Tina Fey's brainchild is as outlandish, warm and spot-on as ever.
Hot on the heels of the news that the fourth season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt will be it’s last, Netflix released the first half of our favourite mole woman’s final outing. Whilst frustrating to any superfans, the split nature of the season doesn’t seem forced or disjointed. Several story arcs come to a close, loose ends are tied up, but we remain in the dark about what TV’s second-most-hated Reverend (Jon Hamm) is going to do next. It’s a good way for us to hold on to Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), Titus (Tituss Burgess), Lillian (Carol Kane) and Jacqueline (Jane Crakowski) just that little bit longer, with suitable anticipation building for the rest of Season 4.
With the show’s love of razor-sharp political commentary, it’s tackling of the #Metoo movement shouldn’t come as a surprise. In general, mixing this serious issue with comedy could be a recipe for disaster. However, we underestimate what this show is capable of, as it strikes an appropriate balance between jokes (usually aimed at questionable men in power) and analysis of what we can learn from this movement. Kimmy is accused of sexual harassment in the workplace and, whilst her actions are innocent, it leads to an important conversation about boundaries and how seemingly-innocent actions can be interpreted/misinterpreted by others. It does this, however, with a natural flow through it’s trademark humor, with one scene even showing a sinister Kimmy with a T-shirt gun.
Another stand-out moment in this series’ absurdist humor comes with a filler episode which, in this case, is definitely nothing to scoff at. It brings back the unironically-named DJ Fingablast (Derek Klena) who, alongside providing an overly-sincere voiceover and mocking documentary tropes to extremes, is set to marry the third Hadid sister. His quest to get DJ Slizzard (also known as the Reverend) to DJ his wedding includes a cross-dressing catfish date, starting a ‘meninist’ revolution, and becoming determined to prove the innocence of the Reverend for a crime he (quite clearly) did commit. This episode also deserves a special mention for the way it allowed Jon Hamm to perform at his charmingly-insane self as the extraordinarily transparent Reverend/DJ Slizzard. It’s hilariously clear that the Reverend is evil, but the way DJ Fingablast is seemingly blind to it serves to highlight some more serious faults in the justice system, seamlessly linking the show with recent cases like that of Brock Turner.
Some may say that the show tries too hard to be ‘woke’, but the sharp wit conveyed by the cast and the writing means that they can not only get away with it but also convey the message loud and clear. Despite its seamless execution, however, character development was a mixed bag. Jacqueline and her moral compass continue to go from strength to strength and yet she retains her ruthless-gold-digger habits with hilarious results. We have also seen Lillian grow from a two-dimensional, angry landlady who constantly shrieked about ‘gentrification’ to somebody who fearlessly waltzed into high society with her head held high. Credit must also be given to the scenes she shared with Artie’s daughter (Busy Philipps) in the final episode. Their on-screen chemistry and attempts to one-up the other turned into a dynamic on-screen partnership which I hope will be explored more in the second half of this season.
Titus, on the other hand, never seems to change. Although that leads to some classic Kimmy and Titus escapades (with their Bonnie and Clyde act to get a convenience store toilet key being a prime example), it can be a bit frustrating. We see, for example, Titus being unable to get over his relationship with Mikey (Mike Carlsen) following his dramatic ‘Lemonading’ and sabotaging a school musical to get the roles he never got himself. We’ve been following Titus’ story long enough that we are rooting for him to find success and romantic happiness, but we’re four seasons in and not a lot seems to have changed. With his feelings for Mikey still unresolved at the end of 4a, we are all hoping for their reunion and for ‘Boobs in California’ to make one last musical outing before the show is done.
Unfortunately, these largely successful handlings of the main cast seem to come at the expense of fully fleshed-out side characters. Kimmy’s budding relationship with Perry (Daveed Digs) was a key aspect of Season 3, so his absence and, more importantly, her lack of any mention of him seems both unnatural and bizarre. Whilst Digs had an unavoidable scheduling conflict, his presence was certainly missed and the writers could have dealt with it better. I was also disappointed by the handling of Jaqueline and Lillian’s respective partners, Artie (Peter Reigert) and Russ (now Billy Magnussen). Although Artie’s death wasn’t entirely surprising, there was still a lot of ways Lillian could have changed and developed through that relationship, and her dynamic with Artie’s family screams ‘missed opportunity’. As for post-shmooshed Russ, it seems unlikely that he would throw away his values so easily in order to get fame and love from his family. However, considering the way some people change in a similar way in the real world, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.
As for Kimmy, her backpack from the bunker makes a reappearance in a nightmarish antromporphised fashion. Think Sesame Street but a tad more disturbing. At this point in the show, Kimmy is mostly adapted to the outside world but has been told that her childlike imagination and ambitions to write a feminist children’s novel have no place in the real world. So, as she decides to ‘kill’ that part of her by preparing to drown her creepy-live-imaginary-backpack, she is given food for thought and decides that she doesn’t need to kill that part of herself after all. Although the metaphor is puzzling and hilarious, it does show that development and growing up doesn’t necessarily mean completely changing all aspects of yourself. With this latest stretch of Kimmy’s journey teaching her about feminism, white privilege, and sexual harassment, she’s more ‘unbreakable’ than ever and will be a force that the Reverend will regret reckoning with.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s first three and a half seasons are streaming now on Netflix. The second half of season 4 is expected in 2019.