Philadelphia, or rather the suburb of Wayne, is the hometown of both the on-screen and the real-life Abbi and is our setting for the episode. Broad City has always couched its identity in its portrayal of New York, as viewed through the weed-haze of Abbi and Ilana’s misadventures, as a character in and of itself. It leans heavily on urban culture—city-specific concepts like pop-up shops, pretentious art shows, and bodega breakfast sandwiches.
Well, not this time. Broad City’s journey into West (of) Philly manages to be a bizarre little slice of Abbi’s suburban life, and also somehow a twisted, and one might say unnecessary, dressing-down of JonBenet Ramsey. Uh, let’s circle back to that last thing.
How did we get this far without talking about Abbi’s dad, played by Tony “Decidedly Not The Boss” Danza? Keeping with this season’s guest-star trend, his appearance is limited but charming as heck and is the brightest spot in “Philadelphia.” We first meet Danza at the bus station as Ilana and Abbi arrive, and he and Abbi’s secret and extremely elaborate handshake is adorable.
Danza can’t help but be charming and earnest, even when confronted with Ilana’s craziness, and that’s actually refreshing on a show like Broad City where most everyone is sardonic and self-interested. His deadpan reminders to Ilana not to lick the walls because of the lead paint is delivered matter-of-factly and his reaction to Ilana’s loud freak-out over nothing shows a bewildered concern for Abbi’s best friend. Through Danza’s performance here, we’re immediately swept into his world where the love and pride he has for Abbi comes through in his every word, even as he explains that the neighbors once tried to kidnap her in a cooler.
For Abbi’s part, a lot of this episode is a redemption of sorts as she tries to reconnect with her middle school best friend who was disfigured in an accident. See, Abbi organized a Dance-a-Thon to raise money for her surgery, but forgot to actually give her the $940 she raised (it was the year she discovered mushrooms). Over the course of Abbi and Ilana’s quest to find Alice, naturally most of that money gets spent on the stupidest things, and when they arrive at Alice’s home, the question of Abbi’s character is even less answerable. It’s serviceable but is missing some of the charm of other Abbi plots by somehow being less than the sum of its parts. The delve into her hilarious Phish and String Cheese Incident fandom is great but fleeting and the episode seems to be more interested in going to darker places.
I don’t want this to sound like pearl-clutching, but I think this episode crosses a line with one of the main threads of the story. Most of the jokes in Ilana’s subplot in this episode come at the expense of JonBenet Ramsey, the murdered child beauty queen.
As they’re going through Abbi’s belongings, Ilana unearths an extremely rare commemorative JonBenet Beanie Baby and flips out. Turning immediately into a Wall Street-style Beanie Baby tycoon, she begins to wheel and deal on the phone throughout the rest of the episode, occasionally speaking in Mandarin. We learn that the price of the toy is exploding because it’s the 20th anniversary of Ramsey’s murder, and later in the episode, that the Ramsey family themselves are after the toy (“oh yeah, now they want her”, quips Abbi). To me, this was fodder enough for one joke, maybe, but began to feel really uncomfortable when it became a recurring gag. I can dig when Broad City goes edgy or will talk about something sensitive, but given that the show is usually a little better at handling these things, I think that this plot thread was more than a little superfluous.
“Philadelphia” is a diversion to somewhere different but a lot less interesting and pleasantly chaotic than our usual setting, which is as apt a metaphor for the suburbs as you’re likely to find. As nice as it is to be introduced to Abbi’s dad for the first time, and for that dad to be ur-dad Tony Miceli himself, this episode had a the JonBenet thing holding it back, as well as several ultimately unfulfilling plot points that seem like they’d be better off left behind in the outskirts of Broad City. If anything, it’s a reminder that the “City” in Broad City is just as important—maybe more so—as the two massive personalities that inhabit it.