“What’s your deal? You’re like a cartoon person.”
The first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was an eccentric powerhouse of a comedy. While retaining much of the elastic reality that creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock enjoyed with 30 Rock, Kimmy Schmidt simultaneously has a darker, but also more uplifting tone. It also finally gave us a vehicle for Ellie Kemper to shine with her portrayal of Kimmy. After a strong freshman season, Kimmy Schmidt has a ton of lofty expectations its for sophomore year. Would the show be capable of topping its first outing?
It’s been well over a year since Kimmy Schmidt’s first season was released, and being with these characters and their universe again is a fond reminder of how much they’ve been missed (as well as that hell of a theme song). That being said, this season does operate largely the same as before, even if there is more serialization pushing these characters forward. More of the same is certainly not a bad thing when it comes to this show, but its shiny luster from the first season has certainly worn off. It’s almost like how Kimmy’s take on the real world has been an increasingly less shock to her system. Even episodes this season that feel by-the-book and go for low-hanging fruit are still a lot of fun. This show is gooey comfort food and it’s just enjoyable to spend time in this world, even when it’s at its worst.
Now that Kimmy has reached some peace of mind over her “Hole” situation last season, we see her really trying to seize the day and get her reclaimed life back on track. That includes areas like Kimmy trying to finish her GED or going to the DMV to get an ID. Kimmy checking off these missed milestones is worthwhile storytelling and watching her be put through more real world experiences, albeit sitcom-y, works in the show’s favor. There’s also a really refreshing story about cult survivors and how they just move to other cults, perpetuating victimhood. At the same time it looks at people who are deeply co-dependent and can’t—or shouldn’t—be making decisions on their own, which is a rather poignant thing to get into on a sitcom.
The show also digs into some deeper material—whether people are into it or not—like how Kimmy’s friends might not be good people, and her trusting nature might be getting the better of her. A lot of this year explores what is right and wrong and the juicy moral grey areas in between.
“Do people change, or are we are who we are forever?” is a major theme wrestled with this year. There are a number of stories, at least in the first half of the season, dealing with Kimmy helping people realize their moral centers and seizing their lives as they better themselves together. A lot of this season is about how you can’t just walk away from your problems. Kimmy acting as a constant moral compass is enjoyable, but it eventually wears thin.
Thankfully the strong performances by Kemper and the rest of the cast keep the material at a high level. Kemper’s adorable infectious excitement in this role is stronger than ever. Lines like, “You can’t be mad with a cone in your paw!” punctuate her exuberance so well. She’s got the part down to a science at this point. Hurling childhood comebacks like some alternate take on Pee-Wee still yields great results and is the perfect use of Kemper.
The rest of the cast also see injections of reality, like Titus entering a somehow-stable relationship and us more or less getting his origin story, too. Jacqueline gets some solid storylines with her son, Buckley, exploring medication and actually opening a reasonable conversation. Even Lillian gets a bizarre plot about the never-coming 2nd Avenue subway which acts as a nice moment about how giving up sometimes isn’t cowardly, but in fact the braver thing to do. The cast is in fine form, even if the characters are lapsing more into caricatures at times.
On the topic of absurdity, the show’s unhinged, surreal sense of humor has never been stronger. There’s a so-bizarre-I–love-it gag involving Chuck Lorre and the Ninja Turtles theme, at other times mannequins in storefronts turn out to be real people, or extended runners involving the iconic Mentos commercial run amok. At other points the show will deliver something so ridiculous like Titus in geisha makeup that can slowly transform into something beautiful when you just give it a chance and stay with it. This is a season after all that has Fred Armisen playing Robert Durst as a love interest of Lillian in a recurring role, at that.
I’m also under the impression that this season of Kimmy Schmidt is heavily backloaded. Of the announced guest stars supposed to appear this season, David Cross, Jeff Goldblum, and Tina Fey have all yet to appear in the first half of things, so some big surprises are still being held out for the end at least. This is also the first season of the show produced for Netflix (season one was made for NBC), that you’d think it’d have a little extra panache, but it feels like it just caused them to overthink things a little. For instance, the season begins with an unnecessary in media res opening to three months later, which feels like the first “Netflix change.” They know that people are going to be binging anyway to get to this moment, and it feels like a gambit that wouldn’t be made if they were still on network TV.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is still a very solid show and I’m probably just holding it up to a higher standard because it had such a strong first season. Season two might not be as aggressive an attack of comedy as the first season, but it’s full of great characters with one of the more unique perspectives around on a sitcom. The season also pushes a mantra of never giving up on your dreams and to not listen to haters, so even if you don’t dig this thing, it’s still going to go on being itself in spite of you.
This review was based on the first six thirty-minute episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s second season. All thirteen episodes will be available to stream on Netflix on April 15th.
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