Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Since the first half of Kimmy Schmidt’s final season opened with the title sequence for Kimmy’s ongoing internal sitcom, it’s only appropriate that the second half kicks off with Titus’s. Unsurprisingly, he’s the centerpiece of jazzy, ’90s-era “Magic Boy,” where all the other cast members are simply “Not Titus.” But for once, Titus’s unquenchable ego and unwillingness to face reality might be assets.
The previous season ended on a cliffhanger of mysterious Israeli spies stalking Titus, echoing Harvey Weinstein’s alleged use of ex-Mossad agents to spy on Rose McGowan and other accusers. Now, handsome Ilan (Jon Bernthal) suddenly starts popping up at Titus’s preferred coffee spot — a carwash that offers free coffee.
Fresh off his triumphant portrayal of Doorman no. 6 on Daredevil, Titus thinks Ilan is drawn in by his fame. So he agrees to a date that ends up being more like an interrogation, as Ilan bats his eyelashes and tries to dig up dirt to defame him, should he decide to go public about that whole Mr. Frumpus harassment incident.
He doesn’t get very far. Despite all his entertainment-industry misadventures, Titus has actually never done porn: “I did so many jobs that I thought were pornos that just turned out to be DJ documentaries or me helping Ron Jeremy set up for a garage sale.” And in the end, Titus’s titanic ego saves the day, irritating Elon so thoroughly that he cracks and confesses the truth. But whether Titus is self-aware enough to even consider speaking up about Mr. Frumpus — much less consider the consequences of doing so — remains to be seen.
Fame is also a factor in Kimmy’s storyline, which reunites her with bunkermate Donna Maria (Sol Miranda), now a successful businesswoman. Having grown her “Mole Woman” sauces into a dozen Vegas restaurants (“all in one hotel!”), Donna Maria’s now penned a business book that encourages acolytes to avoid three key “biz-stractions”: “the believer, the simpleton and the red hair.” Ever earnest, the “red hair” attempts to make up for lost time by rekindling the friendship, but Donna Maria’s not interested.
Unlike Cyndee and Gretchen (or “Spinny and Fletcher,” as Titus calls them), Donna Maria hasn’t gotten much non-flashback airtime on the show over the years. The only mole woman who wasn’t a kidnapped kid, she’s been treated as more punchline than person, with no real character traits beyond being older and unable to speak English.
There’s a hint of self-awareness about that choice in a scene between Kimmy and Titus, when he mentions that Kimmy’s always ignored Donna Maria, even though she’s constantly on the phone “with those white bitches.” But the episode turns its back on the comedic possibilities of Kimmy questioning her bunker blind spots, instead sticking with a tried-and-true formula in which she and Donna Maria get triggered by a bunker flashback and then bond over the trauma. Given that the trauma in question is Jon Hamm getting kicked in the nuts while wearing a devil suit and dancing around with sparklers, it’s still funny. But it feels like a last-minute attempt to give Miranda the season’s worth of screen time Sara Chase and Lauren Adams have gotten from the jump, without turning the show’s comedic scalpel on why that happened in the first place.
Jacqueline and Lillian’s storyline also walks up to the edge of interesting social satire, then decides not to take the leap. In keeping with the overall thrust of the season, it’s another #MeToo riff, with a twist. Discovering that millennial men are living in “pervatory,” too afraid to hit on women their own age and be labeled as creeps, Jacqueline and Lillian go HAM on May-December hookups. Mimi Kanassis in tow, they discover a hidden meat market at the local HomeGoods equivalent, full of hot young suitors eager to buy them galvanized mail bins and bowls of fake lemons. “Soon enough, they’ll be making boner pills for us!” Lillian jokes. “You take me to the ER, Brayden!”
But the party comes crashing down when Jacqueline realizes the cutie she’s had her eye on is actually Mimi’s son. “They’re all someone’s son!” she screams as she leads an exodus of middle-aged women from the store. “How are men okay with doing this?” The episode’s literal answer: because men are gross, and will “put it anywhere,” and women aren’t and won’t. It’s a characterization of dudes as shallow and knee-jerk as the characterizations of women that the show constantly mocks, and it’s not even true (as the love lives of everyone from Halle Berry to Robin Wright to Laura Dern can attest).
By this point, it feels pointless to grade Kimmy Schmidt on its retrograde understanding of the world, especially when it’s so funny on a line-by-line basis. But it’s hard to ignore the instances where its dated comedic worldview keeps the laughs from adding up to something more. It’s joke-writing, not satire — and given that the first half-season’s #MeToo push mostly felt like a step forward, it’s a bummer to see it take a step back.
• I always wonder if the writers are going to run out of past indignities from the bunker, and somehow they always come through with completely batshit new stuff like Jon Hamm doing karate with sparklers or blasting the Venga Bus song all night. (“The Venga Bus hath come again!” Gretchen prays to the skies. “Thank you, Venga Bus!”)
• Similarly, every episode is chock-full of hilariously pathetic Titus moments, but his needing a mnemonic to spell his own last name is definitely a new low. “Apples Need Ducks Rarely, Oranges Make Every Duck Oranges Need!”
• Improv veteran Jeff Hiller really makes the most of his guest spot as Donna Maria’s put-upon assistant Tomathy, especially when he reveals that she’s in an ongoing war with the Ortega brand. “The salsa truce is over!”
• Lillian peruses a newspaper with the headline “Cyndi Lauper Still at Large,” which I’m guessing has something to do with her murdering a stripper with a hammer while dressed as Lauper earlier this season. Please let this end in a guest appearance.
• A great little bit of classic Kimmy Schmidt absurdism: “I’m the opposite of a carwash beefcake,” Kimmy tells Titus. “I’m a boat dirt bird salad.”