Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
As you’ve probably noticed, the length of each Kimmy Schmidt episode has ballooned. Season one was originally ordered for NBC, so all of the episodes came in relatively tight, if not broadcast-svelte. Now that UKS is officially a made-for-Netflix property, the new episodes are quite a bit longer.
So far, that hasn’t really been an issue: After all, premium-cable comedies like Veep and Silicon Valley pull off a 30-minute run time with ease, and UKS usually crams in more jokes into ten minutes than most network sitcoms manage to pull off in their entire twenty-two. The show’s made good use of the extra breathing room, too, by adding levels of emotional nuance that 30 Rock would have been forced to cut. But “Kimmy Gives Up!” runs a particularly bloated 33 minutes, and it was definitely the first episode where I caught myself watching the clock. It’s trying to do a lot, yet not getting enough plot movement to satisfy.
The Kimmy plotline is unquestionably the strongest: After essentially getting benched for the past three episodes, Kimmy finally gets another crack at a reunion with Dong when she finds out his GED test information was misdelivered. But Dong has a much bigger concern than the big test: He and Sonya have their green-card interview, and he’s terrified he’ll be deported. “I don’t want to go back to Vietnam, Kimmy. It’s full of baby-boomer tourists trying to feel something.”
And so, Kimmy takes on the “crafting emergency” of helping Dong and Sonya contrive a relationship photo album, largely through the use of a rotating ad and some clever costumes. (The shots include Hawaii, Aspen, and “met Steve Harvey at a spa — he’s taller than you’d think!”) But after Sonya vanishes, it isn’t long before Kimmy once again confesses that she hasn’t given up on Dong. “Don’t you still hope?” she asks. He doesn’t: “We have an arrangement that works,” he says, aside from Sonya’s weird obsession with a park statue of Neptune. Dong’s rejection of Kimmy is so thorough that he fishes 78 cents out of a fountain so he doesn’t have to return her missing scrunchie, and Ellie Kemper acts the hell out of the scene, showing a layer of genuine sadness in the otherwise irrepressible character. (Of course, Dong still loves Kimmy, as we later learn when we see him sniffing the scrunchie in question.)
There’s good stuff in this episode that would have been cut in a shorter show, like Kimmy’s series of long talks with Lillian. Although Kimmy’s greatest strength is her ability to never give up after all those years in the bunker, Lillian tries to remind her that it can also be her greatest weakness. “Sometimes the hardest thing to do is just quit, and walk away,” she says, citing how she waited years in a low-rent Murray Hill apartment for the Second Avenue subway to arrive. It wasn’t until she finally decided to move out that she met her husband and actually moved on with her life, and she doesn’t want Kimmy to keep pining over Dong instead of doing the same. It’s a nuanced, thoughtful emotional arc that doesn’t sacrifice jokes (Kimmy: “Giving up just isn’t my jam. My jams are grape, Jock, and Space”) or provide an easy win for Kimmy, who ends up sleeping through the GED test because she spent her study time trying to help Dong. Not giving up has real consequences.
Unfortunately, the two other plotlines are respectively underbaked and lazy to the point of offensive. The former designation goes to the sloppy Titus B-story, in which he’s so happy about Mikey and the success of his one-man show that he quite literally can’t get the song out of his heart — until Lillian makes him worry about whether his luck will last, and then he can’t get sad songs out of his heart. The show initially uses this concept to get in some sly satire. (A tune from Alabama!, the black version of Oklahoma!: “Oh what a glorious morning / Oh all the joy it will bring / If I don’t mind never voting / Or my church burning down while I sing.”)
But while I enjoyed the callback to last season’s goofy incest musical Daddy’s Boy, we didn’t need two additional songs from it soundtracked over other plotlines, followed by a host of parodies banged out by Titus on a bedbug-ridden piano. It may make for fun re-watch material to parse out all the double entendres that Jeff Richmond (a.k.a. “Gangly Orphan Jeff”) slips into his tunes, but I’m not really eager to try — and I actually like musical theater. Richmond is a huge asset to the show, but his stuff is best in small doses. It seems like this episode was designed to showcase his work without the risk of being a full-on musical. It’s a halfway approach that serves no one.
The plotline that outright pissed me off was Jacqueline and Buckley’s. The underlying concept is great: Jacqueline has “never spent a day alone with Buckley,” having always had help from “a nanny, or a driver, or an iPad taped to a bag of sugar.” Given her reduced circumstances, she actually has to parent, which is tough to do with an energetic young boy who’s also probably acting out in the wake of his parents’ divorce. Buckley’s pediatrician notices the discipline issue, but tells Jacqueline not to worry: “I’m not suggesting actual parenting. I know how busy we all are.”
Instead, he suggests Dyziplen — a drug designed to treat “ADHD, hyperactivity, and Kanye West spectrum disorder” — which immediately turns Buckley eerily agreeable — basically, he’s a Stepford kid. When Jacqueline takes one herself, she realizes that the pills turn life into a dull, gray, joyless affair, so much so that she can’t even enjoy life’s greatest pleasure: a Karl Lagerfeld wardrobe fitting.
Time to be an internet killjoy. Sorry, Tina Fey! ADHD drugs are certainly no substitute for good parenting (or adequately staffed classrooms), and some of the kids who take pills probably don’t need them. If the episode hadn’t specifically called out ADHD as the hobgoblin, I probably would have just chalked it up to standard absurdity. But since Dyziplen is effectively a stand-in for Ritalin, Adderall, et. al., it’s worth emphasizing that this plotline is woefully ignorant about ADHD drugs. (The most commonly prescribed formulations are mild stimulants, for one thing, and thus unlikely candidates for making anyone feel blah.) It also seems blind to the pretty obvious fact that ADHD drugs are necessary for a lot of people — many of them are adults, and many of those adults are women. (FWIW, I am not one of them.) Would we be laughing if Buckley were joyless and withdrawn, and the show mocked Jacqueline for giving him antidepressants?
Making fun of overmedicated kids is also just a really tired way to do this plot. What if Jacqueline ended up abusing the pills to be more productive (as many people do with Adderall)? What if she discovered that Buckley didn’t have ADHD, but she actually did, and that the drugs were helpful? I can’t imagine that the millions of people who take ADHD drugs won’t be offended by the implication that their lives are gray, empty morasses. I’m glad that Jacqueline’s experience helps her to figure out parenting a little more, and the final scene of them destroying the high-end boutique is great fun. But needlessly stigmatizing people who take psychiatric drugs isn’t original, and it isn’t particularly funny.
- Kimmy tells a GED administrator that she and Dong were “basically the Roz and Frasier” of their class, to which the woman responds that she gets it — she totally has “a Kyle/Maxine thing” with her boss. Kimmy responds with a blank look. “Oh, you don’t know Living Single, but I’m supposed to know Frasier?” (I was just as clueless as Kimmy, and that was a pretty solid punch in the gut.)
- My favorite line of the episode was the nanny explaining that Dyziplen has saved her so much time that “I was finally able to finish my tell-all book about my boss. It’s called Sippy Cup Rosé, and it’s going to have a shoe on the cover!”
- Buckley attacking a giant giraffe doll: “You’re my bitch, Geoffrey!”
- Titus keeps all the household mail in the “Quest Diagnostics Barbie Chalet,” made entirely of envelopes that say “Final Notice: Urgent Test Results.” Wonder if those have anything to do with Kimmy’s mysterious burping.
- I love the ongoing implications that Kimmy is still trapped in the ‘90s: She tells Dong she’s as clear as Crystal Pepsi or Clearly Canadian, notes that her scrunchie smells like Salon Selectives, and admits she still wants Nickelodeon to take over her school.
- Jacqueline, successful parent: “I’m like a female Mr. Mom!”