Review: Hillary Clinton’s Broad City Appearance Was a Win, for Her and the Show

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Politicians are very poor actors. TV cameos by political figures, perhaps because they’re so heavily brokered to ensure that the politician won’t be embarrassed, end up risking nothing but the audience’s boredom. With that in mind, Hillary Clinton’s guest appearance on Wednesday night’s Broad City was a strange triumph—a performance that was totally secondary to the show’s sensibility. Clinton’s episode of Broad City had little to do with her, and it was all the better for that.

It’s worth noting that Clinton barely appears on the show; her cameo comes at the episode’s end, and is quite brief. (About two minutes, and much of the sequence is a close-up of Clinton’s smiling face as Abbi and Ilana freak out over her.) When she finally does show, she’s as odd as any member of the show’s loopy universe, dragging a car-dealership air dancer into the campaign office and gleefully watching it unfurl. “It’s a she,” the former Secretary of State declares proudly, of the giant fabric tube.

This is, in small part, a cracked vision of Clinton’s image as decisive and competent. But more than anything, the Clinton appearance has little to do with Clinton in the world, and it’s better for it. Clinton, like everything on Broad City, exists only insofar as she relates back to the show’s central narcissists. Perhaps the most revolutionary thing Clinton does is appear in a scene in which a character, at a loss for words, announces “I pegged” (referring to a sex act from the previous season). Though Clinton isn’t really trying to keep up with the show’s humor, she’s hardly standing in its way.

We’re miles away, here, from the endless and painful political cameos on Parks and Recreation, in which political figures would show up to tell Leslie Knope how bright her future was. Abbi and Ilana are Clinton obsessives, but even when they meet Clinton, she’s remote, unknowable, and a bit odd. Clinton telling Ilana that she’s calling her by name only because she’s wearing a name tag—that she has no idea who she is—is one of this series’ tiny deflations that don’t even register as disappointments.

Broad City has always been very funny, but this season it’s showing signs, intriguingly, of building toward a larger story. On a different, more conventional show, Ilana would have stayed in her dead-end job forever, but her turbulent employment situation this season has provided both humor and signs of real, if infinitesimal, character growth. Clinton fits into the show’s long-term story of Abbi and Ilana’s late-twenties maturation beautifully: She’s the ultra-competent woman they could someday be, one who retains her own oddities but whose aloofness is something for two messily demonstrative people to strive for.

Will this help the Clinton campaign? Well, no: There’s so much TV to wade through between now and November that a two-minute guest spot in which Clinton listens to two people praise her doesn’t seem like a needle-mover. But it’s nevertheless an interesting and notable moment for Clinton, whose voice and whose narrative (as a person with a very real chance to become the first female president) have gotten substantially lost this election cycle. More than anything, Broad City was a reminder that to many people whose attendance at rallies doesn’t get media coverage, Clinton is an icon. The ways the show played with that iconic stature were lots of fun, but even the fact of it was, strangely, startling. By taking the focus off of Clinton herself and placing it on the effect she has on fans, the episode worked out about as well as it could have, for the show’s long-term plot and for the politician herself.

The smoothly confident Clinton of the Broad City universe would have expected nothing less.

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