Saturday, April 4, 2015

Broad Town

There are pop culture phenomena that seem to sail right by me, and I just watch them go, happy and content in my vague awareness. Things like Iggy Azalea, for example: she had some radio hits, and some beef, and my whole reaction to her could be summed up as "huh." She doesn't matter to me. She's a product that isn't aimed at me. Her whole shtick is something that operates mostly outside my interests (the exception that she pings my "white people being idiots in hip-hop" radar, which is a frequency I tune into only when I've had a good night's sleep). My world isn't enriched by her existence, and so basically, to me, she doesn't matter.

On the other end of that spectrum, there are things that are just downright embarrassing to be missing out on. Despite three or four of my friends saying, "You should definitely be watching Broad City," I sort of dismissed it as Girls-ish, and my patience for Girls petered out sometime before the third season started. Can you blame me? I was tired of the endless thinkpieces, of reading about Lena Dunham's maybe-probably-not molestation of her sister, of reading about Dunham in general. Don't get me wrong: Girls is interesting, as a certain type of portrait of a certain type of girl. But all girls, all the time? Snooze.

So when I finally watched Broad City, I was delighted. First of all, it's nothing like Girls. Both are about female friendship, but Broad City is about women who actually like each other. It's about women who don't want the penthouse, the boyfriend, the job that defines them. What Abbi and Ilana mostly seem to want to do is smoke weed, wear weird outfits, and hang out in each other's company. The jokes are funny and often absurd—Ilana's attempt to power through an all-seafood dinner at an upscale restaurant despite a life-threatening shellfish allergy leaves her slurring and puffy in her studded bustier; Abbi's stoned attempts to keep Ilana's "tax papers" safe end with her soaking wet in a dentist's bathroom after her smoke sets off the fire alarm; their attempt to ride the Chinatown bus is on par with any joke on Louie—but the theme of friendship is a rock-solid foundation for the entire show. Ilana and Abbi like dudes and hang out with dudes, but their first to-do is always to check in with each other.

Last year, one of my longest friendships fell apart in a spectacular way. Shelley and I had been friends since high school, when we would smoke reefer on my parent's back deck after we finished waiting tables at nearby restaurants. We talked about guys, we talked about our creative dreams, we talked about our parents. And once we both landed in Toronto, if you swap out the weed for vodka, things stayed like that for a long, long time. But over the last few years, things started to change.

Full disclosure: I am weird with women. I'm competitive. In high school, I compared myself to my friends across every rubric, and if I felt myself lacking, I would short-circuit the friendship in an attempt to never have to be the dumb/ugly/virginal/unfunny/non-musical friend. I ditched a couple really awesome girls because I felt I couldn't live up to them—and yes, I know now exactly how strange that sounds. But I didn't then. I thought I was protecting myself, but all I was doing was closing myself off. Some of those friendships were rebuilt, and some of them weren't. Now I know what I was missing.

Anyway, back to Shelley. She would call me up and dish about her boyfriends when there was a problem—he's so mean, he's so drunk, he's so unambitious—and then disappear when things were fine. As a result, I tended not to like her boyfriends, because I knew them as drunk, mean, slackers. She opened a business and became a community leader in her tight-knit neighbourhood, where I didn't live. She started declining my offers to meet her anywhere that wasn't her home turf. I'll be honest, I was jealous of her success, but I was also irritated that we couldn't just hang out and be chill any more. When she got engaged, we started to disintegrate.

I'll cop to the fact that I behaved badly during the early part of her engagement. Things with my own partner where up in the air—were we going to make the same commitment? Who could tell!—and I pouted. But she did thoughtless stuff as well: when I called her up to tell her M had proposed, the first thing she said, even before congratulations, was "You'd better not get married on the same day I do." Things got chillier and chillier, until all we could do was compare notes on our upcoming weddings.

When she finally sat me down after I got back from my honeymoon and told me she didn't want to be friends, it was, by then, a relief. But you know what? I still mourned. I still felt sad as hell that we had split up, because we had come from a place of closeness. There were times when we were younger when we swore we would be friends for life. But without the glue of singleness, drinking, and an open schedule, we didn't have that much in common. By the end, we had gone from open to opaque.

So when I watch Broad City and see how Ilana and Abbi (the characters) behave in the hands of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (the writers/producers/editors/actresses/showrunners), I feel. First of all, I feel mad please that these obvious geniuses have been given a crack at a national audience and knocked it out of the park. I love seeing women succeed in entertainment, comedy especially, and it's really nice when it doesn't have to be marketed as "women's entertainment." Because, you know: barf.

Secondly, I am insanely grateful for the female friends I have in my life. I am stupid blessed with amazing female energy, from my sister, to my university friends (some of whom turned into my for-real best friends), to the women I've met through M, to former bosses, to old co-op buddies, to second-degree friends who I mostly see at clothing swaps, to the small cadre of lesbian friends I have who are helping me answer some of sexual identity questions, to the moms I know (mine included) who have shown me how not to be an asshole mommy when my own time comes. Some of those long-lost friendships from high school have turned, Lazarus-like, into warmblooded relationships, complete with texting and Christmas cards and the whole shebang. And it's clear from watching Broad City that there are women out there who love their friends, and who can write about it in smart, knowing ways.

I'm still a little blue about what happened with Shelley. But I can have these awesome memories of her—of us—and still know that being apart is better. I'm working on being healthy in all aspects of my life: eating better, working out, having good communication practices, working at a job that I like, getting enough sleep, drinking less, consuming good media, and making time for creativity. Watching a show like Broad City is good for me, but not in an eat-your-vegetables kind of way. It helps light a path to things that really matter: laughing as hard as you can with your friends, as often as possible.

Image by KittyCassandra via BuzzFeed