Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
For a show about three non-parents and one incredibly neglectful one, Kimmy Schmidt has a lot to say about parenting. We’ve already seen Jacqueline accept some responsibility for raising Buckley, as well as Andrea encouraging Kimmy to reckon with her mother issues, a plotline that will undoubtedly ratchet up as the season comes to a close. “Kimmy Meets a Celebrity!” is especially keen about exploring the sacrifices people make for their children, which provides an unusual amount of emotional heft, given these “children” are a random teen, a wayward mole woman, and an entire neighborhood.
At this point, it’s clear that Kimmy was the de facto mom of the bunker. Donna Maria may have been the oldest, but she was apparently too busy working on her gender-bending Spanish insult comedy to fill the role. Just as Kimmy felt obligated to set Gretchen on the right path (even if it involved leading a cult with plastic bags for shoes), she feels the same obligation towards Cyndee, who’s still gung-ho on marrying the obviously gay Brandon, and even wants to bring kids into the equation. (“Gay guys can have babies! I saw it at the airport. They just come out Chinese!”)
But because they’re mole women, Kimmy ends up having to navigate her Cyndee dilemma through the conduit of a Dr. Phil-meets-Dr. Drew talk show called Dr. Dave (played by Jeff Goldblum, delivering maximum Goldblum smarm). Kimmy, who’s shied away from the limelight, is understandably aghast to see Cyndee paraded around as a Superstar of Tragedy alongside a pair of formerly crotch-conjoined twins and a Sea World trainer who was eaten alive by an orca.
“Kimmy Meets a Celebrity!” doesn’t have much new to say about pop-therapy shows — it’s no surprise that Dr. Dave is prone to product placement, and fools Kimmy into appearing on air to bolster his ratings. But the premise does introduce a previously unknown aspect Kimmy’s trauma: Despite all those horrible years in the bunker, she’s never actually cried.
The show has been very savvy about taking Kimmy through her Kubler-Ross stages of grief — signing up with Andrea was snapping out of denial, and the previous episode taught her to embrace her anger (which she’s still doing, as far as Cyndee is concerned). Now she’s bargaining in an attempt to keep Cyndee in her life, except she’s screwed either way: If Cyndee marries Brandon, Kimmy loses, but if she ruins their wedding, she’ll ruin her friendship anyway. And so Kimmy lets loose with the tears and starts to slide into the grief phase, causing Cyndee to realize that she needs to call off her sham marriage.
Although Ellie Kemper nailed the emotional arc as usual, I didn’t really buy Cyndee’s turnaround — Kimmy’s first post-bunker tears may have moved her, but it’s hard to believe they would have sliced through such a deep level of denial. Nonetheless, I loved seeing UKS continue to confront the fact that Kimmy’s trauma is a process of realizations and growth, not a problem to be solved. It feels more authentic, and more respectful to her character.
Titus is also reckoning with some unwanted authenticity — in his case, growing out his hair in order to make $20 in a drug trial. The “Pentecostal elder” look leads him to cross paths with a random teen named Tyler (Niles Fitch), who asks Titus to buy him tickets to an R-rated movie so he can take a girl on a date. Initially lured by the promise of Tyler’s dad’s credit card, Titus quickly ends up serving as the boy’s de facto dad, offering him important tips on women (“They hate trying on jeans, the word ‘moist,’ and sitting at the table under the vent”) and on making the first move (“Put your mouth on her mouth” — a classic 30 Rock gag — “like The Human Centipede’s Dr. Heiter puts mouths on butts.”)
After a day spent with Tyler, not to mention his ongoing relationship with Mikey, Titus is actually excited about maybe having a kid — though it’s because he thinks a kid would pay attention to him and gratify his ego. I appreciated the reversal that Tyler eventually finds Titus to be just as lousy as his real dad, based on a realistic, kid-like rationale: The girl doesn’t actually have feelings for him, and instead of blaming her, he blames Titus for giving him bad advice. (As with Xan, whom I’ve been missing this season, Tyler walks that authentically teen line between good-hearted kid and emotional tornado. This show deserves big kudos for never turning its younger characters into one-sided clichés.)
The Tyler debacle leads to a great conversation between Titus and Lillian, who drops a notable wisdom bomb: “I take care of [this neighborhood], I protect it, I’d do anything for it … but I was stupid to think I’d get anything back. Kids are selfish, and they take you for granted, and you love ‘em anyway. That’s what parenting is all about. You give, and you give, and you end up cold, hungry, and handcuffed to a bulldozer.” In Lillian’s case, that’s literally true: None of her neighbors care about her protest, not even Pizza Rat (“I introduced your parents!”) or Meth-Head Charlie (full name: Methadone H. Charles). Like Kimmy, she’s realized that an important part of loving someone is letting them make their own mistakes. Parenting offers no more important lesson.
- I live for the recurring gag that anyone who speaks French is actually speaking French-sounding nonsense. In this case, Cyndee is convinced she learned French after going to college in a dream, and has a full conversation with Titus.
- Cyndee got to see the Backstreet Boys reunite. “Did you know they’re all the old one now?”
- A nice burn on Gwyneth Paltrow: Dr. Dave calls Billy Joel “William,” just like she does.
- Kimmy ruins pop culture, Back to the Future edition: “Why is Doc Brown asking a 16-year-old boy to meet him alone in an empty parking lot with a video camera?”
- Goldblum’s best line reading comes just after Kimmy and Cyndee have their big realization: “Ladies and gentlemen … this is why I went to pharmacy school!” I also liked the motto of Oh Snap! Possum Traps: “When you hear the snap, you know you have a possum to bury.”
- Is it weird that I think Titus’s straw trick for distributing popcorn butter is kind of genius? Minus the subsequent sipping of butter from the bag bottom, of course.
- Another typically great Fey-Carlock meta-joke, from Cyndee: “I have to cut the ribbon at the grand opening of a new ribbon store. But how will I know when to stop cutting?”