Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has a weird relationship with modern technology. On the one hand, it’s one of the rare shows on TV that showcases the digital lives of the not so well-off, from hacking it out in the gig economy — Kimmy has been both an Uber driver and a TaskRabbit — to being forced to use the internet at the library. On the other, it’s missed a lot of opportunities to explore how a woman who was cut off from society in the AOL era navigates a sudden transition to the smartphone era. It makes sense for Lillian and Titus to be Luddites, but Kimmy’s relationship with technology turns off and on with plot convenience.
How can someone with the technological sophistication to use TaskRabbit never conceive of the possibility of Googling themselves? How can someone who binges “animals being friends” videos on YouTube have no conception of viral fame? I assume the answer here is naivete, but one of the whole points of this show is that naïveté shouldn’t be conflated with stupidity. And yet this episode presents Kimmy reckoning for the first time with the consequences of having been a national news story, two years after it actually happened to her.
The issue is touched off after Kimmy, who’s been racking up “gentleman’s C’s” on her Columbia papers (“Pick up the cat and put on flip-flops, ’cause this glass ceiling just got shattered!”) gets invited to her philosophy professor’s home for dinner. (The professor and her wife are played by Rachel Dratch and … Rachel Dratch, in inimitable Rachel Dratch style.) Along with fellow dinner guest Perry, Kimmy quickly realizes that it’s a Dinner for Schmucks situation — and that discussing her mole-woman past is the price of admission. She’s even further mortified after learning that Perry already knows the whole story. “You think it’s an accident that ‘Google’ is just ‘Go ogle’ without the space?” he asks.
Until this point, the story line pays off: It is devastating to be asked to perform your trauma for someone’s dinner entertainment — something that happens surprisingly often — or to not get to reveal your own history to a potential boyfriend. At the same time, the fact that Kimmy has never considered this before, despite Titus, Gretchen, and others in her life repeatedly going viral, stretches the bounds of plausibility. The end result is a middling dark night of the soul that mostly seems to be a means of squeaking in an appearance from Tina Fey’s alcoholic psychiatrist Andrea, who’s lost her license and is working at a piercing stand in a New Jersey mall. (She probably deserves to stay there, given that her advice to Kimmy is equally bland, if delivered in her inimitable style: “To quote Elsa, ‘Let it go!’ … Elsa is my boyfriend’s wife. I grabbed her hair at a high-school basketball game.”) Kimmy, at least, seems to understand the diminishing returns of narcissism. Rather than continue to wallow, she shows up at Perry’s Flocabulary take on Plato, and puts herself on the line to prevent him from being the victim of more viral misery when his emcee skills aren’t up to par.
Meanwhile, Titus and Jacqueline are both somehow rewarded for being self-absorbed jerks. For Titus, that means cooling off significantly on Reuben after he discovers that he has a 1-year-old daughter, whose name is, inexplicably, Linda. Titus’s refusal to believe that a baby can be named Linda is the kind of deeply weird tempest-in-a-teapot plotline this show excels at, particularly when he interviews a panel of Lindas who work in HR (led by the great Andrea Martin, whose sitcom resurgence I couldn’t be happier about). Still, the action of the episode feels disconnected from the emotional payoff, in which Titus confronts the fact that he just doesn’t like Reuben (or kids) all that much. We already knew Titus and Reuben were never meant to be, but Reuben feels like a flat noncharacter who didn’t get much of a personality before being snuffed out.
That dynamic plays out even harder with Jacqueline, who’s trying to confront the fact that a post-“smooshing” Russ may be a complete mess, requiring long-term care. To cope, she tries to practice her Florence Nightingale skills on Mimi Kanassis, who’s suffering the effects of botched butt implants, but predictably ends up breaking down after just a few hours of nursing duty. Were it not for the ministrations of a kind nurse (Becky Ann Baker, another great actress who is having a well-deserved career bounce), she’d likely have ditched Russ in his hospital bed altogether. Instead, she’s rewarded with the ridiculous revelation that he’s been magically transformed into a stone-cold hottie.
I enjoy that Jacqueline is mostly a terrible person — and I’m not offended if good things happen to her despite that. But if Kimmy Schmidt did this plotline with the genders reversed, it would get completely trashed (and rightly so). It’s fine if David Cross needed to be replaced, but this hotness-equates-to-virtue trope can take a hike. It’s not clever or original, and in what should be a cardinal sin for this show, it isn’t even funny.
• Kimmy’s strategy of fighting virality with virality is dead-on. I used to work for a company that would bury negative search results for clients by creating a host of new, fake ones. It almost always worked.
• Speaking of virality, Russ’ surgery offers a great callback to one of Titus’ best moments: “The doctors had to rearrange his ossa exterior — outside bones, or teeth.”
• Blink and you’ll miss it jokes: Kimmy’s bad grade came on a paper titled The Problem of Evil: When My Roommate Eats My Dinosaur-Shaped Chicken Nuggets, and Russ is hospitalized at “Hospitaliano: When you’re here, your family … is very concerned.”
• Titus really gets my whole attitude toward babies: “I’m always happy to meet someone who won’t remember me.”
• This whole episode is a pretty remarkable showcase for comic actresses over 40: Fey, Dratch, Baker, Amy Sedaris. But I have to give it to Carol P.’s sotto voce “You’ll never make it” to a colleague on Whole30, a throwaway line that Andrea Martin turned into one of those laughing-so-hard-I-had-to-hit-pause moments.