New York is often touted as Neverland, a place where anyone can go to avoid marriage, babies, and all the other signifiers of growing up. But even though there are quite a few marriages and at least one child among Kimmy Schmidt’s four main characters, they’ve still been able to use the city to remain forever young and stupid — even 60-something Lillian, who’s managed to age in amber in a neighborhood that lets her live out her most selfish impulses. When all four of them are released on an unsuspecting middle-school drama department, it’s no surprise that they quickly go native.
After cheerfully destroying Daniel Patrick Moynihan Pubic [sic] School’s “Choices Matter” presentation, Titus lands in the director’s chair for its off-brand “Beaudy an’ the Beest” adaptation conceived by the School Soda Trickery Council. (Sample lyric: “Why will you not obey me / Like you obey your thirst / Spriiiiiite!”) Regretting his own missed theater years as a closeted football player, Titus is delighted when his Beast drops out to join the wrestling team, and quickly convinces the kids to let him take over the part.
The only obstacle: an angelic-voiced student named Hudson who’s basically the ghost of Titus past. (The young actor, Juwan Crawley, really sells what’s essentially a sass-free Tituss Burgess impersonation, complete with a sweet falsetto voice.) It’s clear the part should be Hudson’s, but Titus refuses to let go of the chance to reclaim his childhood, even if it means ruining someone else’s in the process.
“What is wrong with the men in this country?” Kimmy groans when she finds out about Titus’s deception. She’s got a right: Even though he limits Kimmy’s complaining to the length of a tiny sandglass timer, Titus is one of the good ones in comparison to Fran Dodd, the men’s rights activist we last saw commiserating with the Reverend and DJ Fingablast in “Party Monster.”
Kimmy seeks Fran out to set the record straight about the documentary, only to find that Fran is corrupted through and through with hatred for women, because the ones he hits on at work won’t go out with him. (Kimmy points out that he works at a wedding-dress store, but he’s undeterred: “I also hit on their moms!”) Fran thinks the bunker is a return to traditional values of “nuclear families, straight marriages, and white quarterbacks”; Kimmy responds appropriately by kicking his ass.
The encounter with Fran leads Kimmy to the depressing conclusion that men like him are beyond changing, and she needs to work with boys and their “squishy unformed brains” before they’re poisoned for good. But Titus’s play, with its scenes of women being imprisoned, isn’t exactly a “message” piece, unless the message is “drink Vanilla Coke.” Hudson tells Kimmy not to worry, because the Beast is a good guy in the end, but she disagrees: “What’s the message here? Take a girl prisoner, tell her what clothes to wear, then she’ll fall in love with you because you didn’t straight-up eat her?… Kiss girls while they’re sleeping? Climb their hair whenever you want? Bust into ladies’ houses and steal a shoe? I always knew this fairy-tale stuff was lousy for girls, but it stinks on ice for boys, too.”
Kimmy’s right, of course, and Titus, who grew up where theater was considered gay by the state Board of Education, is the perfect example of how patriarchy hurts men as much or more than women. But the episode struggles a bit in connecting these dots via plot, mostly relegating them to a didactic final onstage speech. (For all its potshots at clichéd lines and story lines, Kimmy Schmidt sure does love a big, climactic, applause-getting final speech.)
Still, it’s hard to complain about that plot getting trimmed to make room for Lillian and Jacqueline’s ticket-scalping caper, which might be one of the funniest story lines the show’s ever done. Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski haven’t gotten to work together much, especially on the same side of a fight, and the writers’ attempt to remedy that this season has been been a real highlight. I especially loved the scene in which the pair try to fleece the school’s PTA meeting, with Lillian telling off a roomful of hostile parents with a perfect Sicilian-style hand-under-chin “fuck you” gesture. As she predicts, she gets the last laugh, and it’s hard not to enjoy her victorious cackle as she dances across the stage to close out the episode.
What I love about this show (and what I’m sure some people hate about it) is that, like the city its characters live in, it’s relatively indifferent to learning and growth. Kimmy and Titus might have important realizations, but the sweetness is balanced by Jacqueline and Lillian just getting to enjoy their self-delusion, $15,000 richer on the backs of a bunch of other people who are deluding themselves, too. Maybe Titus has it right: “Kids are so much smarter than adults anyway. When’s the last time a kid had to resign from Congress after killing his mistress?”
• Random House is courting Kimmy to write a book, since Cyndee’s memoir Cindy Crawford Isn’t the Only Famous Mole Woman Named Cyndee, and Other Title Ideas was literally just a block of Styrofoam.
• The funniest line of the episode is Lillian telling Jacqueline how she lost out on a fortune: “1974, in the middle of a recording session, a heroin needle falls off of Roland and hits the strings of his bass. Twenty years later, bam, that’s the Seinfeld theme, not a penny.”
• Fun to see Black-ish’s Diane (Marsai Martin) pop up here in a small role as the kid playing Belle in Titus’s play. Zosia Mamet’s hipster Airbnb couple also returns (they’re in a throuple now!)
• And of course, there’s the weird revelation that Titus befriended Fran at the “Party Monster” shoot. “There was a karaoke machine at the wrap party and we sang ‘The Boy Is Mine’ together. He looks like a Monica, but he is such a Brandy.”