I never thought that I would make the Broad City women cry, but Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are on the verge of losing it right now. Sitting in a sunlit, glass-walled conference room in Comedy Central's offices in Hollywood, we've been talking about the final season of Broad City for only eight minutes before the waterworks start. It's fitting that the conversation has turned serious, given that the final season (premiering Jan. 24) is less about the crazy, carefree hijinks of running around NYC in your 20s and more about that weird growing up phase that is entering your 30s.
If that sounds like a completely different show than what Broad City has been for almost a decade, both in its days as a web series and later as a full-length show on Comedy Central starting in 2014, that's because it is. The first four seasons have been a master class in finding the humor in how much twenty-somethings haven't grown up. But in the three episodes of the final season made available to journalists, Glazer and Jacobson's fictionalized versions of themselves are faced with turning 30, the idea of settling down and having kids, career changes, and other kinds of growing up we never expected to see from these characters.
"That is a departure," Jacobson explains to Bustle. "There is an arc to the season, there is way more change."
The inspiration to move Ilana Wexler and Abbi Abrams from their 20s into their 30s in the final season, bringing with them a myriad of life milestones, came after Glazer and Jacobson were inundated with questions about if the series would end after last season.
"I was like, 'What are you, nuts?! We're going to send it out with a bang!'" Glazer says, tucking one leg underneath her on her chair. "We like to do things the right way. We love the show and the experience so much that we've thought about honoring it with an ending that our audience deserves." And that ending meant that "something has to shift in the world of Broad City." According to Glazer, the shift is in the rate of the characters' growth.
"Have they grown in the past at all?" Glazer then wonders aloud. "I guess they've learned. The joke has been like they've taken two steps forward, but we've known the ending for a while and we knew where we had to go, which is further than [their usual trajectory in a season]. The journey would be the longest this season [compared to] seasons past."
Broad City has always been a kind of TV comfort food in that while Abbi and Ilana's antics were always wacky, hysterical, and somehow surprisingly relatable, the core of what the show has been about — their friendship — hasn't changed all that much.
"Sometimes we joke about how this show is like an animated show because there's hardly any growth," Jacobson says. "You can just come back to any episode, you don't have to watch it in order. But it felt way more challenging to have there be an end point and growth and have them actually deal with stuff and change. We owed it to the audience to do that."
This sounds way heavier than it actually is. Don't worry, Broad City isn't turning into a tearjerking, This Is Us-style drama in its last season. But tackling the reality of growing up means the final season will have more emotional weight than fans might expect. "It can still be hilarious and emotional," Jacobson argues. "That's what I'm very proud of. That's a really hard thing to do, to laugh and feel for the character at the same time."
Glazer and Jacobson have grown immensely personally and professionally in the 10 years since they began Broad City as a web series back in 2009. So it felt only natural that Broad City did some growing up, too.
"It's definitely changed and I think that's a rarity, that you can see a show change and grow. I love it," Jacobson says. "It's like us growing as writers, as directors, as every part of it, and also the characters are doing that too."
"We are like showrunners and EPs and business owners. It's bizarre."
While the Broad City characters are based off of the creators' actual lives and experiences, the more they grew up in real life, the less they started feeling connected to their onscreen versions of themselves. "We watched ourselves in a way grow further and further from the characters," Glazer says. "We are like showrunners and EPs and business owners. It's bizarre. Well, at first it was bizarre, and then the more normal it got, it was like, this is not the lives of these characters."
And it wasn't just their personal lives that changed. "The world is changing," Glazer adds. "The first season was written in 2013. Obama was president. Racism was 'solved.' It was a different world and we were different. We wanted to reflect but we didn't want to go too far and we didn't want to do a static show forever."
She pauses, then smiles. "We want it to feel like your 20s where when you're in it, it's like, 'This will never end! It's always going to be like this! Life is crazy!'" Glazer yells. "And then you do start growing up and you're like, 'That's over. Thank god.'"
When I prompt Glazer to return to her earlier thought about how the world was different when the show started, she interrupts to correct me. "Or felt different and we didn't realize," she says. She's right, and the ways in which pop culture and the entertainment industry have changed as a reflection of that means that critics and fans (and trolls) are taking a harder look at past jokes that might seem insensitive now. But both Glazer and Jacobson don't wish for the chance to go back and change any jokes or lines in previous seasons because of how they could be interpreted now.
"I don't not wish that because I think we're so perfect, I just think that people need to be accountable for their mistakes, for ignorance," Glazer says. "You can't help being ignorant; you have to learn. And that's okay. Just because you don't know something doesn't mean that you are willfully ignorant, and just because you're willfully ignorant doesn’t mean that you can't change. But — and some things are running through my mind — even with flaws or things interpreted in such a way, I stand by us doing our best at the time."
"Art can be contradictory, it should be challenging, it should be messy, because that's what real life is like."
"I think we have the same things in our head," Jacobson says to Glazer before turning back to me. "There's a couple moments, I would not change them either, but because it's important that I stand by the fact that our intentions were good. Sometimes, all the time, everything is interpreted totally different by whoever. It sucks when someone doesn't get what you were doing, especially in comedy. There's a line. But I don't regret it."
Broad City has long been lauded for its progressive message about how it's okay to be a flawed feminist. Glazer and Jacobson know how important the show has become, but they both stress that it, and they, are not perfect. "We're not saints or teachers or have flawless cultural etiquette or whatever," Glazer says. "We're lucky enough to have the privilege and to have earned the opportunity to mark a cultural history where it's at, at that moment."
She pauses for a moment, then continues, "There's this idea that comedy has been the stage for modern philosophy for the past 10 years, increasing in importance and significance and people are recognizing that. But then there's this idea that comedians and entertainers are supposed to be perfect representatives of the edge of where culture is or social etiquette or whatever. It's not true — art can be contradictory, it should be challenging, it should be messy, because that's what real life is like."
And since the final season draws so much on Glazer and Jacobson's real-life experiences of growing up, that means a lot of the storylines are ripped straight from their lives. "My character dates a woman for the first time this season and that's directly pulled from my life," Jacobson reveals. "I was like, if we're going to do this, I would love to put that into the show and have my character have that experience. I was really happy to do that."
It's a marked change from the beginning of the series, when both Jacobson and Glazer were hesitant to connect their real personas to their onscreen alter egos. "For so long, we were trying to figure out like 'the formula' to feel comfortable with sharing ourselves at this level," Glazer says with a laugh. But as time went on, that boundary faded until it was nonexistent. "Now that it's over, we're more comfortable being like, 'It's us!'" she adds. "It's not totally us, but it really is so derived from us."
In the final season, fans will see Ilana, traditionally nontraditional when it comes to her work life, finally decide to take a leap and begin to build an actual career for herself in mental health care. "I studied psych and child psych in college, I love therapy and the character loves mental health discussions," Glazer says. "We've created this space to live alternate lives throughout Broad City, and I would love to be a therapist and get to know people's juicy secrets, so I put that in the show."
Another plotline pulled directly from their lives? The premiere, which is told completely via Instagram stories, follows Abbi and Ilana as they celebrate Abbi's 30th birthday — except their plans are almost derailed when Ilana rolls her ankle. "I've hurt my ankle a lot," Jacobson admits with a sheepish smile while Glazer erupts in her trademark laugh on my other side.
By the end of our conversation, Glazer and Jacobson have stopped crying, but the errant sniffle here and there gives away the emotional weight of the discussion. Glazer jokes that I should bill them for the therapy I just provided them; I tell them I'll settle for the best season of Broad City yet. Thankfully, they've already obliged.