On paper, Broad City and Girls are virtually the same. Both series are about educated, under-employed, hipster-adjacent single women in New York City. Both comedies take a drastically different approach to sex and relationships than Sex and the City. And yet, the shows couldn’t be more different. Broad City, by virtue of being on Comedy Central, is obviously opting for the LOLs. It’s also doing for New York what Portlandia does for the Pacific Northwest. Girls is written and directed by and stars Lena Dunham so it’s an invitation into her mind and sense of humor, and underneath her clothes. It has funny moments but seems to target a specific niche audience.
Both programs have some iconic comedy minds on board. Broad City was created by and stars Upright Citizen’s Brigade alums Illana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, and is produced by Amy Poehler, while Girls is produced by Judd Apatow. The main difference is that the former has the virtue of a broader sense of humor. Get it? Broad City ensures that everyone is in on the joke. It opts for absurdly wacky takes on real life scenarios. For example, the girls want to make money for a concert so they try everything from street peddling and office supply theft to naked maid service. The jokes go so far that at some point you will hop on board. Girls is very subtle in its humor. Outrageous things will happen, and you’ll laugh here and there. But then a huge conversation will erupt about these moments and you start to question if you were supposed to laugh in the first place.
Winner: Broad City
Both series take a frank view of sex. It’s great to see women at the helm of representations of female sexuality. It shows that despite the questionable feminism of Sex and the City , something good came of it. On Broad City, both girls frankly discuss their sex lives... occasionally during the act, via skype. The show doesn’t shy away from being graphic. And yet, Girls goes 10 steps further. Sure, Girls is on HBO and free to exhibit nudity and strong sexual content. But it really goes there. Whether it’s precariously pedophilic pillow talk, the girl from Roswell getting caught in the line of fire, or Dunham baring her breasts in every episode, the show opts for a hyper-real approach to sex. It explores the taboo, awkward, or painfully uncomfortable moments of America’s favorite pastime. Whether wanted or not, Girls is forcing people to confront their discomfort with and timidity about sex by facing it head on.
Girls seems like a photo-real version of the New York City in Friends. It may not be filmed on a Hollywood sound stage, but the vast majority of its characters are white and of superhuman attractiveness. Despite Dunham’s celebration of her nude body and a shocking full frontal by Bosom Buddies star Peter Scolari, the series tends to prominently feature hot-bodied model types. It exists in a parallel universe where the unemployed and baristas can afford large New York City apartments. In Season 2, the show’s solution for its lack of diversity was to have Hannah date Donald Glover for a few episodes. Remember, that very special Friends episode where Ross dated Aisha Tyler? We haven't come too far.
On Broad City, people look like people. People of all different shapes, sizes, and races pop in and out of the show. That’s what New York is. The question of race on the show is handled honestly. Illana has a friend with benefits played by black comedian Hannibal Buress. Although not politically correct, the show does acknowledge that Illana fetishizes him and most men by their race. It does not endorse these ideals, but serves to showcase the character as racially insensitive and a sexual predator.
Ultimately, it seems there’s a class distinction for both series. Broad City embraces the fact that the girls are broke and have to suffer to survive in New York. The humor, tension, and wild scenarios come when they try to make light of that struggle. Girls exaggerates the struggles of entitled young artists and professionals who seem to have no financial stakes. They seem oddly connected though; serendipitous book deals and financial opportunities happen as if by magic.
Winner: Broad City – there’s still a recession!
Which series do you prefer?
For the bulk of every Rocky and Bullwinkle episode, moose and squirrel would engage in high concept escapades that satirized geopolitics, contemporary cinema, and the very fabrics of the human condition. With all of that to work with, there's no excuse for why the pair and their Soviet nemeses haven't gotten a decent movie adaptation. But the ingenious Mr. Peabody and his faithful boy Sherman are another story, intercut between Rocky and Bullwinkle segments to teach kids brief history lessons and toss in a nearly lethal dose of puns. Their stories and relationship were much simpler, which means that bringing their shtick to the big screen would entail a lot more invention — always risky when you're dealing with precious material.
For the most part, Mr. Peabody & Sherman handles the regeneration of its heroes aptly, allowing for emotionally substance in their unique father-son relationship and all the difficulties inherent therein. The story is no subtle metaphor for the difficulties surrounding gay adoption, with society decreeing that a dog, no matter how hyper-intelligent, cannot be a suitable father. The central plot has Peabody hosting a party for a disapproving child services agent and the parents of a young girl with whom 7-year-old Sherman had a schoolyard spat, all in order to prove himself a suitable dad. Of course, the WABAC comes into play when the tots take it for a spin, forcing Peabody to rush to their rescue.
Getting down to personals, we also see the left brain-heavy Peabody struggle with being father Sherman deserves. The bulk of the emotional marks are hit as we learn just how much Peabody cares for Sherman, and just how hard it has been to accept that his only family is growing up and changing.
But more successful than the new is the film's handling of the old — the material that Peabody and Sherman purists will adore. They travel back in time via the WABAC Machine to Ancient Egypt, the Renaissance, and the Trojan War, and 18th Century France, explaining the cultural backdrop and historical significance of the settings and characters they happen upon, all with that irreverent (but no longer racist) flare that the old cartoons enjoyed. And oh... the puns.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a f**king treasure trove of some of the most amazingly bad puns in recent cinema. This effort alone will leave you in awe.
The film does unravel in its final act, bringing the science-fiction of time travel a little too close to the forefront and dropping the ball on a good deal of its emotional groundwork. What seemed to be substantial building blocks do not pay off in the way we might, as scholars of animated family cinema, have anticipated, leaving the movie with an unfinished feeling.
But all in all, it's a bright, compassionate, reasonably educational, and occasionally funny if not altogether worthy tribute to an old favorite. And since we don't have our own WABAC machine to return to a time of regularly scheduled Peabody and Sherman cartoons, this will do okay for now.
If nothing else, it's worth your time for the puns.
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