Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I’ve never understood why so many people who adore 30 Rock have given the cold shoulder to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which feels in every way like the evolution of 30 Rock’s sensibility: more and snappier jokes, more space for a wide range of great guest stars to do their thing, and significantly more biting social satire. Yet I know many devout 30 Rock fans who can’t stand Kimmy and her crew.
My guess is that it has something to do with the show’s narrative restlessness. Unlike Liz, Jack, and the gang, who have to show up at the office every week for their relationships to continue, the UKS foursome are more like a family, able to atomize and reconfigure several times a season to fit different narrative needs. I’m certain this is by design, but the trade-off makes for a less comforting show, one that reflects the relentlessness and precariousness of real life. I can understand why that isn’t many folks’ cup of tea, but those skeptics are missing out on Kimmy Schmidt’s capacity to surprise, something it showcases really well in this fun, fast-moving finale.
For example, Kimmy is obviously not qualified to be a Columbia student, but a lesser show wouldn’t have taken the leap of flunking her out of school. It certainly wouldn’t have done so in the first ten minutes, then devoted the rest of the plotline to her hidden genius as a crossing guard — only to yank that option away from her, too. I figured Kimmy’s decision to stay married to the Reverend to protect Wendy would come back to bite her eventually, but I was impressed at the finesse with which the show seeded all these story lines in little throwaway gags and jokes, only to have everything come together in the end.
Case in point: “Boobs in California” has slowly bubbled up through the course of the season, leading to the big reveal that Titus is now a peacock-owning $15,000-aire. (Frankly, Jeff Richmond is a little too good at writing fake hits, as I have not been able to extract this song from my skull for days.) Another case in point: Jacqueline’s decision to become a talent agent, which suddenly becomes clear as a season-long arc when you think back on how skillfully she navigated the NFL owners’ meeting and her sit-down with Andy Cohen.
But all these narrative shifts wouldn’t be possible without grounded, well-developed characters and great actors to play them, something that’s equally on display here. Kimmy’s anecdote about eating Vidalia onions with her mom is as heartbreaking a scene as Ellie Kemper has ever done, a reminder of the real sense of loss behind her character’s irrepressibility. Tituss Burgess has nailed every scene in the Mikey breakup plotline, and his climactic speech to try to win him back is no exception — even more so because it totally fails, and Mikey is still with his finance-bro boyfriend. Jane Krakowski has finely calibrated an increasing earnestness in Jacqueline’s character, making her slightly less world-weary (and slightly more like Kimmy, actually) as the season has gone on. And of course, Carol Kane is a total delight, though she gets short shrift in this finale. I care about her breakup with Artie more than anything, but I guess we’ll have to wait until next season to see how she and her hammer/bus pass achieved a resolution.
To that end, Kimmy Schmidt’s narrative ambition can sometimes be its downfall in building an immersive-feeling world. This finale doesn’t offer any resolution of the romance between Kimmy and Perry, and some characters’ arcs don’t conclude cleanly. (I would have loved to witness Xan’s delight in Kimmy being yanked from campus.) But the level of cleverness is so dazzling at times that you can almost forgive the writers for their short attention spans. What other show would conceive of a John Henry–style showdown between its protagonist and a robot crossing guard, complete with its own bouncy country tune?
I’m also delighted that the barely simmering thread of the ARG Nom Nom game paid off, with Kimmy’s nerdy classmate Zach deciding to hire her as the office manager of his fast-growing startup. Perhaps autism-spectrum advocates will take issue with him, but Zach struck me as a fairly sensible and likable character, and the jokes didn’t seem overly at his expense. As a tech worker myself, I can confirm that the industry is stuffed to the gills with Zachs (I even know one who owns a DeLorean), as well as the emotionally intelligent Kimmys whom they hire to bridge the gap. I can’t wait to see Kimmy Schmidt turn its barbs on a brand-new sphere of pompousness and wealth next season. Everybody into the ball pit!
• Loved the running gag about Lillian telling cooking sherry and rubbing alcohol that they can’t tell her how to drink them, only to end up with Kimmy on the stoop sipping a pint of Drinking Alcohol.
• Titus understands me on a spiritual level: “Quitting can be the answer! Heroin, cigarettes, a jigsaw puzzle — you already got the picture on the box, bitch!”
• Always great to see Jim Gaffigan, especially in the context of the very deep-cut joke that Taye Diggs follows everyone on social media.
• The sick burns on Tina Fey’s former employer are always the best. “Did you know the seventh hour of [the Today show] is just a sign-up sheet?”
• You just know the writers had a semi-productive afternoon spent coming up with dog-college puns. “Marma-Duke” was my favorite.
• I would absolutely pay hard cash for a Back to the Future reboot with Carol Kane as Doc Brown. Make this happen, Hollywood.