Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Halfway through this episode, Drunk Andrea reveals the dark secret of therapy: “Daytime me is like, ‘This is a process, this takes time.’ But actually, it’s always the parents. Always. They fuck you up.” As bad as the bunker was for Kimmy — and it was pretty bad, considering she’s developed a coping mechanism in which she pretends she’s a cartoon princess — it’s becoming apparent that her life before it was no picnic, either. She doesn’t know who her dad is (“His name starts with an S or a five”), and being left alone too often by her mom was probably the reason she hopped into Reverend Wayne’s van in the first place.
Andrea encourages Kimmy to embrace her anger, rather than bottle it up inside. So she turns to Lillian, who’s still pissed off about the neighborhood gentrifying. But none of the stuff that gets Lillian mad (film shoots, people not picking up dog crap, loud talkers on cell phones) matters in the least to Kimmy. Her trigger is when Lillian gets frustrated and leaves, telling her, “You’re on your own.” Within a nanosecond, Kimmy is releasing a tidal wave of mother issues, screaming and knocking things down and calling Lillian a bitch.
The trouble with “Kimmy Goes to Her Happy Place!” is that it struggles to build tension, because it’s largely about the characters wanting to fix things that the audience can’t see (and in some cases, can never be seen, because they’re too far in the past). For Kimmy, that’s her mom. For Titus, it’s the fact that he never got to come out and never experiences the big drama of a rejection or the cheerful, clapping acceptance of Mikey’s family. And the monster only seen by Lillian is as much metaphor as joke, especially since everyone treats her like a kooky old lady who’s freaking out over nothing.
The characters address these big emotional wounds with equally big gestures. Kimmy torches her happy place with the help of animals that represent her bunker pals (including, poetically, a sheep for Gretchen), disemboweling a cartoon of the reverend and lighting his spine up like a firecracker. Titus, profiled in Mikey’s neighborhood, adapts his long-planned coming-out speech to be about racism instead, complete with Pictionary definitions substituted for dictionary definitions (a joke so subtly clever I missed it on the first viewing). And Lillian uses everyone’s perception of her as a mere little old lady to break into a condo construction site, where she promptly handcuffs herself to a piece of construction equipment and swallows the key.
Sitcoms often take their emotional arcs from the small victories that make our days better: doing something nice for someone else, becoming a slightly better friend, receiving a moment of acceptance from your family. But in this case, all of the victories are Pyrrhic. Kimmy being able to get what she needs from her mom, who didn’t even show her face when she was freed from the bunker, is about as unlikely as Lillian preventing the construction of a huge condo building or Titus being accepted by his family for being gay.
That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, but “Kimmy Goes to Her Happy Place!” falls into the all-too-common sitcom trap of not taking enough time to digest all that sadness. Instead, it goes really broad, with a lot of literal and figurative cartoonishness that minimizes these notably emotional moments. That may not seem like such a big deal for an ostensible comedy, but little touches make the difference between delivering jokes and actually winning viewers’ hearts. I’ve chatted with a lot of people who already binged this season of UKS, and they all seem to find it really funny — but they don’t connect to it like they did with 30 Rock. Consistently minimizing the characters’ sorrows is probably the reason why. (It doesn’t help that Jacqueline is the most vulnerable and emotionally open of the four leads, and she’s been M.I.A. for the past couple of episodes.)
On the upside, UKS is still dynamite as a joke-delivery device, and this episode will play particularly well with New Yorkers, particularly those old or savvy enough to recall the era when, as Lillian puts it, “We were giving Mayor Lindsay hell. And Mayor Lindsay was giving Florence Henderson crabs. And the Crabs were a street gang that threw live crabs at people.” (She also claims she looted everything she owns in the ‘77 blackout, and when she needed a new pair of shoes, she caused the ‘03 blackout.)
There’s also an above-average quotient of Easter eggs for eagle-eyed viewers, from the continuation of Kimmy’s blocked high-fives to the reappearances of Dyziplen (on Andrea’s T-shirt), biscotti, and Kimmy’s love of Richard Belzer. And for those who love Tina Fey’s weird fake words, a few more to add to your dictionary: “Poombasa” is Italian for grandmother” and “g’shnurp” now means “Pop Tart” because, as a hipster bakery employee explains, “both those words are gendered.”
- A very, very dark joke: I’m pretty sure Reverend Wayne’s search for a nursing college is a reference to Richard Speck, the mass murderer who killed eight student nurses in their dorm.
- Kimmy’s horror at learning her childhood crushes are all gay is deeply relatable: I also had a thing for David Hyde Pierce on Frasier, while my younger sister was all about Lance Bass at ‘N Sync’s height.
- On the heels of Dean Winters and Will Arnett doing Bunny & Kitty, Scott Adsit (a.k.a. Pete Hornberger) brings in yet another 30 Rock voice cameo as a talking snake. And that’s Lisa Kudrow as the neglectful fairy godmother.
- Two great twists on the done-to-death big Italian family trope: Mikey’s ancient grandma is actually a puppet (Titus: “Is that a person?” Mikey: “If it is, this could kill her”), and his mom’s cries to the Lord for help reveal that she’s actually a Satanist (“Satan, fill me with your seed!”)
- The funniest joke of the episode: Titus explaining that the only therapy he ever got was “a Christian summer camp that tried to make boys less ‘musical.’ [sings] It was a tooootal bangfest!”
- A close second: When Tina Fey derails a therapy session to go off on Tangled’s problem with brunettes. “When they cut her hair off, it turns brown and ‘loses its magic.’ What’s that all about?”