When it comes to tackling mental illness, TV still has a long way to go – the go-to approach of many shows is to either romanticise it a la 13 Reasons Why – or dramatize every aspect so the characters only defining trait becomes their illness. With so many series being sub par in their representation Broad City stands out with how it tackles Ilana’s depression.
Rather than straight off the bat making it clear and ‘obvious’ that she is depressed through multiple shots of stereotypical images of ‘what depressed people do’ we do not even find out that she is depressed until the season 2 finale. When her and Abbi are discussing what they wish to achieve in the coming year she nonchalantly states, “I want to slowly lower my dose of antidepressants.” After a nod of agreement from Abbi, the two of them move on and it’s not brought up again until the penultimate episode of the following season.
The lack of drama, tears or anything else that usually comes with a character discussing their illness is refreshing and highlights how nonsensical the idea of there being a one-size fits all set of symptoms and behaviours that come with depression. Ilana’s clear acceptance of her illness is also important in helping others, myself included, in accepting their own mental health issue – although she’s fictional I can say that knowing that a seemingly extroverted, sociable, confident and functioning person is also struggling with the same thoughts and problems as I am, was a comfort and played a part in helping me shed the narrow minded opinions I held about my own depression.
The fourth episode of Broad City’s current season is the first to focus on Ilana’s depression in detail and is also the first time humour is brought into the topic. Making mental illness funny is always going to be a difficult topic, in fact the creators and real life Abbi and Ilana discuss this in the behind-the-scenes mini film at the end of this episode – how careful they were in making light of a negative situation, rather than making fun of it.
In my opinion they succeed. The ridiculousness of Ilana being convinced she can blast her mood level up with massive amounts of light from a SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lamp, even going so far as to cover the room in tinfoil to up the brightness. We laugh with her rather than pitying her as she tries valiantly to counteract the effect less daylight has on her illness and those of us who can personally relate know just how desperate you can end up becoming.
With the stigma around mental illness still very much alive and kicking, it is more important than ever for television and film to combat it through representation that correctly shows life with a mental illness rather than perpetuating harmful presumptions and beliefs.
by Megan Gibb
Megan is a 20 year old drop out from Cambridge. She is starting her second attempt at university this year and is hoping to avoid disaster this time around. Most of her time is spent either reading or binge-playing video games. Don’t talk to her about End of Watch or Night Flight as she still hasn’t emotionally recovered from them, and probably never will. Her favourite films are Drive, The Handmaiden, Ghost World and Mad Max: Fury Road.