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Failed Atonements and the City of Brotherly Love

In the latest episode of ‘Broad City,’ Abbi tries to right some childhood wrongs. Also, Tony Danza still looks great.

Sara Ivry
March 24, 2016

Atonement for the win on Broad City this week.

I counted three pronouncements of the word as the ladies head to the Philly burbs to clean out Abbi’s childhood bedroom or, as Ilana calls it, “the Holocaust Museum of Abbi Abrams,” with Holocaust Museums being the only kind the Wexler family ever visited. As you’d expect, her bedroom is festooned with tie-dye fabrics, posters for Phish and the Grateful Dead, head shots of Ross Geller and local hero Will Smith, two televisions, a box of gear from her jamming days, and a smell-like-meat dreadlock she grew and kept after Locks for Love refused to accept it.

If it was a seasonally inappropriate Yom Kippur special, nobody mentioned it outright—or abstained from food or drink, for that matter—but maybe the sage-like implication (the chochma, if you will) bestowed by the Broad City team is that every day is a golden opportunity to reach for redemption for one’s past transgressions.

Abbi’s are legion, it seems: She runs into a guy, Carl Schiff, whose nickname, Schiffilis, she invented with inspiration from a lesson on a syphilis outbreak in Colonial Williamsburg. At home, she finds the $900-plus she raised at a dance-a-thon for Alice Ackerman, a former childhood friend hit by a school bus on a Saturday—aka, Shabbat, as Ilana points out. Isn’t it ironic?

I submit this is by far Broad City‘s most overtly Jewish episode yet. My evidence: the Mandarin-Yiddish dialect Ilana shows off in negotiating prices for an Ebay sale of a Jon Benet Ramsey commemorative beanie baby she found at Abbi’s; the bialy bites Abbi’s dad dashes off to prepare as a snack; the demand a disaster-fearing, helmet-wearing Ilana makes of Abbi for a DNA test to prove her Jewish bona fides, after Abbi ferries them in a jeep to a bowling alley (“It’s insane that you drive a car with no doors. You are such a Goy for driving this car, it is unbelievable!”); the sneering admonishment of “No shoes, no entrance. Yes you, the Jews,” from the bowling alley clerk, himself a man of Asian descent.

And then, of course, the recurring wish for forgiveness. Abbi and Ilana seek Alice out to give her the money after all these years. I don’t have to tell you how that goes, do I?

More importantly, wherefore the allusions? There must something about being on the Philadelphia Main Line that brings out full Yid—in Ilana anyway. Abbi, as Ilana has told before, is a “high-class Waspy Jew, a Philadelphia queen from down the Main Line,” and the supposed refinement that entails seems to catalyze some gonzo allergic reaction. Jewishness on steroids. Stars will not be stifled.

Of course, Tony Danza—an A+ example of aging well—as Abbi’s dad reads as anything but Main Line or Jewish, unless, that is, all my notions of what those identities connote are totally misguided. And I concede, they may be. I’ve never set foot in the Philly ‘burbs and to the city itself I think I’ve been just thrice—once during an early summer heatwave that coincided with a sanitation worker strike; the omnipresent stench made that an unforgettable trip. Abbi’s dad drives a time-share sports car, is building an infrared sauna, and retains the heavy-lidded accent that made him so utterly endearing as Tony Banta on Taxi nearly 40 (FORTY!) years ago. He’s out of his Jewish element. That’s okay. The whole episode is, refreshingly, out of the Jewish element.

In spite of the references, they take us on a field trip—to the leafy streets of Pennsylvania, away from lox and bagels and nostalgia of the Lower East Side and Brooklyn—and it was a delight to go a-visiting and to forget our tsuris for just a little while.

Sara Ivry is the host of Vox Tablet, Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast. Follow her on Twitter@saraivry.