How Three Quirky Sitcoms Capture the New York Hustle | Modern Society of USA

How Three Quirky Sitcoms Capture the New York Hustle

How Three Quirky Sitcoms Capture the New York Hustle

In the first episode of the final season of “Broad City,” BFFs Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) celebrate Abbi’s 30th birthday by walking the length of Manhattan, Inwood to the Battery. They shoot video of dirty water — “city juice” — on the subway tracks. They visit the stately Morris-Jumel Mansion. They get chicken and waffles at Red Rooster in Harlem. They get their hair braided on the sidewalk.

Then Ilana falls into a manhole. (Or as she calls it, a “womanhole.”)

The episode, an ingenious love letter to friendship and the city in the form of an Instagram Story, perfectly encapsulates the relationship of “Broad City” with the second half of its title. Its New York City is a frenemy that charms you and grosses you out, embraces you and picks your pocket, shows you a good time and tries to break your foot.

The series, returning Thursday to Comedy Central, heads up a group of recent series — including the just-returned “High Maintenance” and the also-ending “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — depicting New York life and hustle in the era of gentrification, student-loan debt and gig work.

If “Friends,” the Patient Zero of New York’s TV upscaling, was set in a fantasy Manhattan of cappuccinos and massive apartments, these series each present a version of the city that the generation raised on “Friends” actually found, landing in tiny flats that are a long commute from Central Perk.

Abbi and Ilana work a string of jobs in the online and service industries, the sort of work that reminds you the city is filled with people with more disposable income than you have, disposing it everywhere. (The new season has Abbi, an aspiring artist, working at Anthropologie, selling products like “robin’s nest Caucasian headdresses.”)

The absurd vision of “Broad City” reflects how money has warped the reality of the city itself. In a second-season episode, Abbi, whacked out on painkillers after wisdom-teeth surgery, goes on a shopping spree at the Gowanus Whole Foods, loading her cart with $1487.56 worth of manuka honey and hearts of palm, accompanied by the hallucination of a giant stuffed bunny.

Free spirit Ilana, meanwhile, confronts her own crisis when her boyfriend, Lincoln (Hannibal Buress), reveals that he has a long-term plan to leave the city for the suburbs. This is a bridge, or tunnel, too far. “I’m only 27 — what am I, a child bride?” she says. “I’m on a New York City timeline.”

HBO’s “High Maintenance,” airing its third season Sundays on HBO, runs on a more stately, chill timeline. Simultaneously naturalistic and dreamy, it’s like the artsy cousin of “Broad City” that went to film school. In geography and spirit, though, its depiction of New York’s Kombucha Belt is much the same — even when, in its season premiere, it visits a pocket of the Catskills that functions as a kind of hipster-Brooklyn-in-exile.

Constructed as an anthology about a Brooklyn pot dealer (Ben Sinclair) and his clients, the show covers a wide swath of New Yorkers united by the need for weed. But money stress is a recurring theme: A couple saves cash by moving farther down the subway line, then buckles under the feeling of isolation; another couple wins a housing lottery but they feel like second-class citizens in their spiffy building, squeezed into a tiny space and barred from the bike room and sauna.

East Dogmouth is a little island in a borough drowning in money and being homogenized by corporations. (A sign at a construction site in Season 2 reads, “Coming Soon: 9 Banks!”) It is proudly unpretty, a stubborn piece of gum stuck to the $1,000 shoe of Manhattan, and that’s precisely what makes it affordable for Kimmy and her underemployed actor roomie, Titus (Tituss Burgess).

Its fiercest champion is Kimmy and Titus’s landlady, Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane), an anti-gentrification militant who chases off encroaching hipsters and fights the opening of a Whole Foods-like grocery store (Big Naturals, not to be confused with the local strip club of the same name).

Lillian, with a voice coated in five layers of peeling lead paint, is the pure, scamming heart of the city and one of the greatest New Yorkers TV has created. “Kimmy Schmidt” is itself a kind of anti-fantasy fantasy of New York, celebrating the city’s dirt in an era in which even “Sesame Street” has gotten an expensive face-lift, and Lillian is its indomitable Oscar the Grouch.

East Dogmouth may be gross and unmarketable, but that’s exactly why it can make a home for broke misfits like Kimmy and Titus. That openness to the weird and outcast is what “Kimmy Schmidt” and “High Maintenance” and “Broad City” love, in their different ways. It’s what Lillian hopes to preserve when she fantasizes about dying and becoming a ghost, so she can “make sure this neighborhood stays terrible forever.”

If that’s not the spirit of New York, what is?

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