After a trio of hard-charging episodes about racism and sexism, this outing of Kimmy Schmidt is a gentler affair, poking fun at the mild and harmless nerdiness of a tech conference. Trouble is, the tech world isn’t so mild and harmless these days. I wasn’t thrilled with the show’s uncritical treatment of Kimmy’s Uber and TaskRabbit work last season, but in the wake of the sexual-harassment scandal at Uber and the James Damore controversy at Google, I figured it might at least have developed an appetite for mocking the toxic behavior and sexual entitlement of powerful men in tech who present themselves as harmless “nerds.” Instead, it stages a literal orgy for them.
Despite knowing nothing about what Giztoob actually does (or what “disrupting the paradigm” means), Kimmy takes the job of running their booth at the conference in stride, hoping that a trip to Pittsburgh can take her mind off the “Party Monster” documentary. Lillian, who’s still moping around the apartment after Artie’s death, decides to go with her, hoping the licentiousness of a town that puts French fries in its sandwiches might lead to some casual sex.
Thwarted by the allure of phone screens, Lillian strikes out again and again at this “grand festival du sausage,” but Kimmy ends up meeting someone intriguing: a smooth fellow booth babe named Danford (Drew Gehling). Like Kimmy, who thinks “tech” is short for “Texas,” he’s a bit of a Luddite, and the two quickly bond over their outdated email preferences — he likes Hotmail, she likes freeinternet.idtheft. But before they can consummate their slow dance to “Kiss From a Rose,” a DJ recognizes Kimmy from the documentary, informing her crush that she’s already married to the Reverend. Kimmy is mortified, but Danford is thrilled. He’s married too, and thinks this will improve his odds of a quickie hookup, which only makes Kimmy more upset.
Back in New York, Titus is having a different close encounter of the nerd kind. Forced by a broke Jacqueline to audition for a preachy “Choices Matter” stage show for tweens, he inadvertently gets cast as the dork. The prospect is horrifying to Titus, who, in his closeted years as a high-school football player, prided himself on stuffing nerds into lockers and huffing their inhalers. (He did secretly admire the Magic Club’s capes.) Jacqueline encourages him to see it as an acting challenge, and resolved to become “the only black person on a future Vanity Fair cover,” Titus decides to research the role by befriending Giztoob’s staff.
Titus’s resulting discovery that nerds are people, people who like pizza and Broadway musicals just like he does, is cute enough. (“If I tickle them, do they not laugh? If I shove them, do they not fall?”) But it also seems like a relic of the past. The coders of a real-life Giztoob might have the same bad haircuts and bad opinions about a female Doctor Who, but they’d also likely be somewhere between “rich” and “fabulously wealthy,” and used to being catered to by an army of underpaid Tituses and Kimmys. How could a show that loves mocking the peccadilloes of arrogant, wealthy people ignore such a comedic gold mine?
The episode is equally toothless when it comes to mocking the kind of products the techies at the conference are making, opting for soft targets like a Pokemon Go-esque eating game and goggles that “bring back” the presence of deceased pets. (I did enjoy CHET, a randy “Companion Hologram for Elder Therapy” that tries to seduce Lillian and later serves as a sympathetic drinking buddy for Kimmy.)
You’d think Lillian, with her blistering takedowns of gentrification, might at least have something to say about what she’s seen in her accidental TED Talk. Instead, she exhorts the youth to look up from those pesky devices and enjoy their “sexual primes and functioning backs,” leading to an impromptu orgy. Danford takes the opportunity to make his next conquest, but since she has no moral ground to call out his cheating ways, Kimmy lets everyone know about his tech cluelessness instead. He responds that he doesn’t care about tech, and has always “wanted to be in sports management” anyway.
That’s Kimmy Schmidt’s retrograde view of the modern tech world: arrogant, womanizing Danfords are fake hangers-on, and the real techies are just misunderstood nerds who need a little less screen time. But the reality is that the leadership of the tech industry is heavy on Danford types with computer-science degrees. Telling them yet again that they’re marginalized because of their stereotypically “nerdy” interests is what gives them moral ground to brazenly mistreat the actually marginalized. We’re even encouraged to cheer when a random nerd starts the orgy by forcibly grabbing and kissing Danford’s former make-out partner, a jaw-dropping oversight for a show that literally just did two episodes on sexual harassment and assault.
Most of “Kimmy Disrupts the Paradigm” isn’t so actively offensive, and there are even a few moments that are about as sweet as Kimmy Schmidt ever gets, like when Titus blows his acting gig to defend a picked-on kid in the audience. But for a show that prides itself on thumbing its nose at power — with a definition of power that has previously included organic grocery chains and overly PC 18-year-olds — it’s a huge missed opportunity.
• The conversation with a random techie (Jason Jones) that leads to Lillian being invited onstage to speak is a masterpiece of digital double entendres. “P2P? I started doing that in my parents’ garage in the ’70s. My late husband and I practically invented B2B.”
• Lillian also mentions that the techies should be having an amount of sex that rivals the Olympic Village or the Munchkin tent during The Wizard of Oz’s filming, and wow, is that second reference ever a crazy internet rabbit hole.
• I love the little visual gags that confirm Kimmy’s ongoing arrested development, like her unloading to CHET over a drink with six paper umbrellas in it.
• Titus still hasn’t made any progress on writing that The Capist pilot, though he has picked out all his capes for the first three seasons and the Christmas special.
• A classic Jacqueline line as she complains about Titus’s lack of work: “If you don’t eat, I don’t eat, which is fine because I don’t eat.”
• Does anyone else desperately need to know how, exactly, Titus flooded that Macy’s?