emotionally authentic scenario: Abbi calling Ilana from Jeremy’s bathroom because she was scared of pegging for the first time. Ilana was so excited for her she broke into what can only be described as a handstand somersault happy dance against the wall, exclaiming, “this is a dream come true!” And Ilana’s burst of exuberance awakened Abbi’s own excitement that was already there, just lurking beneath her insecurity.

Where other shows may play this scenario as a punchline, BROAD CITY presents it without even the semblance of shame. Because why should anyone be ashamed? It’s simply an act, both characters enjoyed themselves, and Abbi felt really proud of herself for having a new experience. It was that simple.

Abbi ended up not wanting to pursue a relationship with Jeremy — not because of his preferences, but because he turned out to be a snob and just kind of a dick overall. And in a nice full circle moment Abbi, who spent the last year of her life pining over him, was also the one to walk away.

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Pretty much

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Later in the season while Abbi and Ilana are working at a coat checking gig, Ilana encounters Adele, whom she describes as “the hottest girl I have ever seen.” When she tells Abbi she must immediately chase after her, Abbi is unfazed, and mostly just annoyed that Ilana is abandoning her and messed up the coat filing system (who knew you were supposed to leave the ticket in the coat?).

When Abbi finds Adele they lock eyes, sniff each other, and without any further introduction, immediately start making out. It’s a quick scene that displays great physical comedy, as well as a primal attraction that is usually not seen between women on screen. And when Ilana introduces Adele to Abbi, the only thing that makes her remotely uncomfortable is that they keep kissing in front of her for an extended period of time, because that’s just always going to be weird.

Ilana had never explored a same sex relationship on screen before, nor has it happened since, but it wasn’t a big deal. And while sexual fluidity, especially among women, has become far more accepted on screen in recent years, what makes BROAD CITY unique is that Ilana exists devoid of labels. This isn’t a special episode dedicated to neatly defining her sexual orientation to the audience. There isn’t even a conversation, because that’s not how the world — or attraction — operates. Ilana simply chases after Adele because she finds her beautiful, and that’s the only explanation we really need.

Like most of Ilana’s sexual escapades, this wasn’t meant to last. (It was brought to her attention that they look exactly alike.) However, she got to indulge her recurring fantasy of sleeping with herself, she had fun while it lasted, and that’s what matters to her.

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Ilana and Ilana with freckles

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The most profound moment of the series was just after Lincoln broke up with Ilana, thus ending the closest thing she had to a relationship. Their arrangement had always been unique to television, because Ilana was openly not interested in being in a committed relationship, as her guiding philosophy in life is to follow her desires wherever they lead her. Lincoln, however, was, and he went along with Ilana for as long as he could, but once he met someone who also wanted to be in a relationship, he had to break it off.

That led to the first scene in BROAD CITY that ever made me cry: Abbi and Ilana fighting on the street when they were supposed to be inside, celebrating Ilana’s parents anniversary. Ilana sobbed snotty tears as she finally admitted that she wasn’t okay, and for the first time BROAD CITY went there long enough to reach those truths. Because this — crying your eyes out on a sidewalk in New York City to your best friend who you are more committed to than anyone you have sex with — is what heartbreak in your 20s feels like.

This moment resonated because it was no one’s fault, they were just in different places in their lives. Ilana genuinely wasn’t interested in being in a monogamous relationship, and unlike far too many television realities, she wasn’t upset because she had changed her mind, or wanted him to be her boyfriend. No, she was crying because she cared about Lincoln, he rejected her, and that feels shitty.

The girls of BROAD CITY defy every stereotype that women on television have been encumbered with, and it’s all rooted in the fact that they love being women. For them, it isn’t a burden. It’s a joy they share together and that joy is the foundation of the show. So they date, they chase after people they want, they fuck, they even fall in love a little, but at the end of the night, they always end back up with each other. In Abbi and Ilana I see hope for how women could one day walk through this world: free and unburdened from fear that their imperfections could one day lead the world to deem them as anything less than. Abbi and Ilana are forces of reckless optimism and disarming exhilaration who know all that they are belongs in this world. And with that I find myself in want of quoting the great Ilana Wexler: YAS QUEEN.

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April French

April is a guest contributor for Crossfader Magazine. She believes cold brew coffee holds the answers to life.

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