Broad City Returns, Paying Homage to a 90s Movie to Tell Abbi and Ilana’s Origin Story


Broad City returned for its 4th season last night, giving us the episode behind that teaser clip of Abbi and Ilana meeting for the first time.

This episode is titled “Sliding Doors.” In a homage to the 1998 movie of the same name (starring pre-Goop Gwyneth Paltrow), the first outing of the season shows us what happens in the parallel universes where the ladies make or miss the subway together.

If you, like me, are someone who’s rewatched the previous seasons a few times, you’ll notice a lot of great callbacks and references in this new episode!

The two meet in 2011 trying to get through the turnstile to the subway. In one reality, they miss the train together. The two introduce themselves to each other and decide to stick together. In the other, they make the train and go their separate ways.

Things aren’t perfect in either universe. Ilana has job issues in both (read: she’s fired), she lives with preppy, rude dorm mates she calls “The Madisons,” and her straightened hair indicates she hasn’t quite mastered the total self-confidence we know her for. Abbi, on the other hand, has just moved in with Melody, which means Bevers is about to enter her life.

In the universe where the ladies stay together, we see why they work so well together. In one scene, the sprinklers catch them on a park bench, and Ilana’s straightened hair reverts to its natural, curly state. Abbi tells Ilana her hair looks great. Ilana says she straightens it to look less Jewish, but Abbi’s comment boosts her confidence in just letting it be.

Feeling spontaneous, Abbi and Ilana head to a psychic (played by Constance Shulman), who tells them they’re going to die. They distrust her (“What, are we gonna listen to her? She was eating a burrito bowl.”) but decide this means they should live in the moment and go to the tattoo parlor.

Photo Credit: Comedy Central

This is where Abbi gets her *iconic* Oprah lower back tattoo. This is truly a formative day, people!

As they sit on a park bench and share pizza and a smoke, Abbi shares that her roommate’s boyfriend is staying with her. Ilana shuts this down real quick, prompting Abbi to call Melody about it. Here, Ilana helps Abbi; calling Melody is something she wouldn’t have done without a push.

Hearing sirens, Ilana tosses her bowl into the street and they run to get away. The psychic’s prediction is true, and they’re hit by a bus (one featuring Donald Trump’s Apprentice ad, no less – this truly was 2011).

In the other universe, they make it on the train and go their separate ways. Abbi is headed to Bed Bath & Beyond (literally where else?) and we see her lugging around some bags, having put those 20% off coupons to good use.

Abbi’s waiting for the bathroom at a coffee shop when the NYC ponytail snipper we hear about in a passing news report strikes. Abbi runs out in distress.

Turns out, this is the coffee shop where Ilana worked. Who was taking up the bathroom but Ilana and a trusty pillow? Deals Deals Deals wasn’t the first place she napped in the stalls. Fired, Ilana also runs out, slamming into her beleaguered future desk mate Nicole on the way.

Meanwhile, Abbi heads home to her new apartment and meets the infamous Bevers for the first time. Bevers has been blessed by TV magic and has abs and such, and Abbi tries to make him feel at home.

Bevers asks, “So as a guest, the rules of the house are, I never pay for food, I never do chores; is that correct?” Abbi will regret this, as we know. Without Ilana’s guidance, she welcomes Bevers, and he sets himself up to totally take advantage of Abbi and her cheese wedges.

Ilana has also returned home to her NYU dorm with her 3 preppy, rude roommates. They’re having a suite meeting regarding her, complete with PowerPoint, and 2011 Ilana, without Abbi, hasn’t 100% mastered her confident “f-you” attitude yet.

“The Madisons” are upset about a lot of things, including Ilana’s wall of inappropriate photos. We also find out that getting fired from Deals Deals Deals wasn’t the first time Ilana made people uncomfortable with the Mr. Hands video (don’t look it up).

Next, we see Ilana go to class and meet someone lips first – surprisingly, it’s Jaime, her present-day roommate. Unsurprisingly, Ilana wasn’t the best college student. She’s supposed to give a presentation, but clearly, has nothing.

Things just keep going downhill from here. Ilana’s dress is caught in a bike and torn off, and Abbi dejectedly eats frozen yogurt. This universe is fairly bleak, but Abbi and Ilana still meet on the street, still share a smoke, and still stroll away together.

The first universe is a fantasy of what might’ve happened had they hit it off immediately (it’s too perfect, so they have to die – just one of those things). The second universe is more realistic – even as they’ve each had a horrible day, they make each other’s lives better.

We know that many of the things that happened in the first universe do occur (the Oprah tattoo, Ilana embracing her curly hair). They just happen in a different way. In both universes, Abbi and Ilana are meant to be friends.

I love that we got an episode where we met these characters in their late teens/early 20s, were was worse and their personalities hadn’t benefitted from one another’s friendship yet. It made for a fun episode.

The fact that this show does focus so clearly on female friendship is one of my favorite things about Broad City, so this feels like the start of a solid season.