The press release for Broad City’s fifth and final season gets pretty straight to the point in terms of what it’s really all about: “In the final season, Ilana starts her own business and learns about her ancestors, while Abbi turns 30 and… tries to pull off a hat.” Based solely on seeing the three episodes provided to critics, I can almost certainly say that that synopsis pretty accurately sums up Broad City’s final season. (To be fair, I haven’t seen that hat episode yet.) And to quote the girls’ nemesis in one of these episodes, Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) really are still “running around the city with your little foibles and your little mishaps and your little shenanigans.”
But now they’re doing to do it in a (just slightly) more grown-up way. Broad City’s final season truly commits to the bit of Abbi and Ilana maturing and accepting the concept “real” adulthood. After all, growing up is the ultimate bit. For Abbi, it’s not actually just about her attempt to pull off wearing a hat — which, to be fair, is a pretty big step in any woman’s life — but her coming to terms with her sexuality (thanks to the introduction of a hot doctor played by Clea DuVall) and finally making moves and putting in the hustle when it comes to her art. For Ilana, she does finally figure out what she wants to do with her life, but that also means coming to terms with what adulthood and the future look like to her… and whether it’s the same image that Lincoln (Hannibal Buress) has or not.
However, in this final season all about maturity and growing up, it’s all brilliantly set up by a season premiere (“Stories”) that is told through the lens of Ilana and Abbi’s phone — through their Instagram Stories, more specifically. Think of it as a comedic Black Mirror episode, since that’s the only way we can frame stories heavily-dependant on technology these days.
“Stories” is set up with the framing device of Abbi’s 30th birthday and the girls’ decision to embark on a social media-captured journey “from the tippety top of Manhattan to the tippety bottom of Manhattan.” With this, Broad City officially introduces a fourth main character to its universe (the third main character is, of course, New York): Instagram, or social media in general. It will interesting to note how people well-versed in Instagram versus people who are not (there are literally dozens of us) take in the episode. Because as jarring as the format is to witness as the episode begins, “Stories” is such a huge huge undertaking — and a successful one at that, courtesy of director Nick Paley — that it immediately shoots up the rankings as one of the series’ best offerings. As vapid or shallow as one may want to call Instagram or any form of social media, “Stories” is such a dense episode that takes full advantage of the platform that you essentially have to rewind or rewatch the episode just to fully catch every joke — often visual — or strange beat that occurs as a result of it.
While one could just as easily say that the Instagram Story concept instantly dates the episode, it also ultimately creates and serves as a time capsule that preserves this episode for the future, once technology has evolved (or possibly devolved). “Stories” is honestly such an impressive episode to watch that it can at times distract from how genuinely funny it is as well, but thankfully, the episode gives the whole gimmick and audience room to breathe throughout. It’s also an impressive way to start the season, as it ultimately sets up what this whole final season will be about. Abbi’s 30th birthday is the catalyst for the characters’ “new year, new you”-like approach to life, while also officially kicking off the series’ countdown to goodbye.
Ilana promises early on in ‘Stories’ that this will be “the LIT-iest story ever,” and the episode ends up living up to that large promise. From this point on and for the rest of the season, Abbi and Ilana are essentially living as though they got their life advice from Sheryl Lee Ralph in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit: Things are no longer about Abbi and Ilana “singing their shoulda-coulda-woulda’s.” While it’s almost always funny to see Abbi and Ilana fail spectacularly — not in a cruel way, just a… humorous way — season five makes clear just how funny it can be for them to win as well. At least just a little. They’re definitely still failing spectacularly in other ways, as they’re certainly not perfect, but this season doesn’t live to reset the girls every time something new (and a little scary) happens to them. They might succeed in having some progress in their career or finally admitting what they want out of a relationship, but that certainly doesn’t mean Abbi and Ilana are both cruising on easy street yet.
Once the season gets back into the “normal” groove of general Broad City chaos, things maintain on a high note that doesn’t require all the bells and whistles of an Instagram Story to keep it interesting. There’s a frantic nature that’s right at home with Broad City, only it also becomes more poignant with the knowledge that this is all officially the end of the road for the series. As both Abbi and Ilana take stock of their lives and how things are going for the people around them — whether it’s Lincoln, Jaime (Arturo Castro) and his new older boyfriend Johnny (Guillermo Díaz), or a woman named “Cheese” — Broad City examines the concept of them realizing what adulthood and maturity supposedly looks like. And part of the fun is in witnessing how they process what that means. In doing so, Broad City’s final season tells both a hilarious and emotionally affecting story about growing up. It’s still just as awkward and absurd as it’s been in its past for seasons, but now it’s with the knowledge that there will be no more seasons to come.
One of the best moments in this batch of episodes (and series as a whole) is, naturally, Ilana’s reaction to Abbi revealing she plans to go out with a woman, in an episode that Glazer herself directed. It’s essentially a moment and reaction that’s been five seasons in the making, one unlike any in the entire series. While this moment is technically a sign that, five seasons in, Broad City is still able to find ways to tell new stories and jokes — and arguably proof that the series could be able to live on and remain fresh — it’s also a sign that Glazer and Jacobson have chosen the right time to end it all. To end it before there are no more new stories and jokes left to tell before every reaction and situation is a play on the same as before in seasons past.
And to think, it all starts off with an Instagram Story.
The fifth and final season of ‘Broad City’ premieres Thursday, January 24th, at 10 pm ET on Comedy Central.