Abbi Jacobson and cinematographer Ashley Connor on Broad City at the Parkway Theatre
A scene from the second-to-last episode of Broad City, which airs tonight, crystallizes my obsession with this show and its wholesome picture of female friendship: Abbi and Ilana are in an alley, rolling on some Craigslist MDMA, shaking ass to Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” mumbling from a phone, while also having a deeply emotional conversation about their friendship (and possible codependency). Then they hug it out.
The Parkway Theatre screened this episode on Wednesday night, kicking off its Contemporary Women Filmmakers series, which runs throughout the spring, highlighting women who work in the film world as cinematographers, documentarians, producers, actors, directors and more. Next in the series on March 29: a screening of the documentary ¡Las Sandinistas!, about women who fought in the 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, hosted by director Jenny Murray. Next month: Sandi Tan’s Shirkers, a documentary about the Singaporean filmmaker’s attempt at making a film with her friends in the ’90s and the stranger who messed it all up, followed by Josephine Decker’s drama Madeline’s Madeline, starring Molly Parker, Miranda July, and Helena Howard.
MICA partnered with the Parkway for the Broad City screening, as the show’s co-creator and co-star Abbi Jacobson is a MICA alum. After the screening, Jacobson and cinematographer Ashley Connor participated in a brief Q&A with the Parkway’s director of programming Scott Braid who then fielded thoughtful questions from the audience. It seems as though the Parkway could’ve found a woman from its organization to moderate the Q&A, just on principle, in keeping with the series theme of celebrating women in film. But it went fine overall, and thankfully no one asked any of those common, dreadful questions about “what it’s like to be a woman in [creative field of choice].”
This second-to-last episode of Broad City stirs complex emotions all at once—I cried a few times watching it—and that alley/molly/A Milli scene had to be just right, Jacobson said. “I will just say though that this episode is not condoning MDMA,” she joked. “If you watch throughout, you see the negative effects.” (Spoiler: There is a Requiem for a Dream-ish cold and messy comedown later.) Having Connor operate the camera for that scene and being able to hash out, prior to shooting, how to frame and pace this important moment of Abbi and Ilana’s friendship, in which a very serious/earnest discussion stacks upon absurd comedy, was crucial for Jacobson as this episode’s director.
Broad City has been lauded from the start for its positive depiction of female friendship; it made sense that the night’s discussion would also veer towards the subject of women supporting one another in the workplace, particularly in creative industries where competition can be vicious and opportunities come to you based on who you know. Connor first worked with Jacobson when she shot the 2017 independent film Person to Person, in which Jacobson starred as the character Claire. When Broad City was in the market for a new director of photography, Jacobson put Connor’s name on the table. “For somebody who hasn’t done a lot of television, like me, it means a lot having a support system,” Connor said. “Abbi really went to bat for me putting me up for the job.”
Jacobson and co-creator/co-star Ilana Glazer decided to end the show after 10 years spent producing the initial web series and the subsequent five seasons. “[Broad City is] really about being in your 20s in New York and I’m, you know, believe it or not, not in my 20s anymore,” Jacobson said. “I just never wanted it to get to a point where it wasn’t good anymore, where we didn’t feel like it was good. We’d been talking about it for a while and this just really felt right.”
During the audience Q&A, someone shared that Broad City’s queer representation meant a lot to them and asked if Jacobson and Glazer have other projects in the works with this in mind. “I think that’s something that Ilana and I are most proud of with the show, is the representation of all different types of queer people,” Jacobson said. “And it turned out to be a lot queerer than we had anticipated.” She teased the TV remake of A League of Their Own that she’s working on with writer/producer Will Graham. “It’s crazy but, believe it or not, a lot… of women… that played baseball… were queer. So crazy. It’s like they missed it in the movie.”
Someone else asked who their favorite guest stars were; Jacobson picked RuPaul, who played Ilana’s overbearing boss at an upscale Japanese restaurant in season four, and Kelly Ripa who, in season two, played a much wilder (as far as we know) version of herself, drinking wine and moonshine with a starstruck Abbi before hiring a pair of terrifyingly muscular male sex workers for them. “She was down to clown,” Jacobson said. Connor chose Amy Sedaris as her favorite guest star, who played a desperate real estate broker: “She brings her own wigs!”
To a question about whether, as a MICA student, Jacobson could’ve imagined herself then where she is now, she replied that she’d always felt insecure about her General Fine Arts major because it had a bad reputation for being unfocused (as a former GFA major, I can confirm this bad rep). “But I will say it is completely applicable to what I do now because I do all sorts of things … At MICA I was very insecure and shy; I don’t think anyone would have thought I would have a comedy show.”
Another audience member who’s working on a web series with a friend asked Jacobson how to know if something’s actually funny as opposed to inside-jokes-with-your-buddy funny. Jacobson acknowledged that it’s tough not to consider the audience, “but I think you just have to write what you think is funny, because that’s the whole entire thing; that’s this entire show, [it’s] based on my experiences—obviously heightened,” Jacobson said. “But it’s all shit Ilana and I think is funny, take it or leave it.”
The next Contemporary Women Filmmakers event—a screening of the documentary ¡Las Sandinistas!, hosted by director Jenny Murray—is March 29. For more information, visit the SNF Parkway website.
Images courtesy Comedy Central.