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Girls vs. Broad City: Which Show Is Actually the "Voice of a Generation"?

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girlsvsbroadcity.jpgThere's something about Comedy Central's Broad City. Whether featuring a hygienically-challenged roommate or the thrill from running into a neighbor crush, the show gives a fresh take on the twentysomething grind. And as the series nears its season finale this week, it's clear that stars and creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer have succeeded in creating a hilarious alternative to the often self-contained, whitewashed bubble of Girls. Although Lena Dunham & Co. have made efforts to appease the more vocal, obvious criticisms of the HBO show (Donald Glover's arc instantly springs to mind), it struggles to balance its various high-stakes plotlines, leaving some characters and some scenarios feeling half-baked (read: Shosh). By contrast, the stakes are usually pretty low in the world of Broad City, but a Seinfeld-ian willingness to hyper-exaggerate the mundane gives it unexpected resonance. While we give props to Girls' commitment to depicting the messy cluelessness of urban twenty-somethings, here's five reasons why Broad City does it better.

1. Setting
Though New York City is a major part of both shows Broad City makes better comedic use of the city's unique challenges. It treats New York as an actual character that fights the two hapless friends at every turn. Girls uses New York as background material. As much as Girls is associated with Brooklyn life, many other creative urban enclaves -- the Mission, Pilsen, Echo Park -- could likely provide equally effective backdrops. As Hannah's famous "I may be the voice of my generation line" tells us, the show is about her and everything is filtered from her unique perspective, rather than a universal one. New York is just the backdrop for her and her friends' growing pains.

By contrast, Broad City couldn't exist anywhere but the Big Apple. In the premiere episode, we watched Abbi and Ilana trying to dig up enough money to pay for Lil Wayne tickets and get into the sort of "only in New York" shenanigans that don't require the audience's suspension of disbelief. (S/o to Fred Armisen who made a memorable cameo as a mustached-creepazoid hailing from the bowels of Craigslist.)

2. Structure
Viewed through the lens of two best friends, Broad City doesn't have much in the way of a specific storyline. This allows for spontaneity; Murphy's Law expands to cartoonish proportions. It doesn't spend time wondering about the stability of Abbi and Ilana's friendship either -- that comes pre-established. (See episode seven, "Hurricane Wanda," for an example of their rock solid trust in action.) Girls', on the other hand, is fixated on the four women's relationships with one another and there's a constant "breaking up and making up" see-saw that often leads to contrived moments.

Broad City, on the other hand, doesn't have to worry about maintaining this see-saw. Its focus is not on any specific endgame or Abbi and Ilana's journey to achieve self-enlightenment. Its lax, episodic structure means the show's plot can literally go anywhere (including a fictional uninhabited island housing a UPS warehouse). There's nothing too weird or too wild or too unbelievable about the world in which it exists (in the same way that New York city itself is an epicenter for the strange and unique). 

3. Nudity
I'm not bothered by the amount of nudity on Girls but it often feels a touch exhibitionist -- especially Hannah's. I have no problem with Dunham's appearance or personal politics but each time Dunham's character is nude, it sparks endless debate, ultimately detracting from critical analysis of the show itself. Reporters and trolls alike feel compelled to comment on Dunham's nude scenes and this focus on the actress' body has even gone beyond the show. (See: Jezebel offering $10,000 for Dunham's untouched Vogue editorial pictures, citing that the photoshopped images were counteractive to Dunham's "body positivity.") Without the motive of invoking social commentary, Broad City's usage of nudity is strictly for laughs. Rather than distracting the audience from the story arcs, it enhances them. 

4. Friendship and Sympathy
Broad City celebrates the strength in friendship while Girls examines the dissatisfaction. Perhaps this is why the verdict concerning the latter is often so polarizing. The show is dedicated to exploring the perils of twenty-somethings in a way that demands sympathy it doesn't always deserve. Broad City doesn't want your sympathy. You're allowed to just sit back and enjoy Abbi and Ilana's frequent mishaps.

5. The Absurdity of Youth
Broad City's first season has been filled with "crisis" after "crisis" -- and not of the existential kind. As Flavorwire's Pilot Viruet says in a recap of episode four, "Abbi and Ilana can't concern themselves with book deals or opening a cupcake shop because they're too busy just trying to scrounge up enough money (or office supply gift cards) to buy weed...Sometimes you can't focus on the overall, bigger picture because it's daunting enough to try and make it back to your bed in one piece every night."

While everyone has moments when they encounter Big Life Questions like the ones on Girls, for most of us, our days are not filled with them. It's those micro-dramas and mini-stressors that more often concern us and BC does an excellent job of finding the absurdities in everyday moments. In doing so, it's crafted a snapshot of urban twentysomething anxiety that's  relatable -- and recognizable -- for a broader and more diverse swath of viewers.  


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