Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
One of the best things about Kimmy Schmidt: it takes a timeout once a season to do an episode that’s completely batshit, fun, and mostly irrelevant to the overall plot. These “do-whatever” episodes often turn out to be among the show’s best, setting it free from the shackles of “lessons learned” and “personal growth” and playing to its strengths of parody songs and making fun of celebrities. But for its final (and supersized) entry in this series, the show manages to play both sides, doing something original and goofy that actually does have lasting relevance to the ongoing struggles of Kimmy and friends.
The conceit of the episode is Sliding Doors, the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow film that’s managed to contribute its high concept to popular culture, despite the fact that hardly anyone’s actually seen it — including Titus and Kimmy. Stumbling on the film on HouseFlix, they realize they both separately had unfulfilled plans to catch screenings of it at pivotal moments in their lives: Kimmy on the day she was kidnapped, Titus during the week he fled Mississippi for Lion King auditions. And so, with the sliding of Kimmy’s closet/bedroom door, we get to see the lives Titus and Kimmy would have lived if Kimmy had decided to never get into the Reverend’s van.
For these two specifically, those other lives would mostly have been upgrades, though with a few key downsides. Kimmy, for example, would have become the impressive-on-paper Kimberly: UI Durnsville valedictorian, overcomer of obstacles, and probable Republican. A collision caused by Tim Blake Nelson’s bumbling sheriff would have landed her in a coma for a year, but for the most part, she’d have a charmed life — devoted husband, McMansion, TV-newscaster career — until, just like Gwyneth Paltrow in the movie, she caught her spouse in the act with someone else. (That’d be Donna Maria, employed as her maid.)
Similarly, Titus would have missed his Lion King audition and ended up doing some time alongside other showbiz hopefuls in the mines of the “Church of Cosmetology,” a not-so-veiled Scientology analogue. Alongside Gretchen (who’s apparently always down for a good cult), he’d have spent years signing John Travolta photos, doing stunts for Tom Cruise, and trying to fight the aliens beamed into his dreams with money. But he eventually would have gotten where he wanted to go, ending up as a household name, starring in awards-season prestige bait, earning the envy of a washed-up nobody named Steve Buscemi. The only downside is that he would’ve still been closeted, despite having an ongoing affair with Mikey.
He also would have completely derailed Jacqueline’s trophy-wife trajectory, blowing her NetJets stewardess interview by puking on her outside of the Lion King auditions. Consigned to Delta (“The richest guy I’ve ever seen on this airline was when we were transporting the body of Spuds McKenzie,” she tells her friend), Jacqueline would have intentionally gotten pregnant by Mikey, whom she mistakenly believes to be a real-estate big shot. With five kids and mounting money problems, they’d be the tenants belowdecks on Lillian’s tugboat, with Lillian upstairs sporting cornrows and slowly consolidating power in the local drug operation.
It’s a funny, wild series of events, full of game performances. Jane Krakowski is the standout, doing something very different from Jacqueline’s normal MO: lots of vulnerability, some truly awful dye-jobs. The episode also functions as sort of a Kimmy Schmidt family reunion, allowing all the show’s great guest players to make what will surely be, in some cases, final appearances. Amy Sedaris kills it as a lower-class “Mimi Scarpone,” Fred Armisen returns with his bizarre Robert Durst, and even Chris Northrop gets to play an alternate Meth-head Charlie who can’t be bothered with meth (“I wanna take apart my dishwasher, but who has the time?”).
The only discordant note is the cameo from Donald Trump (played, as always, by his spirit guide Anthony Atamanuik). Given the alternate-universe premise, the prospect of a world without a Trump presidency must have been too tempting to #resist. I’ve liked a lot of the show’s more subtle Trump jokes, including Jacqueline’s rejoinder in this episode that “as a wise man once said, 35 is checkout time for women.” But when it comes to actually showing Trump, there’s nothing new to enjoy, no clever satire: just an egomaniacal infant, a boor with oversized appetites. (“I make tall penis buildings! They have sex with the sky!”) A lot of comedians have said that Trump is a black hole for comedy, and they’re right. Putting him in here ruins the fun, and to no particular end.
But maybe Trump is here to underline the episode’s actual lesson: going through trauma and suffering can actually be good for you. In the cold open, Kimmy’s crazed fight-or-flight response goes off for the millionth time, as she defends Titus from a cable guy. But her behavior is actually justified this time — the guy is a serial killer. He returns at the end of the episode to install cable for the alternate Kimmy and Titus, who are filthy rich, freshly married, and convinced everything’s going their way. They welcome him in, and the doors of their lives slide shut. So maybe what doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger, or at least doesn’t kill you again later on.
• Poor Cyndee would have been kidnapped in any timeline. Some people just can’t win.
• There are so, so many funny throwaway lines in this episode. “Durnsville is normally a sleepy little town, due to runoff from the NyQuil factory.” “A cronut — a donut I stole from a crow, yes!” “I know what door you’re sliding through, Gwyneth! Nepotism!”
• Drug Lord Lillian has offed “my late husband Roland, Gustavo Fring, the first Becky from Roseanne, I guess basically anybody who gets in my way.”
• There is no way that I will not refer to those Kay Jewelers necklaces as “Two Butts by Jane Seymour” for the rest of my days.