If you are one of the 1.2 million viewers the Comedy Central series "Broad City" attracts on average each week, you might have noticed a nod to Baltimore in the recent episode "Stolen Phone."
When a distraught Ilana — one of the show's two protagonists — bangs on the door of her phoneless best friend's New York City apartment after a panicked search, Abbi calmly greets her in a black-and-teal Maryland Institute College of Art sweatshirt.
No, it was not a thrift shop find or a random hoodie selected by the wardrobe department. It was displayed prominently on purpose, because "Broad City's" Abbi is Abbi Jacobson, the 30-year-old MICA alumna and co-creator of the hit series, whose season finale airs Wednesday night. Just like the character played by the other creator, Ilana Glazer, Jacobson's 26-year-old best friend on and off screen, the show's Abbi is a slightly younger, heightened-for-comedic-purposes version of Jacobson. But it is still her at the core.
"Those are specifics I want to shout out to," Jacobson said on the phone last week, taking a rare break from the writers' room in New York. "What, am I going to make up a new college? Why not just shout out to MICA? It's just a cool thing that I know about. It gives the character a real feel."
Executive-produced by Amy Poehler, "Broad City" tells the story of two friends navigating their early to mid-20s. The series' first scene establishes the show's raunchy, did-she-just-say-that humor and the contrast between the two characters' personalities. As the more conservative Abbi stares at a sex toy marked with a Post-it note reading "Tuesday 7 a.m.," she receives a Skype video call from free-spirited Ilana — who, we soon discover, is having sex. Where Abbi is cautious, Ilana ignores consequences in the name of adventure, and the results are often hilarious.
In less than 10 episodes, "Broad City," which was first a webseries from 2009 to 2011, has earned its reputation as one of TV's sharpest and funniest new offerings. There has been no shortage of critical praise either, including an "A" grade from Entertainment Weekly and USA Today's description of it as "one of the funniest shows on TV."
The quick success has led to a hastened commitment from Comedy Central. The network already ordered a second season, which Jacobson and Glazer are working on now.
Like other shows on Comedy Central, "Broad City" has scatological one-liners, absurd narratives and an overt pro-marijuana stance. ("The smoking element has definitely struck a chord," Jacobson said.) Similar to the characters on "Workaholics," which directly precedes "Broad City," Ilana and Abbi are more involved in finding one-night stands and scrounging money for a Lil Wayne concert than in their unexciting day jobs.
But it is the duo's take on post-college life — and its authentic mix of anxiety-driven malaise and invigorated-but-directionless liberation — that has resonated with audiences.
"Some people really react to the surface-y jokes on the show," Jacobson said. "But it's awesome when it goes to other levels."
As the show caught on, Jacobson began receiving questions from fans seeking advice on her Tumblr blog. An example: "dear abbi, first let me say that you are a true delight and your show is pure comedy gold. now my question ... how do i stop constantly comparing myself to my peers?" Another fan in search of performance tips began with, "Hey Abs, can I call you Abs? Can I just say you and Ilana became my heroes within like 30 seconds of watching Broad City?"
The sincere responses were a sign that the show's underlying, subtly serious themes — searching for purpose, dissatisfaction at work and being broke, to name a few — were not missed.
"It made me feel excited that that the show is addressing issues," Jacobson said. "It's not addressing serious issues, but it's addressing this age and what happens to people.
"It's a very condensed time of every emotion," she said. "I think there's so many expectations set up for you in your 20s ... to become whoever you're going to be career-wise, socially, all those things. But in reality, those things can come, especially now, whenever."
Jacobson — who grew up in suburban Wayne, Pa., idolizing both her older brother and Gilda Radner, and said Phish concerts were "a big part" of her high school years — was not always on a path to comedy. At MICA, she majored in general fine arts with a concentration in video. She was known for drawing colorful bird's-eye views of neighborhoods where she once lived.
When she took a contemporary drama course, Jacobson said, she became serious about acting — so much so that she transferred to performance arts-focused Emerson College in Boston at the start of her junior year. The change of scenery was short-lived.
"I hated it immediately," she said. "[Emerson] was a little blip in the middle there."
She returned to MICA after one semester, preferring easy access to a car and living in Bolton Hill, the area Jacobson describes as "the most beautiful neighborhood ever." Outside of school, she waitressed at Donna's and frequented Mount Royal Tavern and Brewer's Art.
But it was the attention she received at MICA and the school's emphasis on creation that Jacobson missed most.
"It totally did shape my process, I think — and not to dis other kinds of institutions, but because everyone at MICA is really into something they're doing there," she said. "I got used to really producing work and finishing it. I think that really came into play when we started to make the webseries."
Rex Stevens, MICA's chair of drawing and general fire arts departments, first encouraged Jacobson to turn the camera on herself. When he watches "Broad City," Stevens still recognizes the same "highly observational" person he taught years ago.
"I laugh my head off because Abbi is herself," Stevens said. "All the stuff she started with is still there: The honest appraisal of herself, looking at characters, thinking about how people interact with each other. All of that was there in the beginning."
He called Glazer and Jacobson "the new Laverne and Shirley," before noting the material is racier and more of-the-moment.
"There's an edge to them that's not shocking to people who have seen a lot of stuff, but it's pretty shocking stuff they're presenting," Stevens said. "But it's real life. They're not kidding around; people live like this. And it's good stuff."
The only thing more authentic than the show's voice is Ilana and Abbi's steadfast friendship, which provides the heartbeat of "Broad City." The series is often described as an "odd couple" story, and while there is some truth to the assessment, the bond is too warm and too strong to feel contrived. It is a byproduct of the connection first established seven years ago when the two met as members of New York's Upright Citizens Brigade comedy group.
"We are just as close in real life," Jacobson said. "The core dynamic is the same. We work together all day, every day. We tend to not have crazy adventures on Saturday or Sunday anymore, but I think it's pretty similar."
The first season of "Broad City" ends at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday on Comedy Central, with an Amy Poehler-directed episode titled "The Last Supper." When asked what to expect, Jacobson giggled through an intentionally vague answer. "This one is really intimate, and when you see it, you'll know why I used that word," she said. OK, one more hint: "I guess this would be one ... I'm not so super-excited for my parents to see."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun