If you’ve eagerly anticipated Titus’s take on Lemonade since seeing the season-three trailer, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock made sure you didn’t have to wait too long for your sip. I’ll admit skepticism that there was any juice left in this particular lemon: It’s been more than a year since Beyoncé dropped her album, and culture is aging in dog years these days, thanks to politics. Plus, pretty much everyone has had a crack at parodies already, from Colbert to Corden to SNL (which based theirs on a post–Access Hollywood tape Melania, no less).
Indeed, Titus’s descent into Lemonade-dom initially feels like an overreaction — even for Titus. After all, sweet-natured Mikey is way too terrible of a liar to cheat, even if he does love playing Call of Duty with his new gay-bro pal Jeff (a.k.a. “Bucky with the good hair”). But the episode finds a plot that manages to approximate the emotional wallop of the genuine article. Titus may have a flair for the dramatic, but he’s also savvy enough to realize that Jeff is a better match for Mikey, who’s finally far enough out of the closet that he needs to sow his wild oats. So Titus decides to let him go. (As he notes, “It is just one of the many small ways in which I am stronger than Beyoncé.”)
The labored journey of self-awareness for Titus, a man who doesn’t even do jury duty because he “has no peers,” has been one of the highlights of this Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Tituss Burgess plays the absolute crap out of the emotional beats here, particularly when he takes Mikey to visit the first boyfriend he once adored beyond reason, a goofy orthodontist who’s now happily paired with another goofy orthodontist. Throw in some hilarious fake-hair flips and the pipes of the “flyest tenor in the choir,” and you’ve got one hell of a showcase episode. In fact, it seems to be tailor-made as an Emmy tape, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up scoring Burgess a win on his third nomination.
I’m sure some overzealous Beyhive member will find a way to hot-take Titusade as male appropriation of a woman’s narrative, especially since Carol Kane serves as his sole fly girl. But to me, it’s a very loving parody that sits well within the tradition of drag — and man, is every drag queen in the country going to be green with envy. The visuals look great, Jeff Richmond did a great job producing funny songs that ape the sonic textures of “Hold Up,” “Sorry,” and “All Night” without sounding like ripoffs, and Netflix didn’t cheap out on the splashier elements. (I can’t imagine any other network okaying the use of a massive fireball just for one punch line.)
The downside of such an impressive and extensive parody is that the Kimmy plotline ends up feeling a little wan by comparison — though it still manages to squeeze in a fair amount of plot, thanks to Lillian and Jacqueline’s tug-of-war over getting Kimmy to cast the deciding vote in their favor. (It turns out she’s the only person in the neighborhood who hasn’t committed a felony — including candidate Lillian.) Despite the fact that the apartment’s water is literally brown and chewable, she sides with Lillian’s anti-neighborhood-improvements slate over Jacqueline and Russ’s attempts at rehabilitation. But much like another elected official, Lillian is about to learn that politics is a lot harder than running for office, especially when it comes to getting outvoted by one’s peers.
Compared to the mellow start of the season, the pace of plot movement in this episode is surprisingly swift. I thought we’d spend a lot longer on Lillian’s campaign and Kimmy’s college-application process, and I was surprised to see the introduction of an appealing new love interest for Kimmy: college tour guide and philosophy student Perry (first name Refrigerator). To put it in Titus terms, Kimmy’s relationship with Dong is stuck in episode 208, and it’s time to move on. Will Columbia admit its first mole woman? Only time will tell.
• The New York–specific jokes might be irritating to people who’ve never lived there, but I can’t get enough of them, like the names of Kimmy’s prospective colleges (Roy Cohn Community College, Famous Ray’s Original College, SUNY the Sewer, Robert Moses College for Whites Everyone), and Lillian’s Bill de Blasio–like promise to get rid of Central Park’s carriage horses — and serve them all as free stew the next day.
• In case you’re interested in learning a bit about “Sephardic DJ” Spinoza, here’s more about the problem of Buridan’s ass. (It’s also the title of that episode of Fargo where fish fall out of the sky.)
• My favorite joke in this episode was a really simple one: Kimmy deciding to trash her application to community college so she can go to Columbia, then accidentally putting it in the Bottles and Cans Only bin, instead of the one that says Balled-Up Applications Only.
• Lillian’s gentrification scare tactics to Kimmy: “You know what yuppies eat? Brussels sprouts! And ice cream that tastes like lavender!” “But that’s a smell! NO!”
• We finally got our first Kimmy name pun of the season from Titus: “Kim Kebow.”
• Yuko the robot is going from occasional hidden gag to outright cast member. She was on one of Kimmy’s college tours, serves as the pitcher for Titus and Mikey at the batting cages, and even briefly canoodles with another robot in the “All Night” parody.