One of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s best and worst qualities is that it doesn’t wait around to move a plotline forward. A typical sitcom might have reintroduced Xanthippe (whom we haven’t seen since early in season two) in one episode, shown her conflict with her roommates (and discovery of Kimmy’s surprise rowing talent) in the next, and spent a third on her rebellion against her family and Kimmy gaining admission to Columbia. On this show, it all happens in the space of about 15 minutes.
I could care less about the realism aspect — it’s meant to be a big, goofy cartoon — but episodes this convoluted can be a heavy lift in terms of viewers’ attention spans. I’m watching this show professionally, and still sometimes have trouble staying on top of Kimmy’s motivations and the ever-changing plot. For a cheerful comedy, Kimmy Schmidt can sometimes feel less relaxing than relentless, terrified of lingering on any emotion for too long — like Kimmy herself, I suppose.
To their credit, the writers recognize that the plot of “Kimmy Goes to College!” is singularly convoluted, opting to keep it simple with both Titus and Lillian’s story lines. (Jacqueline doesn’t appear at all, in keeping with the show’s frequent choice to background or rotate out one character per episode.) In fact, Lillian’s entire plotline takes place in a single room, where, like generations of reformist politicians before her, she embarks on an endless filibuster after failing to negotiate her legislative agenda.
Her opponent, played by Peter Riegert (best known as Boon in Animal House), is actually pretty similar to her. They’re both born-and-bred New Yorkers, but the difference is that he struck it rich with a Whole Foods–like grocery store, Big Naturals, and now wants to open one in the neighborhood. (Lillian: “We already have a Big Naturals here in East Dogmouth. It’s not a supermarket, but they do serve wings.”) Even though the plotline doesn’t really go anywhere (both literally and figuratively), Carol Kane is so funny that she can carry it effortlessly. She and Riegert have great comic chemistry, too, even in little throwaway lines like when he orders a gluten-free Hawaiian pizza and she tells him that it’s stupid.
They’re just as adorable giving advice on speakerphone to Titus, who’s on a terrifying TaskRabbit assignment to sing backup vocals for conspiracy-theorist musician Gordy (a nearly unrecognizable Judah Friedlander, who’s gained some hair and lost some weight since his 30 Rock days). The funny part is that singing lines like, “Milk has an expiration date, we should do that with the elderly,” “Fluoride makes children gay,” and “the CIA invented AIDS to sell quilts” don’t bother him at all. The song that does, though, is Gordy’s magnum opus, a vapid and insanely catchy tune about the superiority of the, er, big naturals in California. (By the grace of God and Jeff Richmond, we even get a music video, with a dog driving Gordy and Titus in a green-screen convertible.) The good/bad news for Titus: He’s about to be big in Japan.
Meanwhile, I’ve always been very fond of Xanthippe, both because Dylan Gelula is really skilled at showcasing the vulnerability underneath Xan’s affected bitchiness, and because she and Ellie Kemper have a terrific comic interplay. After trundling her off to Connecticut for most of last season, this episode is a really clever reintroduction: Xan has landed a seat at the family alma mater, but is unable to make friends because of her unimaginable privilege.
Xan is never better than when she’s vulnerable and aggrieved, and Kimmy joining the crew team with her social-justice-minded roommates, who hate Xan on principle, is a perfect setup for the rest of the season. (The jokes mocking their political correctness, like not saying “crazy fast” for fear of offending “the mentally ill or the physically not-fast,” are less brilliant, but I’ve just accepted that this show will come with an annual dose of Fey, Carlock & Co. inveighing against call-out culture. At least it’s relatively bland and harmless this time around.) Kimmy being happy and Xan being unhappy makes me happier than anything. I look forward to enrolling in Schadenfreude 101 for the rest of the season.
• I know I said it already, but Carol Kane is so great in this episode. I especially liked the bit where she and Kimmy fight over Kimmy bringing her Sleepytime Tea to stay awake: “It had a bear on the box, and nothing’s stronger than a bear!” “What was the bear wearing? WHAT WAS IT WEARING, KIMMY?!” “People clothes! I’m telling you, this bear killed someone and took over its life!”
• I enjoy that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” being about date rape is now such a meme that this show can get a joke out of Lillian and Artie noting that it’s actually about false imprisonment.
• In addition to Friedlander, this episode has an appearance by another 30 Rock alum: former writer Tami Sagher, who’s very funny in a small role as Xan’s sex-obsessed RA.
• Two more great jokes for New Yorkers: Kimmy getting TaskRabbited to blow up an inflatable union rat, and Titus dismissing zoos: “If I wanted to see a bunch of naked animals, I’d watch The Robin Byrd Show!”
• I also appreciated Titus’s meditation on the life-changing nature of the 1-800-Cars-4-Kids jingle: “Before I saw that commercial, I wanted to donate a car to kids. But that song changed my mind.”
• Xan and Kimmy’s relationship, in two perfect lines: “I would die to come [to Columbia].” “Stop cheering me up by saying you’ll die.”