Every so often the question is raised as to whether women can be funny, usually because some old gasbag with a finger on the pulse of the past has declared that they cannot. It is hard to know what to do with such a ridiculous question given how often it has been answered in the affirmative.
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are the talented stars and creators of "Broad City," a delightful, knockabout new sitcom premiering Wednesday on Comedy Central (home also to "Inside Amy Schumer"). The pair met in 2007 at the New York branch of the Upright Citizens' Brigade, the comedy franchise that has become the Second City/Groundlings of its generation as a magnet for and refiner of new comic talent. UCB mainstay, comedy goddess and all-around good role model Amy Poehler is an executive producer of "Broad City," which began as a Web series in 2009.
As is often the case, the translation from the Web to "real TV," with its bigger budget and better equipment and Big Time pressure, has produced something that — while maintaining the makers' independent spirit — is more focused, traditional and technically accomplished than the original, which came mostly in three- or four-minute vignettes built around a single idea. The TV "Broad City" also makes Jacobson and Glazer, living in a world we more or less recognize, into stable characters — Abbi and Ilana — distinct from themselves.
Abbi is the more organized and responsible, yet also the less assertive and dreamier one. She takes things seriously. She has ambition, if only to be promoted out of maintenance crew at the gym where she works and be allowed to run a class. (Like Jacobson, she is also an artist, but this is so far underplayed.) And she has a crush on the guy across the hall.
"I owe you one," he says when she agrees to accept a package being delivered in his absence.
"'OK," she answers, adding, before she can stop herself, "I love you too."
Ilana, by contrast, is all id, a little bossy, a troublemaker, concerned first with her own comfort and desires. A sort of aggressive slacker, she rolls into work in her sleep clothes and proceeds to sleep.
"Were you just sleeping with your eyes open?" her boss asks. "Of course not," she replies. "That would take super long to perfect."
Roughly speaking, she is Laverne to Abbi's Shirley.
As a story of girlfriends living in New York in their 20s, it is superficially like "Girls" (and "2 Broke Girls," for that matter), though much closer in concept and attitude to the late "Flight of the Conchords," another scruffy urban comedy that takes occasional flight into the surreal. (It's also compatible with the stoner Stooges "Workaholics," the other Comedy Central series that is not a sketch show, a stand-up showcase or a cartoon.) There is nothing "ladylike" about the humor, which roots around in sex and drugs and sundry icky things, but it is, by definition, female.
As with all good comedy teams before them, they are halves that make a whole. And they will not be denied, even when they have been denied.
"Tomorrow's going to be the day, like, I know it that we're going to look back and be, like, that was the daaaaay," says Ilana, drunk near the end of Episode 1, after a failed plot.
"I know that tomorrow, tomorrow's totally the day. Like I'm so confident in myself that I feel it in my heart I'm confident in myself in the day," says Abbi, also drunk. "I believe in us."
Where: Comedy Central
When: 10:30 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14-LS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and sex)