Welcome to So I Watched An Episode Of…, an in-depth look at an episode of a show you may have forgotten, for better or for worse.
Authenticity is an elusive and impossible-to-quantify attribute of any piece of art, but it is something that you know when you see. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s Broad City has never had a gigantic audience, but it has the enviable patina of honesty and authenticity, even as it indulges in comic flights of fancy. Broad City follows Jacobson and Glazer as lightly fictionalized versions of themselves fumbling their way through their twenties in a vision of New York that oscillates between an indifferent urban nightmare and a sprawling playground of possibilities at a moment’s notice. It’s profane, silly, and one of the best portraits of both female friendship and the millennial experience on television. Everything about Broad City feels truthful, open, and charmingly unfiltered, which made the sudden appearance of Hillary Clinton all the more disorienting.
On paper, an appearance from the first female Presidential nominee seems almost appropriate. Broad City has worn its feminism and woke-ness on its sleeve from the very beginning, and Clinton was engaged in a campaign against a braying, orange embodiment of misogyny and unchecked privilege. Broad City was in its third season and riding increasingly positive press, plus its executive producer Amy Poehler had spent many years portraying Clinton on Saturday Night Live. Again, in theory, it all made sense.
The episode, titled “2016”, does not feature Clinton until the very end, which works to the episode’s favor. In the episode’s A-plot, Ilana, working as a bike messenger, delivers a package to the Clinton campaign headquarters and is immediately inspired to join. Watching the free-spirited and chaotic in the heavily-structured and organized world of the Clinton campaign is a classic Broad City scenario and it also allows for a few pointed jokes about the pervasive sexism around her campaign (“Yes, Hillary can read a map”; “No, Hillary is not a witch”). It’s only when Clinton herself makes an appearance that everything goes south.
As Ilana prepares to depart from the Clinton campaign (after discovering it was a volunteer position, and thus unpaid), Abbi meets with her to get a quick look at the headquarters. After a bit of Hillary adulation about the room feeling “powerful” and “decisive”, Hillary herself walks into the scene, crowned with an entrance literally unprecedented on the show. Most celebrities that appear on Broad City (Kelly Ripa being a prominent example) play against type, poking fun at their established personae. Hillary walks in and immediately is greeted as the queen of the world (or literally “She-King”, as Ilana calls her).
The ladies are stupefied and convulsing as Hillary’s mere wink blows out lights and produced rippling energy waves. When Abbi and Ilana finally gather the wherewithal to speak, they begin heaping praise and adoration upon Hillary, even going so far as to call her (so embarrassing in hindsight) Madam President. Other than a very brief joke about pegging—which I suspect was added in and never actually explained to Clinton—the jokes stop in favor of some lighthearted hagiography.
On a show like Parks and Recreation, which starred Broad City producer Amy Poehler, Leslie Knope’s (Poehler) fangirl reactions to prominent (mostly Democratic) politicians was baked into the character and her own relationship to politics. Broad City, while politically-literate, never previously engaged so directly with a political figure. More than that, Ilana’s character specifically is largely defined by an aggressive, bordering on abrasive, wokeness. I have no doubt she would pull the lever for Clinton, but the unbridled enthusiasm for a woman who has readily pushed the causes of neoliberalism and American imperialism seems out of character.
Most of this would be forgivable, though, if the cameo demonstrated even the slightest willingness from Clinton to have a laugh at her own expense. The comedy cameo is often a means of humanizing a political figure by allowing them to recognize their own foibles and be in on the joke. Even dullards like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin (or perhaps their staffs) innately understand this and have leaned into it. Even the humorless Quaker Richard goddamn Nixon let Laugh-In poke fun at him. Hillary’s appearance on Broad City is utterly lacking in this self-effacement. The only “jokes” are about how utterly in awe Abbi and Ilana are of Clinton and her magnanimity. This characterization is not just painfully unfunny, it completely ignores Clinton’s public perception and characterizes her as some sort of universally beloved cult figurehead.
The Hillary Clinton cameo proved to be a somewhat disastrous decision for Broad City, one that hung over the remainder of the third season and coincided with a general cooling of affection for the show. Since Clinton’s loss, Broad City (like the vast majority of Clinton supporters) has moved on and thankfully bounced back in its fourth season and is as good as it’s ever been. Like so much of the Clinton campaign, Hillary’s Broad City appearance now feels like a half-remembered dream of a well-meaning, tonally confused disaster lacking any real reason to exist. Now let’s never speak of it—any of it—again.