Chloe Gilke: 'Broad City' reminds us that Clinton is cool

Sunday, March 20, 2016 - 5:31pm

Somewhere in a closet in suburban Chicago, there’s a hole-punched dossier containing 13 years of my private history. Growing up, at the beginning of every school year I had the privilege of filling out the “about me” book my mom so presciently put together for my future perusal. The book documented what sports I pretended to like that year, what milestones I reached — what kind of little person I was becoming. If you were to flip through the book, you’d see 13 sets of the same questions scribbled on the record: Who are your best friends? What music do you like? Who do you want to be when you grow up? The last one, especially, had some embarrassing answers. In fourth grade, I thought “ice cream taste tester” would be a hilarious thing to put down. At age nine I wanted to be a “popstar,” a job that I think I’d excel at to this day. In kindergarten, I wrote that I wanted to be the first female President.

I knew who Hillary Clinton was at that point, because it was 1999 and she was all over the news. She was the news. Five-year-old Chloe knew that Hillary was the President’s wife, which was really cool, because she got to live in the White House and visit schools and wear pretty dresses. Hillary was also beginning a political career of her own, which I was vaguely aware of and found even more impressive than the dollhouse life she was leading in the wake of her husband’s fame. Hillary was the coolest person I’d heard of aside from my mom and Britney Spears, and I wanted to be just like her.

Somewhere, unwritten in the pages of my “about me” book, Hillary became uncool. As an ambitious woman, I’d always admired her career and sympathized with her stances, but as we both got older I gravitated toward supporting other political figures. In 2008 and 2012 I appreciated the inspiration Barack Obama brought to every TV debate, my state senator galvanizing the masses with unabashed calls for reform. A year or so ago I decided Bernie Sanders’s focus on environmental issues was imperative enough to get me to ignore other voices. Clinton spoke with solidity and experience, but I was secretly all about the flash and coolness factor Bernie always brought. What can I say? I was a weirdo millennial girl, and I liked my presidents how I like my popstars: punching with panache, the coolest people I’ve heard of aside from my mom and Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys.

Today, I pride myself on pragmatism and informed decisions. I may have flip-flopped on my preferences since last year, but my own political beliefs aren’t the point. I am a TV columnist, and I’m not here to convince you to support one Democratic candidate over another. This column is usually a space for me to show my readers what’s cool on TV and point them toward interesting discussions. Do you know who was really cool on TV last week, to my surprise and delight? Hillary Clinton.

Clinton’s public persona is built on steadiness and solidity. She is a Serious Candidate, the one many Republican voters are afraid of, all power suits and codified plans. But she’s also a little too solid and steady, according to her detractors, some of whom hold a candidate’s coolness in highest esteem. Can you picture Clinton smoking a joint, letting her hair get frizzy in the summer heat or letting out a cathartic yas kween? Is she passionate, does she yell at the podium and throw her hands around like she owns the air in the debate room? No. She stands tall, speaks her mind, delivers her message without adornment or coolness. When she does attempt youthful flair, as she did with her timely “may the force be with you” closing statement in the Dec. 19 debate, she is mocked for trying too hard to be down with the young people. Trying too hard isn’t cool.

When I first heard that Hillary Clinton would be guest starring on “Broad City,” I figured this move might be a genius fix to her perceived dearth of coolness. In 2014, “Broad City” debuted on Comedy Central to the highest ratings the network had ever seen with viewers aged 18-34. The show is still among the most relevant and beloved series on the air among people my age; nearly all my friends are fans of the show.

Prior to the Clinton episode of “Broad City” airing, star and co-creator Abbi Jacobson said at SXSW that the politician’s appearance was “not trying to make a statement.” “Broad City” is a TV sitcom, and it’s not here to convince you to support one Democratic candidate over another. But even if the statement the show is making isn’t overtly political, there’s still a statement to be made. Hillary Clinton is cool.

Clinton’s name doesn’t make an appearance in that “Broad City” episode until the last eight minutes of the episode, but as soon as her name is uttered, the episode shoots off into total nutso territory. When Ilana finds out she’s not just delivering a package to an office building, but Hillary Clinton’s campaign offices and that she could work here, Ilana loses her shit. The conveniently placed eagle poster behind her soars, a heavenly chorus sings and Ilana salutes the desk receptionist as her hair blows back.

Hillary Clinton is momentous, the very picture of American patriotism. She wins the admiration of Ilana, another ambitious child of the ’90s who grew up hearing Hillary’s name and thinking of female American badassery and honor. The camera cuts away from the close-up, the music cuts out and it turns out some interns are just moving the poster past Ilana’s head — but the statement has already been made. Ilana freaks out to the secretary with her signature weird diction: “Ilana Wexler and Hillary Clinton? Two powerful whemen wherking as whon?!”

Even if this whole episode has a surreal, dreamlike feel and there’s no possibility of Ilana and Hillary ruling the world together, the show draws a parallel between our favorite weed kween and the dignified woman campaigning to lead our country. Two powerful, cool women working as one.

In a later scene, Ilana and her new campaign co-workers list off all the demographics Clinton appeals to and her policies would benefit: a vote for Hillary is “a vote for the working class,” and she is the candidate who best represents people of color and LGBTQ voters. So obvious in its political stance, there’s no way this scene isn’t meant to be another moment of serendipitous surrealism. After all, this is the same episode where Abbi farts during a chiropractor visit and he kisses her on the forehead like a kind grandpa. Hillary is cool with being the butt of a joke or two, especially in her brief cameo scene at the end of the episode.

When Clinton finally appears, she walks out in slow motion, staring at the camera like a boss lady who doesn’t give a fuck about a male gaze. Abbi and Ilana shake their heads with mouths agape. Stop what you’re doing, it’s Hillary Clinton! Clinton winks, and there’s a ripple across the screen and some sparks go off behind her ear. Ilana can’t do anything aside from yell “YASSS.”

Of course, Clinton’s main TV experience is standing on a stage with cameras trained on her, keeping a rehearsed smile and planning everything she is going to say — it’s not surprising that her comedic performance is a little awkward. But “Broad City” downplays that by grounding her appearance in the kind of weirdness that viewers have come to expect from “Broad City,” the cool surrealism that draws young viewers like myself and my friends to this show like moths to a flame.

Hillary Clinton is no stranger to using celebrity to spotlight her campaign. There are countless photos, most of them heavily documented on my Twitter account, featuring Clinton standing with TV actresses like Anna Gunn and Padma Lakshmi and popstars like Britney Spears. But perhaps the coolest move of all is guest starring on a show that would put her face on every young person’s laptop screen and remind them that she’s not just a powerful whoman and a role model — Clinton can have fun and be weird.