I can safely assume that many of American Jewish millennials feel personally connected to the Rugrats’ Pickles family. Their Jewishness was a beacon in an unending sea of Christmas specials. But for the next 20 years, Jewish people continued to only be sparsely represented in family units (The Goldbergs) or singular side characters (The Big Bang Theory’s Howard Wolowitz).
Enter Ilana Wexler and Abbi Abrams of the female-stoner comedy television show Broad City. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson write and star in the show, which centers on the two friends living in New York City.
That’s right. Not one, but two Jewish protagonists that aren’t related to each other! And they’re two Jewish characters fundamentally different in their personalities and their Jewish identities.
Although neither of them practice Judaism in the show, their cultural Jewishness is glaring – though that might be something that only other Jews can pick up on. The way Ilana speaks reminds me of my own New York Jewish cousins.
Then there’s Ilana’s hair, in all of it’s curly poofy glory.
Many Jewish girls, myself included, spend hundreds of dollars a year straightening and trying to tame their natural curls. Because who is praised for their frizz?
It’s no coincidence that after I binged the two seasons of Broad City, I stopped flat-ironing my hair after every wash.
Apart from the one scene in the first episode of Ilana proclaiming she and Abbi are “just two Jewesses trying to make a buck,” viewers assume the duo’s Jewish identity. It’s kind of like Curb Your Enthusiasm, where it’s general knowledge Larry David is a Jewish man and he occasionally participates in Jewish activities without having to explain why.
But unlike Curb and most other depictions of Jews in media, Ilana and Abbi don’t use neurosis (*ahem* Woody Allen) or hypochondria as the punchlines to their jokes.
The girls, while wildly zany, are real and relatable. Their lives aren’t filled with shopping and boozy brunches, and they don’t live in expansive apartments. At least for the moment, they have pretty much accepted their low-paying day jobs that consist of either cleaning pubes out of a high class gym’s bathroom or doing whatever it is Ilana does at her start-up company.
But they don’t wallow in self-pity or existential loathing. The pair make it their mission to have fun and get themselves into comedic and, at times, unsettling adventures as much as possible.
What I love most about the girls, though, is their reliance and total faith in each other.
They roll with the punches life throws at them, but more importantly, they do it together. They brave the obnoxious boyfriend of Abbi’s roommate, persevere through food allergies for birthday dinners, and peg hot neighbors in honor of dead grandmothers.
Abbi and Ilana’s cultural Jewishness, although subtle, is essential to their characters. It’s in the way they look, speak and act.
For the first time, I’m watching characters on TV that can be fun, sexy and Jewish. I’m watching my Jewish friends and I get into bizarre shenanigans while sharing an unspoken understanding of the way we were raised and continue to live our lives.
I’m not saying Broad City is representative of every Jewish girl in America or every Jewish friendship, but at least for me, I’m finally seeing myself and my friends get some long awaited time in the spotlight.
Hanna Greenblott is a sophomore English language and literature major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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