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What It Costs To Live In ‘Broad City’

Abbi and Ilana sit in their separate apartments in front of matching MacBooks, video-chatting as Ilana vapes her morning hit of marijuana and Abbi attempts to acquire a contact high through the computer screen. Ilana offers to come on over and get her high in the flesh, and Abbi suggests a post-smoke trip to her favorite store: “BBB!” She waves a coupon for the Bed Bath & Beyond chain in front of the computer screen, offering her best friend the promise of untold housewares riches. Abbi and Ilana sign off, and Abbi searches fruitlessly above her fridge, clawing at the empty air where even more BBB coupons should be.

Her roommate’s boyfriend, Bevers (John Gemberling), enters the kitchen clad in two towels, one for his voluminous midsection and another for his hair, and, after asking after a pair of his underwear that has gone missing, calmly tells Abbi that he has thrown out all her coupons because they had expired.

“Bed Bath & Beyond coupons never expire!” the perpetually frazzled Abbi shouts at Bevers. “You just threw away bowls, maybe coffee filters, a — a new ottoman!”

“I will not buy a SodaStream full price [$89.99], Bevers!” Abbi shouts before storming out of the room.

On “Broad City,” a Comedy Central show in its second season in which Abbi Jacobson stars essentially as herself, Bed Bath & Beyond is the magical consumerist wonderland where all her problems can be solved, her petty urban grievances put to rest. It is the closest New York City gets to heaven.1

“Broad City” is about two cheap young women looking to scrape by. Its stars — Abbi and her wingman, played by Ilana Glazer — are two self-described “Jewesses trying to make a buck.”

They occupy a corner of television New York far from the glamorous, light-filled West Village apartment of Monica and Rachel and the rent-controlled Upper West Side paradise of Jerry and Elaine. This is post-2008 New York, a place where millennials flock to be underemployed together.

“Broad City” is immersed in petty financial concerns that are beneath the radar of most TV shows. The debut episode showed Abbi and Ilana desperately attempting to scrounge up the money to attend a Lil Wayne concert, and the same improvisational financial mood serves as the backdrop to nearly every episode.

Abbi and Ilana may be cheap, but New York is blisteringly expensive. “Broad City” quietly reflects the costs of being a Brooklyn hipster, even if you happen to be working at a dead-end job mopping floors at a gym.

For Abbi and Ilana, every dollar counts. So what does it cost to live in “Broad City”? I was curious about the pair’s finances and selected “P***y Weed” — the episode with the Bed Bath & Beyond fiasco — as a representative episode to study; it’s one of the more money-focused installments from the first season. Taking into account every mention of money, spending or shopping made in the half-hour, I attempted to calculate the value of the goods and services that Abbi and Ilana acquired or considered acquiring. For my data, I used the dollar values stated on the show, priced items at the stores the characters talk about, and, if necessary, estimated the value of the goods in question.

Abbi must have had quite a cache of Bed Bath & Beyond coupons: A Safavieh Kenan ottoman in eggplant that the tactile Ilana would likely want to run her hands over in pleasure runs $299.99, and a matching red Real Simple serving bowl goes for $19.99. (B3 does not currently sell coffee filters, but a 16-pack Keurig refill of Starbucks Sumatra Dark costs $13.99.)

The remainder of “P***y Weed” finds Abbi and Ilana intent on taking charge of their financial decisions. Abbi, skeeved by Ilana’s choice of hiding spots for her marijuana (“the vayanya is nature’s pocket”), decides to strike out on her own: “I’m an adult. I should be buying my own pot,” she resolves.

Ilana is similarly inspired: “I’m gonna be a grown-ass woman and do my taxes for once without my mommy and daddy,” she says. “I’m gonna get those taxes did. I’ll hop on the Q18, catch the N and then transfer to the R and get home in a tight 95 ’cause the G ain’t runnin’.” [$49 for TurboTax Deluxe & State 2014 at Staples]

Ilana meets up with her friend Jaime (Arturo Castro) [$5 round trip on the subway, with free transfers], whose patriotic devotion to IRS paperwork is outweighed by Ilana’s boredom with the process. “You know what a grown-ass woman really does?” she says. “Pays someone else to do it.”

Abbi, meanwhile, after striking out in Washington Square Park, ends up buying weed from a teenager in a blazer on the steps of a private school. [about $43 for an eighth of an ounce in New York state, according to data from the marijuana price website Price of Weed]

After getting high with Ilana, Abbi declares, “I’m an adult, and I’m responsible. Let’s go get some candy.” The veneer of one of Ilana’s front teeth pops out after she bites down on a Jawbreaker [$1.49 at Economy Candy on the Lower East Side, where this scene was shot]. After booking an appointment with her dentist, and quasi-boyfriend, Lincoln (Hannibal Buress), she and Abbi visit a licensed accountant for tax assistance.

Ilana brings a clutch of financial records, including an unpaid ticket for biking on the sidewalk [$25 or $50, at the officer’s discretion]. The accountant tells her that she will be receiving a $52 tax refund, but Ilana blanches when she discovers that she will be charged $125 for his services and leaves in a huff.

Ilana and Abbi make their way to the dentist’s office, where Lincoln dutifully fixes Ilana’s teeth. Ilana insists on paying for her treatment: “Lincoln, I can’t have you pay my medical bills.” Lincoln happily plays along: “All right, well, a new veneer costs $1,400.” Ilana immediately places her hand on her hip and gently purrs: “Thank you so much. That’s, like, really, really sweet.”

Later, Ilana escorts Abbi out of an office-supply store where they’ve gone in search of a manila envelope [80 cents at OfficeSupply.com] to mail Ilana’s taxes even though they’re incomplete (the still-baked Abbi was shouting at the store’s patrons that they’re all residents of “garbage island”). Standing next to a mailbox, Ilana acknowledges defeat, telling Abbi that she will send her taxes to her parents for one more year: “I’m not going to be a tax expert overnight.” The previous year, her parents had been able to get her a $600 refund. Abbi gently tells her that they’re probably just sending her cash. Ilana carelessly drops her envelope into a trash can. Financial independence will have to wait for another day.

“Broad City” is, among other things, a reminder of the high cost of living cheaply, in New York or any other big city, perhaps especially for the underemployed, vaguely ambitious, creative-class-ish college graduates whom the show simultaneously skewers and caresses. Life is expensive on garbage island — even if your boyfriend covers your veneers.


  • Total estimated cost of goods and services acquired in “P***y Weed”: $1,450.29
  • Total estimated value of Bed Bath & Beyond goods denied in “P***y Weed” (thanks for nothing, Bevers!): $423.96
  • Estimated value of unpaid tickets and tax services: $199-$224
  • Total value of potential governmental and/or parental tax refunds: $652

Footnotes

  1. In the show’s second-season premiere, Abbi and Ilana visit the store, and Abbi tries to pass herself off as a casual browser. But the elaborate dance routines that serve as greetings with some of her favorite store employees suggest otherwise.

Saul Austerlitz is the author of “Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes from I Love Lucy to Community.”

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