Jane Krakowski as Jacqueline.
Compared to last year’s big arc about Kimmy reconnecting with her mom, this season’s plotlines have been far less serialized, with one notable exception: Jacqueline and Russ’s plan to take down the Washington Redskins, which has taken up nearly all of Jane Krakowski’s screen time. Given that real-life pressure seems to have had no effect on the team, I was curious about how Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt would thread the needle of Jacqueline finally making it to the NFL owners’ meeting. “Kimmy Pulls Off a Heist!” executes it perfectly, expanding the reach of the controversy to offer biting commentary on not only the NFL, but the state of American culture at large.
The end result is even more satisfying because Jacqueline’s initial blackmail plan completely fails. Rather than risk the release of Duke’s anti-concussion tape, Orson opts to throw his son and heir under the bus, destroying his credibility by having him arrested as an ISIS sympathizer. (In the arrest footage, he babbles about “Cork Rockingham,” Titus’s straight alter ego.) Once again, Jacqueline is faced with letting down her parents, who happen to be downstairs from the meeting, protesting with fellow Native Americans.
The episode pulls no punches with its savage depiction of the NFL owners, a noxious bunch of white people so enraged by Colin Kaepernick that they insist on standing every time the national anthem is played, even if it’s in one of their mistresses’ vanity music videos. (It helps that the group is full of comedic ringers, including Paula Pell as the lone, uncouth female owner, and a nearly unrecognizable Chris Parnell as a goofy rube.)
To the owners, every $250 jersey the protesters burn is just more cash to line their pockets. So Jacqueline’s solution is simple: Change all the team names to offensive monikers, from the Kansas City Islams to the Jacksonville Hillarys, and rake in the cash from an America that’s “angry about everything.” It’s a sharp take on both the greed of the real-life league (which is actually facing declining viewership, sinking ad revenue, and Kaepernick’s jersey selling well) and on a larger corporate culture that’s happy to sow division if it’s good for the bottom line. The Washington Gun-Takers may be a comic creation, but they’re not too far off from our current politics-as-sport reality, from which massive corporations are all too happy to profit.
To balance out the cutting satire, the rest of the episode focuses on a more lightweight caper: Titus’s attempts to use his favorite gas station bathroom, even after the new owner (Ray Liotta) insists it’s for customers only. The stakes are nil, of course — Kimmy and Titus’s tugboat apartment does have a head, even if Titus only uses it for “grooming, shame eating, and pep talks before trying to put on jeans” — but it does offer some fun opportunities for Kimmy and Titus to riff on Liotta and Lorraine Bracco’s Goodfellas dynamic. (Kimmy gets addicted to “child-beauty-pageant-strength” Pixy Stix.) Ellie Kemper, who inhabits the role of Kimmy so well that she often gets less credit than her showier co-stars, really shines here, getting to play the nervous criminal conspirator, the wild-eyed addict, the shifty gangster’s moll, and even the had-it-up-to-here spouse. And while Liotta isn’t necessarily a natural with comedic delivery, he’s a surprisingly deft physical comedian and does some fun subversion of his tough-guy persona.
Ultimately, it’s Tituss Burgess who once again delivers the emotional wallop. Trying to prevent themselves from getting caught, Titus and Kimmy attempt one last score at the convenience store, only to run into Mikey, who’s on his way upstate with his new finance-bro boyfriend. Although Mikey’s deeper dive into the gay lifestyle doesn’t quite appear to be a fit (his “wild” trip to Fire Island consisted of touching a deer), he’s also picking up a pack of condoms. Titus is worried for the first time that Mikey might not come back — and decides it’s maybe time to pay more attention to Sandwich, er, Reuben. Too bad replacing a lost love isn’t as easy as replacing an Eli Manning.
• Speaking of Eli Manning: That wasn’t actually him, just a very similar-seeming actor. One of those places where a clone plot can really come in handy!
• There’s a nice callout to Daddy’s Boy (remastered!) in the theater marquee when Titus and Reuben go to the movies. They see My Dinner Without Andre, but Jiro Dreams of Tushi and A Fistful of Dollhairs are also options.
• Kimmy is such a good person that she even tries to get Paulie’s preferred nickname, Zippy, going. He’s even saved in her phone as Paulie (Zippy).
• Duke’s middle name is LaCrosse, because of course it is.
• Paulie’s convenience store sells a wide variety of condoms: expired Trojans, Safeway Select, Lil’ Stinkers, El Bandito Picante, Monologue, “for the careful masturbator,” Garbage D by Hefty, and Gonzo’s Nose, “for the curved gentleman.” (Mike’s new boy toy Andrew requires that last one.)
• “Kimmy Jimmel” might be my favorite Titus name pun of the season.
• Jacqueline describes being a blonde Native American as “a Heather Locklear situation … Google it.” Indeed, Locklear is of Lumbee origin.