The scene: A lit candle. The faint sounds of "Happy to Be Sad" by Keeper. A Janet Jackson poster. Ears dressed in the most "yas kween"-evoking jewelry, uncanny seapunk lips to match. Oysters. A strategically positioned cell phone bearing the face of Abbi Abrams.
This is the "pre-masturbation" mise-en-scène according to "Broad City." Or more accurately, the self-love ritual of one Ilana Wexler, a 20-something woman who prefers the image of her own pleasure to the Lolita-ized world of online porn. Add a yoga mat, a mirror and a dildo, and the stage is set.
For fans of the Comedy Central show, about to enter into its third season, this vista is hardly revolutionary. We're familiar with BFFs Abbi and Ilana speaking openly and emphatically about all things vaguely sexual -- pink dicks, pegging, Arcs de Triomphe. But, to television consumers used to self-deprecating female characters afraid of their own bodies and even more afraid of their own sexuality, Ilana is an aurora.
In fact, the women of "Broad City," played by co-creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, have been described with many modifiers over the past two years. The Guardian called them "the anointed feminist stoner comedy kweens of the 21st century" and Vulture dubbed them "crop-top-wearing mascots of bouncy-castle, post-Bloomberg New York;" bugle calls to their audiences of millennials in favor of legalization and Hillary Clinton.
Most reviews, including the ones mentioned above, remark upon a particular constellation of character traits: the women are confidently flawed, imperfect but pulsing with self-esteem. Instead of fixating on body ideals or insecurities, they -- buttressed by an Oprah-style foundation of best friendship -- genuinely embrace their personalities and images.
And, while a major chunk of this self-love takes the form of emotional hilarity and decidedly non-sexualized declarations of support, other parts are ... pretty sexy. Ilana embarks on a physical relationship with her doppelgänger, played by near-twin Alia Shawkat, seemingly taking the mantra "you do you" to a whole new level. Abbi uses post-it notes on her dildo, because scheduled "me time" is that important to her.
Sure, Ilana is a bit more comfortable talking about herself and her libido than Abbi, but hey, women don't exactly occupy a single notch on the sex drive speedometer. Similarly, self-love is "Treating. Yo'. Self." for one and confidently correcting a barista's spelling of your name for another. Laverne goes to the docks to pick up sailors and Shirley spends a night in with Boo Boo Kitty. Ilana reaches for solo porn and Abbi dreams of Jeremy.
Either way, it's refreshing to see characters embrace their selves -- sexualized and not -- irony never included.
Now, Abbi and Ilana are hardly the first or last women to embrace self-love and masturbation on the small screen -- cue episodes of "Sex and the City" and "Mad Men" and "UnREAL" and "SNL" and "Reign." There was "The Contest" in "Seinfeld," which saw Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine in a battle of will, each attempting to outlast the other in a self-pleasure fast. Though we weren't made privy to the moment, we know Elaine lost. Some scenes have been more overt, like Marnie of "Girls" masturbating in a gallery bathroom after ravenously flirting with a hotshot conceptual artist. Normalization is afoot.
But beyond a fleeting episode, what "Broad City" does best is show that self-love -- masturbation and all -- is routine. It's unapologetic but hardly narcissistic. It's rife for comedy but never sarcastic. In the age of "doing me," embracing the self can be radical and feminist and, well, regimen too.
Amidst today's expanding sea of female friendship-centric television shows, Abbi and Ilana's story is propped atop mutual encouragement, the acceptance of imperfections, and a healthy dose of ménage à moi. Which is great. We've had enough of the boners of bromedies. Bring on the vayaña jokes.
"Broad City" returns to Comedy Central on Feb. 17, 2015.
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