Broad City takes an animated trip that goes from delightful to dark

As with this season’s premiere, “Mushrooms” is an ambitious, brilliant episode of Broad City that gets to the heart of the series. It takes place over the course of a shrooms trip that goes from very good to very bad for both Abbi and Ilana, combining animation and live action to great effect.

The animation style of “Mushrooms” is stunning and distinct, unlike anything else currently on television. This cotton-candy, weirdo wonderworld that becomes Abbi and Ilana’s shrooms-induced reality totally nails the palette and style of Broad City. At the peak of their trip, the episode goes full animated, a cartoon Abbi and Ilana floating through a rainbow New York decorated with colorful creatures, captivating patterns, and swirling lights. Bingo Bronson even makes an appearance. In fact, the fantasy world is layered with elements of Abbi and Ilana’s past, like a flash of Lincoln and an echoing “bazinga.” The world of their trip builds on the existing world of the show, overlaying it with a cartoon filter.

Fish swim around Abbi’s face; both women become cucumbers sucking on lollipops with too-long tongues. The sound of a newspaper box closing inspires a full-on symphony of street sounds, a crosswalk becoming the keys of a piano. A trip to a French bakery for macarons (which the show boldly but correctly notes are beautiful but disgusting) briefly transports them to France, where the moon is chugging wine. It’s delightful, disorienting, and indulgent. The warmth of Abbi and Ilana’s friendship radiates. “Sometimes, I just feel like our dynamic is special and we should capture it,” Ilana observes in a moment of meta sincerity. The details are impeccable. There’s so much going on in the animated visuals that it’s hard to highlight all my favorites. I recommend going back and watching the total animation scenes again and again, as I did. You’ll catch new stuff every time.

It speaks to the efficacy of this animation that this doesn’t look or feel like a far-flung episode of the show; despite the cartoon embellishments, this looks and feels like any other episode of Broad City with a trippy twist. The scenes that combine live-action and animation look…weirdly real, the animation integrating with the rest of the shot in a way that is disturbing and natural all at once. We’re pulled into Abbi and Ilana’s trip so fully, the sound effects, music, and visuals all working together brilliantly to paint this wacky picture of distorted reality. It’s without a doubt the most impressively edited episode of entire series, and the show’s consistently good soundtrack plays an even more crucial role. It reminds me, at times, of the striking but devastating season one episode of Bojack Horseman, where Bojack’s bad trip (on a lot more than shrooms) is fully embodied in and reinforced by the fluctuations in animation style. Of course, Broad City’s trip is a lot lighter (Abbi and Ilana can’t stop talking about how beautiful love is)…until it isn’t.
js_ad-mobile-dynamic js_ad-dynamic ad-mobile-dynamic”>
Broad City probably could have gotten away with making “Mushrooms” a fun little experimental episode, letting Abbi and Ilana amble through New York wide-eyed and feeling for the entirety without much by way of plot. That would have made for a fun but fine episode, whereas “Mushrooms” is much more, an excellent exploration of anxiety, friendship, and unexpected feelings. Structurally, the episode ends up looking a lot similar to most episodes of Broad City. Abbi and Ilana’s adventure turns into a misadventure when reality cracks the seal of their high. Dara, Abbi’s new boss, texts to ask Abbi to pick up macarons for her wife’s party. Even though it’s the weekend and even though she and Ilana are on a different plane, Abbi agrees, and the two end up at Dara’s house, reality peppered with the visuals and sounds of their trip. Dara asks them to stay, and they’re present enough to pull it off, but everything remains just slightly distorted. Then they separate, and the trip goes bad.

Ilana heads off to have her dream threesome with an absurdly hot couple, and Abbi hangs back, excited that Dara has taken an interest in cultivating her creative pursuits. Abbi and Ilana slowly look toward each other in split-screen, and it’s clear that the effects of their high (now compounded with weed) are taking a turn. Abbi’s descent sets in slowly at first: quick horror strings punctuate the moment when she realizes she’s locked in Dara’s study. She tries to think happy thoughts: Oprah, Mark Ruffalo, flutes (?), pugs. But the montage turns dark, scary images flashing across the screen as we’re pulled even deeper into her panic, which leaves her curled in a ball on the floor. Again, it has the same disturbing effect of that Bojack episode, so encompassing in its sounds and visuals that it’s suffocating, mimicking the effects of the character’s bad trip. Abbi tells Dara the truth, and she’s understanding at first, admitting that we’ve all had bad trips and that “this too shall pass.” It’s a touching moment, but we’re snapped back to darkness when Dara realizes that Abbi accidentally killed her cat Amanda (why is this name so funny to me?).

Ilana, meanwhile, struggles to fulfill her sexual fantasies with the very hot, very straightforward couple. She, too, attempts to give herself a pep talk, which is every bit as fitting for her as Abbi’s is for Abbi, including referring to herself as “Nicki Minashkenazi.” Even the way each character spirals is distinct and true-to-form. Ultimately, Ilana can’t get it up for the babes because she can’t stop thinking about Lincoln, who keeps seeping into her mind in cartoon form, reminding her about dental hygiene and pointing out the emotional significance of his appearance. He appears, quite literally, in a suitcase: After all, she’s got Lincoln baggage.Broad City doesn’t turn Ilana’s trip into some poignant, eye-opening moment of enlightenment. That would feel false for this show. The suitcase bit is pretty tongue-in-cheek, and the subtle seeping of Lincoln into her mind comes off as emotionally honest and telling without being too deep.
instream-native-video instream-native-video–mobile instream-permalink”>
Then the episode ends on one of my favorite sequences the show has ever done. Presumably the next day, Ilana sits in bed, smoking weed and preparing for battle. That battle is a comprehensive stalking of Lincoln’s social media. She goes through what seems like every stage of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—in lightning succession. Again, it’s brilliantly edited. In the end, she deletes him completely, unfriending and unfollowing with determination. Ilana’s struggle to move past Lincoln has been a subtle, meaningful throughline for the season so far. This final scene provides some closure, peels back a layer to Ilana (it hints at some of the insecurity that we see in her in the premiere’s flashbacks), and does so all while remaining true to Broad City’s heightened, hilarious, weed-induced voice. “Mushrooms” is a technical feat, but it’s more than that, too.

Stray observations

  • Never before has the title card for Broad City been more relevant.
  • And just like that, Abbi’s out of a job.
  • Speaking of jobs, where is all their mushroom money coming from? I’m not talking about the drugs…I’m talking about the morels they talk about, which are extremely expensive (but also extremely delicious).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *