“There has to be a better way—a KIMMY way!”
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is all about Kimmy becoming comfortable and used to the various aspects of her life, whether it’s her making new friends, pursuing education, getting a job, or simply living her life in a space that’s bigger than a studio-apartment sized bunker. In fact, the central premise of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is all about her attempts to learn what life is really all about, reclaim her lost years, and figure out who she really is. Those are not easy lessons to learn, but Kimmy has become stronger and more self-actualized with each passing season. It hasn’t been a painless journey, but Kimmy has slowly learned how to live in the real world and get used to the many changes that come along with it. Now that the series is in its concluding season, the biggest thing that both Kimmy and her audience are going to have to get used to is the fact that this show is ending and what comes next after the credits roll.
Kimmy Schmidt’s fourth season maintains the same optimistic attitude that the series has always had, but there are definitely changes afoot here. The season begins with a perfect, ridiculous introduction that takes an exaggerated Mary Tyler Moore Show-esque sitcom slant to Kimmy’s life with her fancy new job. “Little Girl, Big City. This is the show now!” it tells us. Kimmy’s life is already so much of a cartoon and parody that to actually turn it into one pushes everything into a weird, meta territory that works for the show. The series quickly shows that this saccharine sitcom opening forcibly rejects Kimmy after she doesn’t mesh with it, even though her enthusiasm towards it all is off the charts. This is its last season, and so this “more adult” point of view for its final year as its characters finally get their shit together (but not really) feels only appropriate.
At this point it feels like the series has covered a lot of the possible territories and milestones that are out there for Kimmy. Kimmy has grown up in a lot of ways and conquered most of the demons that held her back when the show began. Accordingly, there’s a real sense of purpose in this final season and it feels like the series makes a pointed effort to show all of its characters growing up this year, or at least trying to better themselves in a significant way. Not only that, they’re finally proud of who they are. The season’s best example of this pride takes place during an elementary school play, of all places, and it’s glorious. These added stakes make for a solid narrative engine for the show’s last year and even with more maturity and growth on the table, the series hasn’t sacrificed an ounce of silliness. It’s still as surreal as ever (there are even muppets this time around) and its trademark machine gun-style delivery of jokes hasn’t gone anywhere.
The series is still sophisticated and yet super absurd, but it also tackles topics like sexual harassment, employee rights, abortion, gender dynamics, and even the incel community. Yet the season still has time to poke fun at less important areas like the tech boom or method acting. It’s nice that Kimmy Schmidt won’t overstay its welcome, but I’ll miss the layered, forward-thinking storylines that the show could turn out. This season also broaches the #MeToo movement in an interesting, unexpected manner. This sort of progressive subject matter has always been on the show’s mind, but it comes to the forefront more than ever this year. But then the show will throw you off balance with some Klumps style jokes that are effectively thrown in for good measure, too
Kimmy and the rest of the show’s characters are left to pick up the pieces from last year and make some big decisions that will drive them forward through the show’s final season and hopefully leave them in a comfortable place. Everyone struggles with new responsibilities, both of the real and imaginary nature (Titus and Jacqueline create a fake show called The Capist, for instance), and they all feel significant. The tough aspects of work life quickly burst the cushy bubble that Kimmy wants her job to be. It’s a bummer, but it does help Kimmy grow up and become more of a well-rounded person instead of a caricature of a caricature. Some of Kimmy’s disastrous attempts to be a serious boss go so poorly that it makes for a welcome new playground to insert Kimmy into after her efforts in school last season. She also toys with the idea of putting all of her thoughts and efforts about her unusual past into a book that can help others.
Another character who is both important to the series and Kimmy’s overall arc is Jon Hamm’s Reverend Wayne. Naturally it feels like their toxic relationship is the last remaining area that needs to get wrapped up in order for Kimmy to move on and this season does not disappoint in that regard. Reverend Wayne returns in a big, different way this year. In fact the third episode of the season is perhaps the most ambitious installment that the show has ever done. The format shifts to a documentary in order to illuminate some details on Wayne’s past during his days before he was the infamous reverend. It makes for a creative, effective satire of documentaries, too.
Stylistic departures like this show that clearly there is still plenty of steam left in the show, but unfortunately there’s not more time left for the series to take risks like this one. Episodes like this make it seem like a fifth season (or at least an extended fourth) wouldn’t have been a bad idea. The best thing about all of this is that this documentary detour actually serves a real purpose, rather than just being a fun distraction. Hamm also plays Wayne with a Hunter S. Thompson-like intensity this time that really works.
On the topic of the season being split in half, this is becoming a regrettable trend in Netflix comedies (although no fault of the shows themselves). It hardly seems necessary, but that being said, the end of the sixth episode does nicely tie back to the premiere and it goes out a reasonable cliffhanger of sorts. It does feel the end of the season’s first chapter, which does make this gap a little more logical. Hopefully this won’t continue to become the norm with Netflix comedies.
The fourth season might be a little more mature and take more risks, but it’s still the same show that it’s always been. God forbid this go down the predictable route of other “white lady porn” programs like Suits. The first half of this final season is a great tease for the remaining episodes that will eventually drop. There’s also been talk of a concluding Netflix film, too. This final season is just as energized as any other year and the fact that the show knows that it’s the end helps them bring their A-game in every aspect (a lot like 30 Rock’s final year). The only thing that’s disappointing about these final episodes is that they’re final episodes and that there are so few of them. This season is the proper reminder of how sharp the series is and it’s so satisfying to see it end on its own terms rather than limp to the finish line when nobody cares anymore. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is still strong as hell!
So kick back, relax, and throw on some HouseFlix.
The first half of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s fourth season will be available on Netflix on May 30th. The second half of the season will air at an undisclosed date.
This review is based on all six episodes from the first half of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 4.