TV Review: Broad City S4E05 “Abbi’s Mom”

“Abbi’s Mom” begins with a killer cold open from director Nicholas Jasenovec that is familiar to anyone who has ever speed cleaned and used special techniques to hide “sinful” things in their apartment from their parents. Jasenovec doesn’t shoot the scene with any kind of big camera flourishes or slow-mo like he uses later in the episode, but uses lots of fairly quick cuts and digs into the visual comedy of it all like Abbi thinking her mom will think her dildo is a kind of artsy knick knack or Ilana making a “Welcome Abbi’s Mom” poster for her. The cold open also ties neatly into the theme of parents and/or adult authority figure not being as put together as we thought they were when we were younger that writer Ilana Glazer chooses to focus on in this episode. This is in addition to a plot line that features Ilana’s seasonal affective disorder (SAD) hindering her performance at work at Sushi Mambeaux, especially when Marcel sets up a “winner takes all and the loser gets fired” Glengarry Glen Ross style table waiting contest.

Peri Gilpin, who was easily the best part of Frasier, turns in a performance as Abbi’s mom Joanne that is honest, funny, and tragic. At the beginning of the episode, it seems like Jasenovec and Glazer are setting up a whole “moms/middle age women” go bad kind of scenario, and Abbi and Joanne do shots, smoke weed, and even go shopping in a sex shop together during the closing credits tag. However, this “bad” behavior comes from Joanne feeling her mortality as a 55 year old woman when she gets a lump on her breast removed and realizes that she hasn’t “lived” as much as she wanted to.

She laments the fact that she and her current husband haven’t had sex in over a month and says that she penetrated herself with a bottle of cough syrup in a very matter of fact way that turns into total giggles when she starts smoking weed with Abbi. It’s super sad, but Gilpin gets the role of the overly moral mom with the hilarious delivery of lines like “I have never had a martini” or “I haven’t had hard liquor since I was pregnant with you.” She does broad comedy well too like when Ilana admits to being sexually attracted to her and when, of course, she flirts with a shirtless Bevers. Gilpin and Jacobson play off each other very well, especially with Abbi in semi-crisis mode after her very scripted, touristy plans for her and her mom go completely to hell thanks to Joanne’s midlife crisis.

Abbi really is the calm in the storm of “Abbi’s Mom” between messing around with tin foil to “MacGyver” the SAD lamp that Ilana has been carrying around everywhere to be like a functional human being and keeping her mom from having a public meltdown. Her being the glue between Ilana and Joanne’s storyline gives this episode a coherent, almost bottle episode structure with most of its running time happening in the unique ecosystem that is Sushi Mambeaux. From the beginning of the episode, it seems like Abbi and her mom will range over New York like she and Ilana have done in previous episodes of Broad City, but they basically chill at Ilana’s very upscale work.

By sticking Abbi, Ilana, and Joanne in this space, Nicholas Jasenovec shows how depression can make you feel trapped, not like yourself, and doing strange things to cope instead of taking more medication or going to therapy because that would mean you have “problems.” He uses a kind of slow haze effect in scenes that would be an upbeat hip hop montage like previous episodes set at the restaurant where Ilana makes a fortune with tips. Jasenovec and Glazer show Ilana at her most vulnerable, which Marcel thinks is some long con for the table waiting contest, but he eventually realizes that her depression is affecting her work performance and is empathetic in his own supremely petty way. It also allows RuPaul Charles to add a touch of dramatic nuance to his usual one-liner flinging and shade throwing.

“Abbi’s Mom” tackles the issues of depression, midlife crises and regrets, and mother/daughter relationships and still manages to be a devilishly funny episode of Broad City with RuPaul Charles continuing to build a case for a Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Emmy nomination.

Overall Verdict: 9.0