This Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is spoiler-free review.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season 3 debuts at a time when it’s never been easier to find a laugh on television.
Kimmy is competing for laughs with the likes of BoJack Horseman, Arrested Development, Master of None and Lady Dynamite…and that’s just the other original comedies on Netflix. That’s not even to mention the It’s Always Sunny’s, Broad City’s or Black-ish’s of the world.
With that many options, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has to do a lot to keep up with the comedy Jones’s. It has to be meta like Rick and Morty. It has to be melancholy like BoJack Horseman. It has to be hyper plot-focused like Silicon Valley. It has to come to my house and do my damn dishes because I’m a valued content consumer and I said so.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is precisely none of those things. It has some moments of emotional resonance but they are often just barebones enough for a season to have a believable arc. It isn’t that concerned with how tightly plotted its stories are or how groundbreaking its format is. On paper Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt shouldn’t be keeping up with the comedy Jones’s.
Still Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season 3 does keep pace with the TV comedy arms race for one simple reason: it’s really, really, really funny.
Kimmy creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock have been at this comedy writing thing for awhile. You know Fey from precisely everything and you know Carlock from being Tina Fey’s buddy. Fey and Carlock are charmingly inoculated from TV’s new investment in poignant comedy storytelling because they’ve been doing this their way for so long. They have a style, honed from Fey’s time as head writer on Saturday Night Live and both’s work as showrunners on 30 Rock, and they stick to it. It’s a style that can be best described as “Can we fit a joke into this scene? No? Well then scrap that shit.”
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fits this style to a T. The plots and situations are disposable, the characters are shallow archetypes, albeit utterly charming ones. Each moment has screen has value for Kimmy Schmidt only if its designed to make us laugh. This was how seven seasons of 30 Rock operated, how the first two seasons of Kimmy operated and it’s how this one operates too.
Reviewing a new season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is like being a weatherman on North Korean television. How’s season 3? Everything sunny all the time always, fam. Now crank out these 13 episodes, get your chuckles in and move along.
Like many other Fey/Carlock properties, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season 3 begins with a desperate rush to get things back to status quo. Titus obviously cuts his life-affirming cruise singer experience short. Lillian bids farewell to ol’ Bobby Durst and Kimmy works to get the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne out of her life for good. This time around it’s a bit more difficult as Wayne is seeking a divorce to their surprisingly legally-recognized marriage to each other in the bunker.
This rushed reset to get the characters back to zero before they continue with new adventures again robs the first three episodes of a lot of humor and momentum. Of the six episodes reviewed there is a surprisingly wide quality gap between the first half and the back half, with episodes 4 through 6 being among the funniest the show has ever done. How stark is the difference? Let’s just say the original headline for this review was constructed after the first three episodes and had a far more dismal view of Kimmy’s place in the TV arm’s race.
In that way season 3 is not unlike both seasons 1 and 2. This is a show that takes its time to warm up and then once it does stays in an almost unprecedented comedic zone for 7-10 episodes.
Even during the “down” episodes, however, the show features at least several jokes per episode so bizarre yet so apt that they’re impossible not to laugh at. “TV is computers now,” Kimmy tells Titus about what he missed during his time on the boat. Later Titus will assure Kimmy “Everybody’s gay, Kimmy! It’s the ‘90s.” This is shortly before Titus “Lemonades” his way across East Dogmouth (Kimmy, Lillian and Titus’s fictional neighborhood) as retaliation for Mikey’s perceived infidelities.
The one thing that season 3 accomplishes better than previous seasons is finding believable ways to group its characters together. Kimmy worms her way back into Xan’s life when she begins attending Columbia University with her (she gets a scholarship for…an interesting reason). Jacqueline’s scheming with Russ Snyder about how to take over his family’s Washington professional football team (the ol’ Racist Names) means that she needs plenty of help and in one memorable episode just straight up finally asks Kimmy for Titus’ number. Praise be! Lillian’s burgeoning political career also creates exciting new opportunities for many combinations of characters to get involved with the bizarre goings-on in East Dogmouth.
Aside from these few cosmetic changes (and one change is literally cosmetic: Kimmy’s fun new adult haircut!), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is locked in to its formula for better or worse. Thankfully that formula is almost always for the better. A couple episodes will get Kimmy and friends back to the status quo. Then another will feature someone from Kimmy’s past. Then another will feature Jacqueline’s struggles with high society. And most importantly, an episode will feature an absolute banger of a Jeff Richmond-composed song.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season 3 doesn’t break the mold. It doesn’t revolutionize what we come to expect from our TV comedy. It doesn’t make us weep or ask ourselves deep existential questions. It does, however, make us laugh. And thank Jeepers for that.