One of the best things about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (and indeed, all of the Fey-Carlock joints) is that it knows every trope in the book and works overtime to subvert them. “Kimmy Goes to Church!” is sort of a lark, not really advancing any of the major season story lines, but despite starting with a pair of fairly standard sitcom plotlines, it twists two or three times within each, hitting comfortable emotional places via unusual means. (It’s clearly a point of pride for the show, as evidenced by the fact that Titus developed “first thought, worst thought” as a symptom of scurvy a few episodes back.)
The story line that initially seems most cookie-cutter commences with Lillian, who’s been invited to meet Artie’s kids at Passover dinner. She asks Jacqueline if she can borrow some jewelry, but Jacqueline is so impressed with Lillian’s ability to land such a wealthy catch that she decides to give her a makeover, straightening her curls and taking her shopping for a designer outfit. (“Don’t you want to impress Artie’s children?” she asks. “You could be spending a lot of time with them in court after he dies.”)
A typical sitcom follow-through would have Lillian attending the dinner in her “monkey suit” — complete with heels made from an actual monkey — then making a fool of herself in front of Artie’s kids and ultimately embracing her own look. Instead, we never see the dinner and the script gets flipped: Jacqueline ends up in East Dogmouth trying on Lillian’s clothes, and finds that the make-under actually suits her. (After she trades in her Louboutins for combat boots, her mind is so clear that she finally gets the title of Face/Off. “It works on two levels, Lillian.”)
Forced to pick up Buckley from a fancy club in full Lillian garb, Jacqueline decides she’s over trying to impress her rich friends: She confesses that she’s actually from South Dakota, that Buckley “is clinically a spazzoid,” and that she was born in a hospital “that was technically part of a Sears.” She also manages to stick it to HBIC Deirdre Robespierre (Anna Camp, making a surprise reappearance after her big arc last season), who’s forced to one-up her honesty by confessing that she faked a robbery and shot herself. The trope of sticking it to snobs may be a familiar, satisfying one, but the path there is completely unexpected. It’s a Kimmy Schmidt specialty.
As a nonreligious “WHITE LADY!!” (to quote Titus’s malfunctioning Teddy Ruxpin), I’m not qualified to comment on the authenticity of Titus and Kimmy’s foray into the black church. But even the most committed heathens have probably experienced the likes of Miss Clara (Lizan Mitchell), a church busybody who immediately sets off alarm bells for Titus. “That woman’s a user, a gossip, and a snake in the grass,” he tells Kimmy, noting that women like Clara “use [the Bible] use this as an excuse to be as shady as they want to be.” Kimmy refuses to believe it — until she sees Miss Clara snarking on an overweight parishioner, slapping a teen in the head, and criticizing the church’s new female pastor, arguing that women should be silent.
But Miss Clara also turns out to have her good points: She’s eager to set Titus up with her nephew, a handsome but incompetent choir director named Reuben. (Given that homophobia is still a complicated issue for many black communities, as Insecure and Atlanta both explored last year, a televised gay relationship with roots in the black church is pretty thrilling in and of itself.) The episode embraces this complicated reality when Kimmy calls Clara out in front of the entire congregation, only to have Clara readily confess to being “a gossip and a scold,” and all of the other parishioners confess their sins as well. (The best one: “I cheated on m’diet. M’Diet’s my wife’s name.”)
Ultimately, Kimmy comes to the realization that religion is “about knowing we’re not perfect but trying to be better,” a moment that allows the show to retain its criticisms of religious hypocrisy while remaining big-hearted enough to embrace what church has to offer. For a lot of shows, it would be hard for such a complicated ending to produce such an uncomplicated sense of comfort, but this one always finds a way.
• Jacqueline and Lillian eat pudding while watching last season’s ultimate cop show, Bunny and Kitty. (I still get Jeff Richmond’s perfect theme song for it stuck in my head at random times, and based on the YouTube comments, I’m not alone.)
• A perfect summary of my church experiences from Kimmy and Titus: “She used the Bible to manipulate me. I mean, is that what all religion is?” “Basically. That and cut-up doughnuts. Don’t they know I can reassemble those doughnuts?”
• The little details are what really make this show. Check out Kimmy’s name tag at the church, which says “Hi, I’m Kimmy!” with a drawing of a flower. (Titus’s just says Titus.)
• Titus’s (fake) middle name is Apollonia, because of course it is. (FWIW, Apollonia’s real name is actually Patricia.)
• Some good political digs here: Jacqueline was humiliated on a first date with 15-year-old Eric Trump, and “hasn’t seen Deirdre since [her husband] was named transportation secretary.” And Kimmy is impressed by a female pastor: “Wow, women really can be anything … except president or late-night hosts.”
• According to Deirdre, there’s a bunch of Yuko robot uprisings happening. Please let this be incorporated into the plot somehow.