The closing half of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s fourth and final season includes a nearly hour-long episode inspired by the Gwyneth Paltrow rom-com Sliding Doors.
As Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) and Titus (Tituss Burgess) prepare to watch the movie on their streaming platform of choice, HouseFlix, they wonder how the trajectory of their lives might have altered if they had made a different, important choice. Specifically: What if they actually saw Sliding Doors when it was released in 1998, a decision that would have made Kimmy avoid climbing into a car with John Wayne Gary Wayne, the misogynistic kook who kidnapped and kept her in a bunker for 15 years, and caused Titus to miss his bus to New York City for his Lion King audition.
The extended flashback is completely silly and features amusing takedowns of easy targets, from Scientology to a pre-President Donald Trump. But like this entire wonderfully daffy series, which ends its run with the batch of episodes that debuted Friday on Netflix, it’s a reminder that while you can’t always control what happens to you, you can control how you respond to it. That’s the cliché-but-true message that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has been sending since it became Netflix’s first original comedy series four years ago. Sometimes that message was buried under complicated story lines involving Dionne Warwick and jokes about Cate Blanchett, but it was there the whole time.
The trick of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a “plucky single gal in the city” comedy darkened with shades of a Dateline documentary, is that it takes the idea of abuse seriously, while still mining just about every other detail about it for comedy. Even in these final episodes, it’s obvious that Kimmy is still suffering from trauma caused by her time in the bunker and that she continues to yearn for the childhood she never got to experience. In one episode, she starts dating a co-worker solely so she can have “an emotional affair” with his parents (played by Mark-Linn Baker and Joanna Gleason), who seduce her with convivial games of Scrabble and mini golf. It takes a long time to get over a traumatic experience like one Kimmy had, and in a supremely goofy way, series creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock continue to make that clear.
Fey, Carlock, and the other writers also realize that they couldn’t continue to make a comedy centered around a victimized woman without acknowledging the #MeToo movement, something they began to do the first half of season four, which debuted last year, and continue here, especially in the uproarious first two episodes in this new batch.
This time, it’s Titus who has to decide how he feels about becoming publicly known as a victim after Ronan Farrow asks if he’ll speak on the record about his demeaning audition with Mr. Frumpus, a Muppet suspected of harassing actors. (“No, thank you,” Titus says when Farrow initially calls, not realizing he is a reporter. “If I wanted to read this week’s New Yorker, I’d just go to the doctor six years from now.”) Yes, Farrow actually makes a cameo appearance and double-yes, we do see the awful incident in which Mr. Frumpus drops his tiny pants and exposes himself to Titus, a full-frontal felt moment that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase Puppetry of the Penis. Will some viewers find this to be in poor taste? Probably. Is it funny? God yes.
The episode, written by Dan Rubin and Matt Whitaker, works as a commentary on #MeToo because it skewers the overly Hollywood aspects of the movement — when celebrities announce they will invite victims of sexual assault to the Tony Awards and all wear shorts in solidarity, Titus whispers to the TV, “So brave” — while supporting what it stands for at the same time. The subtext of the puppet joke is that there’s an actual human male puppeteer who’s making Mr. Frumpus do what he does, yet no one ever thinks to blame that guy. At one point, he even produces character witnesses who are deemed credible, even though they are just other puppets controlled by the same pervert. It’s a very funny and smart episode to add to a long list of them throughout Kimmy Schmidt’s history.
While the writers are still great at playing Joke Jenga — a game in which jokes pile on top of jokes until it looks like an entire episode is about to fall, but somehow, it still stands up — the actors are just as strong at selling the material. As Kimmy, Kemper still brims over with energetic naïveté, while Burgess practically steals every scene he’s in with a perfectly diva-ish line delivery, a self-satisfied pursing of his lips, or the exercising of his to-the-rafters singing voice. Jane Krakowski, as Jacqueline, who’s still working as an agent, also continues to prove she’s a master at letting a monster of a line roll naturally off her tongue. My favorite: “Do you know Tad Fry? He hosts that HGTV show Pad Thai, where they renovate your entire apartment while you’re stuck on the toilet after eating Thai food.”
The last episode of the series is the only minor disappointment in this final bit of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Even though it runs longer than 30 minutes, the conclusion still feels a bit rushed, especially at the very end, when Kimmy’s story line gets wrapped up in hasty fashion and a cameo from a significant character barely gets a chance to register. After spending an hour on the Sliding Doors riff, it seems like they could have taken more time to resolve things for the protagonist.
Maybe there’s still time: Fey and Carlock have hinted that they may want to make a Kimmy Schmidt movie, and if they do, perhaps that will make some amends for this misstep. The rest of season four is so strong that it makes it a little easier to give the abrupt ending a pass.
Plus, consider what you’ll miss if you decide to watch something else on Netflix this weekend … like, I don’t know, Sliding Doors. You’ll miss some quality jokes at Gwyneth Paltrow’s expense, a cameo appearance from Jon Bernthal as a possible love interest for Titus, a so-insane-it-almost-makes-sense explanation of Cats, and the last episodes of a comedy about a woman who comes to face-to-face with the most hideous side of humanity and still chooses joy. Watch the end of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. You won’t regret it.