“Last Supper” and the circular structure of Broad City

broadcity2Season one of Broad City is over. I feel as though I just met a super rad chick, then we became best friends, then she got a fantastic job opportunity in another country. I’m super proud of her but bummed that I won’t be seeing her for a while. “WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME TOGETHER!” And while I contemplate my jealousy for the new people in Broad City’s life, then hate myself for that jealousy, I sit back and remember that the show is not a person and that Broad City has been renewed for a second season. Phew.

Yep, if I haven’t made myself clear, I like Broad City. The physical humour, the strong friendship between the two female leads, the amazing supporting characters – all of it is a treat. But there is no fun, as a critic, in dissecting jokes. Clearly, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson know what is funny, and I don’t need to explain that to anyone.  What I’m more interested in talking about is the unusual structure of the show. Yes, it’s a half hour comedy, but it isn’t quite like other shows on TV right now. In standard three-act story structure, which a vast majority of popular TV shows and movies employ, each episode is a journey that begins with a problem and ends with the lead character learning something new. Broad City doesn’t do that.

To some extent, Broad City has elements of standard story structure: inciting incident, rising action, climax, denouement. In the pilot episode, “What a Wonderful World”, Abbi and Ilana want money to pay for Lil Wayne concert tickets, so they go to crazy lengths to get what they want. In the end, they don’t succeed in getting the money, but they realize that they had a fun night together anyway.  A lesson in friendship. Only, this seems to be the only lesson the girls ever learn. That they love each other.

The last time I reviewed Broad City, I was concerned that Abbi and Ilana were never compelled to change, and as a result the show was lacking. Now, after viewing the entire series, I realize that the writers chose to have Abbi and Ilana not-change. A season-long story arc, or even individual lessons aren’t necessary. Season one of Broad City was about having the audience witness life alongside Abbi and Ilana.

Instead of the the three act model, where heroes learn lessons and stories grow over time, the structure of Broad City is circular. Instead of action moving constantly forward, the momentum of the show moves outwards then inwards. Episodes start with with Abbi and Ilana at a state of rest, crazy stuff happens, things spiral outwards, then once things get a little too crazy, the hurricane slowly circles inwards until Abbi and Ilana are back to where they started. Picture a tornado of two women that gathers dust in one place, picks up energy and debris, causes chaos then peters out in another location. This circular momentum is present in each episode, as well as the season as whole.

“Last Supper” is a pleasing episode: hilarious and chaotic, just like the best episodes of Broad City, but also different in tone from the rest of the season. While most of the other episodes of Broad City have elements of standard structure, “Last Supper” is strictly circular. The episode begins with Abbi and Ilana arriving at a very fancy dinner to celebrate Abbi’s 26th birthday. The two ladies feed off of each other’s excitement, topping each other’s compliments of the fancy restaurant. “I’ve never even worked at a place this fancy!” “I bet our waiter owns a bidet!” Events transpire. Abbi pees out a condom. Ilana hides the fact that she is allergic to seafood and suffers a serious reaction. The women feed off each other’s energy, and their friend’s suffering makes their own problems even worse. The night reaches a peak when Abbi stabs herself with an Epi-pen and carries Ilana out of the restaurant while on an adrenaline high. Afterwards, the two chill down on a hospital bed, cuddled together, discussing the future and their bucket lists. (On Abbi’s bucket list: visit a pug farm. On Ilana’s: to be an Asian girl.) “Last Supper” isn’t about plot but the rise and fall of energy and how the two experience this energy in tandem. This unusual structure means that we, the audience, are not allowed to expect that Abbi and Ilana will grow as human beings. We can only expect that funny things will happen and that the two will remain friends.

I’ve read elsewhere on the internet, and heard from friends that it wasn’t a favourite episode. I can see why some would find “Last Supper” to be a lackluster finale. To be sure, it doesn’t have the fun ensemble of “Destination Wedding” or the creative visual style of “Apartment Hunters” but I will argue that “Last Supper” is the perfect finale for this season. After nine swirling episodes of wacky antics and nightmarish encounters, it makes emotional sense that the last episode only features Ilana and Abbi. The final scene of “Last Supper” shows the two women walking off into the New York skyline, as the camera slowly loses focus. Two friends walking off into the future together.

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