- Zoe McDonald
Broad City’s Finale as a Queer Feminist Metaphor
This post contains spoilers of the final episode of the TV show Broad City
Broad City's series finale serves as a metaphor for a queer version of feminism. If anyone is curious about how an identity-focused theory like feminism can resist a single-focus on women at the expense of other identities, look no further than the final scene in Broad City.
Broad City’s final episode begins by focusing the show’s main characters, Abbi and Ilana, and their quest to find one last New York City bacon egg and cheese sandwich. Much like Abbi and Ilana’s breakfast quest, feminist theorists have pursued a theoretical focus on women to question what it means to be a woman, and also center the voices of other socially marginalized people. A queer version of feminism allows for expanding that focus even further. In Broad City, Abbi and Ilana’s friendship and adventures dominant the series, but in the show’s final scene, viewers see other friendships and hear the voices of other women, men, and nonbinary people. For a dope way to represent queer feminism and to end a decade-defining comedy, look no further. This series sendoff is a theoretically dense and beautiful moment set to the soundtrack of Lizzo’s “Juice.”
For those unfamiliar with this Millennial take on the New York sitcom, in 2009 Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer created Broad City as a YouTube series centered on fictional versions of their friendship and often awkward adventures. The web series gathered attention of well-known comedians including Amy Poehler who produced the show on Comedy Central for five seasons from 2014 to 2019. During its run, the show won critical acclaim through a Prime Time Emmy and Critics Choice nomination. Rolling Stone and other pop culture sites rank the series among the best TV shows of the last decade. On more personal note, like many other women I knew, my friends and I have compared ourselves to Abbi and Ilana. The character’s experiences often were a laugher-inducing version of my own. For the curious, my favorite scenes are Abbi and Seth Rogan yelling at a kitten, Ilana eating shellfish despite her shellfish allergy, and the entire “Knockoff” episode. And yet, the show doesn’t shy away serious moments including the 2016 presidential election, seasonal depression, and unemployment. Throughout, Broad City manages to be both true to life and sidesplittingly funny, which has earned it comparisons to other generation defining NYC-set shows including Seinfeld and Friends.
To connect Broad City to feminism, Abbi Jacobson told Marie Clare magazine through writing the show, “we’re trying to always have the backs of especially disenfranchised groups.” Plus, statements such as Judith Butler’s “the postulation of a true gender identity would be revealed as a regulatory fiction” can become a little more grounded through a pop culture example (Gender Trouble p. 141).
After the thwarted bacon, egg, and cheese adventure, Abbi and Ilana use a skateboard to wheel a toilet across the Brooklyn Bridge. Halfway across, they both look at the city skyline and say positive things about each other. Tender moments continue as Ilana throws Abbi a roof top surprise party. During the party, Ilana takes guests’ drinks and literally shows them the door. By the party’s end, once again Ilana and Abi stand alone looking over the skyline.
The two women standing alone represents perhaps the biggest critiques of feminist theory. Analyzing the symbolism of Ilana kicking out partygoers to spend alone time with Abbi can lead to wondering: Does supporting another woman really require showing partygoing allies the door? Isn’t Broad City a show focused on two college-educated white women who can afford New York rent? What about the rest of us who don’t have those experiences? Just what does it mean to view Abbi and Ilana as women anyway?
Judith Butler’s landmark Gender Trouble and other Watershed writers have pointed out queer theory provides ways to answer those questions. I’ll quickly pause here to clarify a key distinction. Queer has two definitions. As a noun it refers to a reclaimed way to describe members of the LGBT+ community. As a verb, to queer refers to challenging established categories. This can become confusing because many queer theorists such as Judith Butler and Lee Edelman are members of the LGBT+ community, and their theory calls for questioning the construction of social identities. This theoretical understanding of social constructed identities and questioning why they’re needed at all, inform queer theory most significant contributions to feminism.
Feminist theory draws attention to gender categories. Queer theory wants to think outside them. Karen Kopelson notes when both mix together, theorists can name gender identities as starting places but then moving beyond them. Queer feminists are all about examining the social forces that replicate dominant assumptions of who society expects men and women to be. More importantly, queer feminist theory allows us to ask: Why must Broad City focus only on one pair of broads living in the city?
Broad City’s final scene features Abbi and Ilana living in separate cities. After hanging up a Facetime message with Abbi, Ilana walks into a subway entrance. As Ilana’s back is turned to the camera and she disappears off screen, other friendship pairs appear. There are interracial friends, two women speaking in Spanish, and men and nonbinary people. Lizzo’s empowerment bob “Juice” plays. The camera expands back from a close focus on the subway entrance into a wide shot of Union Square as the voices of people speaking with different accents and languages come through the scene’s audio. This scene is short, but symbolically allows Abbi and Ilana to fade. Their friendship in New York takes on a different form that involves Ilana sending Abbi pictures of quirky sights including someone walking a hairless cat in the park. Yet in the place of Abbi and Ilana’s friendship there are women with different identities, people who may not identify as women, all with complex stories to tell. Like a limited view of feminist theory, it can be tempting to remain focused on a single story of a narrow category of women, to focus on Abbi and Ilana’s stories. But queer theory allows for panning out in order to acknowledge the diverse and infinite possibilities. Broad City’s final shot transcends Abbi and Ilana’s friendship in a similar way queer feminists call for transcending the limits about what we think we know about women.
. This is the beauty of Broad City. This often goofy, and at times plotless show, concludes with a visual metaphor which symbolically opens up possibilities for other women to share their funny, messy, and complex friendships. Not all women have female bodies, speak the same language, or have the same skin color. However, all can belong in a queer feminist theory. Ilana tells Abbi “goodbye my queen” and the final shot enacts a hello to other women representing their stories. Representations of twentysomething women in the big apple can take on an infinite number of forms.
@broadcity. "hey @Booksmart here's to the ride or dies." Twitter 29 Mar. 2019. https://twitter.com/broadcity/status/1111716508579909633
Bonner, Mehera. “Abbi Jacobson Says Female-Driven Shows are Judged in a Way Male Shows
Just Aren’t.” Marie Claire 4 Oct. 2017. https://www.marieclaire.com/celebrity/a12767917/abbi-jacobson-interview/
Broad City Awards. IMDB.com. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2578560/awards
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge: 1990.
Kopelson, Karen. “Dis/Integrating the Gay/Queer Binary: ‘Reconstructed Identity Politics’ for a
Performative Pedagogy.” College English (65) 1: 17-35, 2002.
Sepinwal, Alan. “50 Best TV Shows of the 2010s.” Rolling Stone 4 Dec. 2019.