Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
There were a lot of revelations in last season’s finale. Kimmy found out she and Reverend Wayne Gary Wayne were actually married, Lillian decided to run for office, and Jacqueline and Russ plotted to rename the Washington Redskins. By comparison, this season premiere is fairly laid-back, gently reintroducing the characters with a hangout vibe. By this point, the writers know Kimmy, Titus, Jacqueline, and Lillian inside and out, and thanks to those luxurious Netflix run times, they’re often content just to let them stand around in a kitchen, spinning out joke after joke. Hell, even the garbage-bag stand-in for Titus gets off a few good lines.
Like last year’s premiere, “Kimmy Gets Divorced?!” sets up a season-long mystery: Why did Titus, who seemed to finally be getting his career off the ground as a cruise-ship singer, end up washing ashore on a beach with only one shoe? The answer will come later, but in the meantime, the shame of letting down Mikey is keeping Titus from telling him he’s come home. So he sets off on a quest to land a different plum acting gig: a regular role on Sesame Street. He even stoops to seeking help from his old rival, Sesame alum and “dollar-store Titus” Coriolanus Burt, who’s currently walking on his knees to play a blonde tot in the Wednesday matinee of Matilda.
Despite his congenital laziness, Titus manages to overcome the job’s potential downsides (“pretending to like children and endorsing sharing”) and weasels his way into an audition with a Sesame Street producer, Lonny Dufrene. He nails it, too — only to end up on the casting couch, being seduced by Dufrene’s Muppet alter-ego, Mr. Frumpus. That’s a classic bit of Fey/Carlock World absurdity, but it’s a testament to Tituss Burgess’s acting ability that he makes being sexually harassed by a puppet feel genuinely harrowing. He’s just as good at showing the genuine pathos when Titus, after determining to come clean with Mikey, instead spots him going home with another handsome guy and drawing the curtains.
Whatever Mikey’s up to, I’m certain it’s innocent. He’s just too much of a lovable lunkhead to be a cheater. But while most season premieres are about new beginnings, this one is definitely a breakup episode, concerned with endings. Most pertinently, Lillian decides to give the heave-ho to Fred Armisen’s Robert Durst, whose real-estate ties could hamper her political ambitions.
Much as I enjoy Armisen’s dashes of creepy absurdity, I think it’s for the best, as the gag might have been a little stale two years past The Jinx’s release. Surprisingly, though, Durst shows the emotional depth to recognize that he’s bad for Lillian. Dating him is just another means for her to live in the past, alongside fighting inevitable gentrification and wishing that Playboy still had nudity (“You have to draw the nipples on yourself!”) Of course, this is still Kimmy Schmidt, so he caps that bit of real talk by urinating on himself.
As for Kimmy, she’s prepared to similarly write off the Reverend, who’s regularly phoning her from jail, desperate to get her to sign divorce papers. Her mistake is seeking advice from Jacqueline, whose primary life skill is extracting concessions from soon-to-be ex-husbands. Though she has a hard time remembering why Kimmy is so mad at the Reverend in the first place, she still encourages her to make his life hell, dangling the prospect of signing the divorce papers only to snatch it away.
While the idea of Kimmy turning the tables is fun, the result ends up being a little bit of a drag compared to the other plotlines. With Jon Hamm literally phoning in his performance, there isn’t quite as much comic chemistry between him and Ellie Kemper, and the gag never really evolves.
The central problem: With her GED obtained, Kimmy needs to go to college, a place she once thought was reserved for “rich kids and only the very best clowns.” But to pay that tuition bill, she needs to take the Reverend for all the jet skis, jukeboxes, and secret underground bunkers he’s worth, which means she can’t really let go. As is always the case on Kimmy Schmidt, getting what you need to move forward means reengaging with the ugliness of the past, and sometimes getting trapped within it.
• This season was supposed to be delayed for Ellie Kemper’s pregnancy (and so Tina Fey and Jeff Richmond could write the Mean Girls musical), but they somehow managed to get it out just a month later than last year’s premiere. Females are strong as hell.
• The vintage Sesame Street segment with a young Coriolanus is an amazing look back at a simpler era of parenting. “Through the old rebar! Over the nails! Under the steamroller!”
• Amy Sedaris continues to steal the show every time she appears as Mimi Kanasis. In this episode, she strips naked, wears sushi, and her best line is when Kimmy gets divorce papers from “you-know-who”: “Nice try, I know that means Voldemort, and now I know that he’s single!”
• Titus still has a weird thing with teeth at auditions. “I love children! It’s not weird that their teeth get pushed out of their heads by other teeth.”
• I really appreciate this show’s commitment to using Yuko the robot whenever it can. This time around, she appears as Dufrene’s assistant.
• You heard it here first: “No one in New York uses pens anymore. Everyone just vapes each other now.”