The best and most empathetic shows treat their characters as one would a friend: with both tenderness and harshness when needed. Throughout January, three shows returned for new seasons that handle aging, weed, and loneliness with empathy and humor.
In the premiere episode of its final season, Broad City follows best buds Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) as they walk from the very top to the very bottom of Manhattan for Abbi's 30th birthday. The entire episode is seen through the women's Instagram stories, which capture their personalities in that specific way only social media can. The day involves their usual hijinks — falling down a manhole, vaping in a mall, knocking over a mannequin — until they reach a bittersweet end.
Turning 30 is a milestone and, especially for women, a random marker of where you should be in life regarding marriage and childbirth. While wreaking havoc in a mall, the women run into Abbi's friend from college, who was once a stoner but is now a stressed-out mom with four kids. The meeting reminds Abbi that she’s not where she thought she’d be this age. She wallows in the bathroom at brunch and gets in a fight in the park. But Abbi and Ilana have something her college friend doesn't — the freedom to run around the city all day, getting stoned, trying on Skechers, and watching a rainbow over the Statue of Liberty.
The barebones truth of the show is that Grace and Frankie are within reach of death, and that goes for the actors too. Fonda is 81, Tomlin is 79. Medicine gets more advanced every day, but it's safe to say that there’s not going to be a cast reunion on the cover of Entertainment Weekly in 20 years.
It can be hard to sell High Maintenance on description alone. The series catches intimate, detailed portraits of New Yorkers' lives, connected only by their nameless weed dealer, The Guy (Ben Sinclair). But even for those who don’t smoke, it cuts deep. Season three of the show (now on HBO, previously a Vimeo web series) opens in upstate New York, far from the city to which it's usually bound. A lonely cleaning woman, Cori (Erin Markey), becomes even lonelier upon the death of her friend and neighbor, an older man who opened his home to her. The wake is full of reminiscing, smoke, and older, jubilant hippies singing an off-key “Crimson and Clover.”
The Guy, camping out of his RV upstate, is also at the wake. He's been spending his time lying in a hammock and smoking on a paddleboard until he meets Lee (Britt Lower), who pays for strangers' gas and tells him indigo is the color of loneliness. It's not overtly said, but The Guy thinks about getting older. He knows he can't deliver weed on a bike for the rest of his life but doesn't know what else to do. He doesn't want to end up dead in a bathtub, found by a neighbor.
On screen, weed is usually a young man’s game. It’s for latchkey teens and slacker 20-somethings. But in these shows, as in real life, it proves as ageless as friendship. Aging is terrifying, if not for what might happen to you than for what might happen to those you care about. With aging comes the fear that one day your best friend will die, or move on in life, away from you. No one wants to go on all their stoned adventures alone for the rest of their life.