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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Coming-of-age comedies navigate tumultuous adulthood

Recently, two similar, yet undeniably different series returned for new seasons: HBO’s “Girls” and Comedy Central’s “Broad City.” Both are half-hour comedies centering around women in their twenties exploring what adulthood should look like in New York City. The shows have gained popularity over the years and have contributed to the established new breed of television I like to call “Manhattan Jewish girl coming-of-age comedies.” The pioneering series that set this trend was “Sex and the City,” HBO’s successful show starring Sarah Jessica Parker as the iconic Carrie Bradshaw surrounded by her posse of single women with a shared love of NYC. There have been other recreations of this narrow subgenre, yet “Broad City” and “Girls” seem to contribute their own spin to the formula.

“Broad City” is a celebration of friendship, feminism, individuality and getting lit. The show started with a small audience as the new kid on the block but has gained popularity through the brilliant comedic writing and charisma of the leading ladies, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who double as the shows creators and writers. The series is always careful to not take itself seriously, throwing in ridiculous plots purely for humor’s sake. It is saturated with pop culture, stoner culture and New York culture, forming a winning combination that is fresh, funny and current. The show is on its third season and is finally able to embrace its newfound popularity with crazier plots, more bizarre jokes, and slew of guest stars including Melissa Leo, Whoopi Goldberg and Hillary Clinton. “Broad City” finds its hilarity in normality, each episode starting with an ordinary problem that goes awry in unpredictable and outrageous ways.

“Girls” is more of a dramedy highlighting the insecurities, uncertainties and trepidations involved in becoming an adult. The series, created and starring Lena Dunham, returned for its fifth season with the subline “finally piecing it together.” The show tracks the lives and friendships of Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna as they attempt to figure out what adulthood should look like. The relationships between the girls have fluctuated in a realistic fashion over the series duration. Most series teeter around depicting rocky friendships. “Girls” accurately illustrates the difficulties of maintaining friendships while progressing as an adult. The season five opening episode has the group reuniting for Marnie’s wedding. In the opening scene, everyone is reintroduced in a perfect manner that accentuates each of their quirky characteristics that have become the norm through the series’ strong character development. Shoshana believes she is culturally reborn after a job relocation to Tokyo. Marnie is in her element as the bride, being anal about every decision. Hannah is being selfish without knowing it, as usual. Jessa unexpectedly saves the day without trying. All serve as refreshing ways of highlighting the familiar, reminding the audience how, despite the fact that each character is maturing, they will always stay the same deep down. A surprising subplot that speaks to the concept of the show exists within Hannah’s relationship to her parents. In the beginning, Hannah was dependent on her parents, keeping them as an insurance plan in case her plans fall apart in life. The beginning of the season has Hannah counseling her father with his poor lifestyle choices after coming out as gay and moderating her parents with the inevitable divorce to follow. The tables have turned, and she has become the parental figure, helping her parents develop themselves further. “Girls” is a series that refutes the idea that growth is a finite process with an end in sight. It illustrates that maturation is a learning curve that continues throughout life.

“Broad City” and “Girls” find humor in the discomforts involved with being young in an adult environment filled with expectations. Both recognize there is no blueprint to growing, no conventional standard or quota that everyone must fill in order to confirm they are succeeding in life. The only way to know if the development is on the right track is if the friendships and humor are there to support, fulfill and encourage you along the way.

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