Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I’ll say this for Tina Fey: She doesn’t scare easily. After getting taken to the cleaners by the internet for Jacqueline’s Native American story line in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s first season, Fey and Robert Carlock doubled down last year with an out-of-touch takedown of cultural appropriation via Tituss’s one-man show as his geisha alter ego, Murasaki. With this episode, in which Kimmy tries to navigate the PC politesse of being a modern Ivy League undergrad, they go for the hot-take hat trick.
Your appetite for this type of humor will likely decline inversely with your age. I’m in my early 30s, more or less the exact midpoint between Fey and a modern college student, and I found Kimmy’s interactions with her woke pals to be roughly a third trenchant and hilarious (“[Painful high heels] are so your butt looks good … for you”), a third laughing-through-gritted-teeth (“I look like a hooker!” “They’re called sex workers, and they’re heroes”), and a third get-off-my-lawn crap (cute “woke” guy Austin calling his mom and sobbing after Kimmy rejects him).
As with last season’s episode, what frustrates me most about “Kimmy Is a Feminist!” is that Fey and Co. are too busy thumbing their noses at the youths to actually take time to understand — and properly satirize — them. Austin advancing on Kimmy with a consent form could have been a perfect opportunity to target how performative Matt McGorry types use feminism as a different form of pick-up artistry. And I’d have loved to see Perry, a first-generation student of color whose sensibilities Kimmy’s friends are working overtime to protect, clap back at some of their hypocrisies. (He’s initially mad that Kimmy got in on a full scholarship for basically no reason, and rightly so.)
Instead, the episode goes for the easy out, literally dismissing all the Columbia kids as babies sucking on (beer) bottles. It’s the old “street smart” saw: They may be able to quote Simone de Beauvoir, but they’re still far too immature to understand how the real world works, and they’ll snap out of it eventually. Aside from being plain old untrue — anyone who doesn’t recognize that we’re in a massive cultural shift is kidding themselves — it’s the kind of parody that doesn’t engage with the substance of people’s views, just their appearance. Ironically, it’s the exact same kind of easy judgment that Fey and her crew deplore so much when it comes from the mouths of social-justice warriors.
Meanwhile, Jacqueline is dealing with her own sexual politics, as her attempts to keep Russ’s brother Duke on the hook without actually cheating end up embroiling Tituss and Lillian. The result is a deeply weird and outright kinky riff on a classic farce, sort of like a Frasier episode directed by Pedro Almodóvar.
Tituss Burgess, who’s been on fire this season, turns in another particularly good performance here, pretending to be Jacqueline’s gay bestie Flouncey McGoo and then trying to hide his flamboyance by playing it straight when he gets “found out” by Duke. Both Burgess and Jane Krakowski do a nice job of playing attempts at subterfuge against their extreme horniness, even in some very odd sexually charged scenes like Duke doing a body shot off Jacqueline with chocolate-milk powder and an onion.
With the help of Lillian (portraying questionably “Italian” neighbor Isabellica Delmonico), Jacqueline eventually devises a plan: Drug Duke, convince him they’ve had sex so she can continue to win his favor, and tape the whole thing on her iPad so she can prove to Russ they didn’t. Unfortunately, Duke is a little too savvy and figures it out after he wakes up. But in a great twist, Tituss’s straight alter ego actually saves the day. Having been a closeted football player in his high-school years, he’s able to get Duke to confess on-camera that he’d never let his kids play football because of the concussion risk. Just like that, Jacqueline has the leverage she needs to get to the NFL owners’ meeting.
Sadly, things don’t seem to be going quite as well for Perry and Kimmy. After bonding while Perry drives the school shuttle bus, he reveals that he wants to be a reverend, and the “fight” in Kimmy’s fight-or-flight kicks in. It’s a classic Kimmy Schmidt reversal: No matter where you go, trauma is there, always finding new ways to manifest itself. When it comes to the continued fallout from that first-season backlash, maybe the show could take a page from Kimmy’s own book and learn to let it go.
• Best joke of the episode: When advised by her teammates to “ghost” Perry, Kimmy says, “Whooooooo … get out of my amusement park!”
• I like the reason Tituss got in trouble: He bought fruit-flavored edible undies and lube to keep his vitamin C levels up. (Get your mind out of the gutter, the lube was “to dip bread in.”)
• Carol Kane also has a really great little moment at the Grim Dollar Store when she starts lovingly cuddling a teddy bear, and Tituss throws it in their basket.
• Interesting revelation that Russ and Jacqueline have never had sex. I know I’m supposed to believe that Jacqueline actually adores Russ now, but there are a lot of mixed messages here.
• I require a GIF of “Isabellica” saying, “I work in finance, producing nothing, destroying everything, God I suck!”
• Kimmy: “Like Phylicia Rashad said on that poster at my middle school, the only drug you need is reading.” Perry: “She came to my school once. She said we were hopeless.”