It’s easy to love Kimmy Schmidt, but it’s sometimes hard to love Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The comedy’s second season premiered early this morning on Netflix – all 13 episodes, ready for binge-viewing – and the first six episodes are as madcap and joke-packed as ever. But Tina Fey and Robert Carlock still haven’t fixed some of the first season’s distracting problems.
When Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is good, it’s fantastic. It’s a nonstop half-hour of ridiculous jokes flying at you: jokes about Kimmy’s innocence and naïveté, jokes about the absurdity of living in New York City, jokes about Titus’s dramatics and Lillian’s weirdness, meta-jokes about Jon Hamm, predictably easy jokes (yep, we’re still joking about the Kardashians), and so on. It’s the perfect continuation of 30 Rock’s biggest philosophy: If you don’t laugh at one joke, wait two seconds until the next one. In its second season, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t pause; laugh too loud and you’re bound to miss a handful of jokes. The series has loads of fun with unsuspecting turns, wordplay, and a twist on what you’re expecting. When Titus’ closet collapses, he explains, “Much like Icarus – a friend of mine who once put too much stuff in his closet – I put too much stuff in my closet.” It’s this seemingly simplistic but actually clever humor that works best in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
The other strongest aspect of the second season is the series narrowed focus on side characters. Understandably, the first season had to dedicate all of its time to Kimmy as she readjusted to the world – a new world – outside of the bunker while also facing the unknown specific trauma that occurred while locked up. Watching her transformation was fascinating and funny, but all the glimpses we got of side characters left us wanting more. Fortunately, this season gives almost all of these characters meatier plots (even one of Kimmy’s fellow bunkers gets a whole episode in “Kimmy Kidnaps Gretchen!”) – even if they’re a little behind the times.
For example, Lillian, a native New Yorker, is facing the problem of gentrification in her neighborhood. While this is clearly an ongoing hot button issue (and one that the series treats with great humor), it can’t help but feel a little stale. Some of it, such as a sign advertising that “9 banks” are coming soon, are inspired but most of them rely on boring “hipster” tropes. Girls’ Zosia Mamet even plays one-half of a hipster couple whose intentions are to turn a neighborhood staple into a trendy spot. The jokes there – Mamet’s character and her boyfriend dress like weirdos and are dying to be part of something cool – are so familiar that we could recite the punchlines in our sleep. Still, it’s nice to see a bit more of eccentric weirdo Lillian.
Titus, the breakout character from the first season, also gets some pretty juicy storylines. The most wonderful one being a budding romance with a recently-out construction worker Mikey (returning from season one, in a great bit of continuity). The storyline is treated both humorously and delicately, with Titus coming to terms with his relationship issues – namely trying to move on from lonely one-night stands to a full-fledged relationship with someone who is his polar opposite (Mikey eats on dates!) – bringing his character a bit more down to earth. (But make no mistake: Titus is still great, particularly in an episode where he speaks almost entirely in song.)
The occasional one-dimensional character or lazy jokes can be forgiven but the real problem in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt remains Jacqueline’s terrible Native American plot. The season premiere largely involves Jacqueline back home with her Native American family, a mess of cringe-worthy stereotypes. The show would’ve been smart to just drop that plot entirely, not just because of the Internet backlash but because it’s simply unfunny, but instead it doubles down on it – in predictable Tina Fey fashion. (Though it’s worth mentioning that Fey doesn’t pen the episode.) Not only does the series insist on bringing up Jacqueline’s heritage (it’s her main motivator for being back in Manhattan) but there is an entire episode that is a direct response to critic and viewers’ complaints about the weirdness of a white actress playing Native American and the icky cultural appropriation. In “Kimmy Goes to a Play!,” Titus decides to do a one-man play about his life. Not his current life, unfortunately, but a past life in which he was a Japanese geisha. This leads to internet backlash from an Asian-American group who finds the play offensive. But instead of giving them any credence, they’re mostly portrayed as people who are outraged for the sake of outrage instead of people who have legitimate concerns. It’s the worst of the first six episodes and too mean-spirited to fit in with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s general tone.
Thankfully, the series does get back on track after that; episode 6, “Kimmy Drives a Car!” is the most reminiscent of 30 Rock’s truly weird and infectious humor. Hopefully Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt will follow its lead character’s example: be open to learning and strive to be something better.