This Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend review contains no spoilers.
“This WAS a fascinating transition.”
An “interactive special” is an idea that may seem unusual or more like a gimmick than a justified angle for a follow-up special to a comedy’s series finale. However, there are fewer shows more perfect for this immersive storytelling approach than Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. This is a series that has a chaotic pacing for its humor and is fearless with its storytelling. There are jokes and narrative decisions on Kimmy Schmidt that I literally can’t imagine being told anywhere else. So a structure of storytelling that actually encourages the series’ gluttonous approach to jokes and digressions is really the most fitting and clever angle for such a follow-up.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a show that’s heavily interested in themes like fate, determination, and reinvention, all of which are inherently present in a “choose your own adventure” style narrative. This is a series that even did an extended riff on Sliding Doors as a way to illustrate just how important decisions and consequences are in the grander scheme of things. Kimmy vs. The Reverend is not just the purest application of this idea yet, but it’s also an extremely satisfying and inventive swan song for the everlasting universe of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Kimmy Schmidt’s fourth and final season ended with Kimmy finally ready to accept a new life of independence and responsibilities. This new special has Kimmy ready to reach for that future and adjust to these fresh opportunities. As Kimmy prepares for her nuptials to Prince Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe), life unexpectedly intervenes and causes her to set out on a cross-country mission to help some girls who might be trapped to a fate that’s very similar to her own past. Kimmy is forced to choose between this rescue mission and her wedding as she faces her biggest adventure yet. This all turns into a Nancy Drew-esque mystery that’s befitting of a “choose your own adventure” story and Kimmy’s own curious nature.
Kimmy’s journey in this special may largely revolve around romance, but Kimmy Vs. The Reverend is so much more than a love story. It fully respects Kimmy’s character and allows her to grow and evolve in an important way. It eventually becomes clear why this is the story that’s being told in this special. Prince Frederick’s sheltered upbringing paints him in a remarkably similar light to Kimmy and in spite of their vastly different backgrounds, they have a surprising amount in common on a fundamental level. The chemistry between Ellie Kemper and Daniel Radcliffe is wonderful and Radcliffe fits in so well that it’s a tragedy that the series didn’t get an entire season to spend with him.
This crossroad between Kimmy’s past and future is the special’s main drive, but the entire cast has plenty to do here and Titus, Jacqueline, and Lillian all face challenging obstacles. As the title of this special indicates, it should also come as no surprise that Jon Hamm’s Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne returns in a big way. The end of Kimmy Schmidt’s fourth season did good work with the closure that it provided between Kimmy and the Reverend, but this special finds more important territory to explore between the two of them without this development feeling manipulative. In many ways it’s the perfect cumulative test that Kimmy must face before finally being able to move on in her life.
The writing in Kimmy Schmidt vs. The Reverend is just as sharp and hilarious as the rest of the series, but this special also indulges in a lot of self-aware humor that revolves around the whole interactive construct of this story. Much like how the live episodes of 30 Rock became clever dissections of that very form, this too celebrates and utilizes this atypical narrative to better present this concluding chapter from out of Kimmy’s life. The storytelling is elevated in honestly impressive ways and it’s exciting to see how brilliant minds like Tina Fey are able to use the dead-end nature or cyclical structure of this format to lead to the funniest gags.
For instance, certain routes in this special allow for characters to flippantly meet their end or endanger the entire planet for the sake of a punchline, which would be impossible to do in a standard episode. It helps make this special feel unpredictable in a way that the regular series never could be. At the same time, sometimes branching options don’t have a larger bearing on story and merely contribute to alternate or extra sources of comedy. Previous scenes can also be redone with a new character and trigger totally new results due to what their perspective brings to the table.
Kimmy Schmidt vs. The Reverend really tries to get into the psychology of decision-making. This special presents choices that create a real sense of urgency in the audience and aren’t just perfunctory options that need to be selected in order to trigger an algorithm. This special and the paths that it allows its viewers to explore let’s the audience experience Kimmy’s world more thoroughly than ever before, which provides opportunities for the show’s eccentric brand of humor to become even more unhinged. This interactive approach to the series also allows the audience to get the closest that they’ve ever been to actually being in Kimmy’s brain.
Viewers powerfully have the control to choose how Kimmy receives catharsis and what are the healthiest decisions for her life. It’s a level of responsibility that’s actually felt after spending four seasons with these characters and their progress. Furthermore, only the viewers that truly understand Kimmy’s motivations will be able to reach the ultimate, true ending that’s present. Kimmy Vs. The Reverend succeeds with how it’s entertaining to play “properly” in character, or to recklessly choose wild card options in an effort to buck the system.
It’s almost daunting to consider the sheer amount of work that has gone into this production. Many of the best jokes in this special occur after having repeatedly chosen the same dead end answer and suddenly a hilarious alternative failure will take things to even more absurd places. Ellie Kemper’s best acting in the whole special stems from an insane Mexican-inspired version of the “12 Days of Christmas” that’s hard to even access.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy Vs. The Reverend is silly, lovable fun just like the rest of the series, yet presented in such an enjoyable, unique manner. It should take viewers around three hours to work through all of the alternate scenarios, different lines, and multiple rankings that are possible, all of which is very satisfying to do. Admittedly, the story here is somewhat simplistic, in spite of the special’s complex structure. However, it’s probably for the best that Kimmy Vs. The Reverend develops a mission that’s relatively direct, but still important.
Kimmy Vs. The Reverend is a success, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this strategy for interactive specials should become more popular. This is still one of the few comedies where this idea even feels appropriate. However, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt sticks the landing with this experiment so smoothly that this likely won’t be the last “choose your own adventure/whence thither” comedy special.
Now go get that A+ ending!