This is a spoiler-free review.
“Life happens and the only thing that we can control is how we deal with it…”
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt started as an impossibly optimistic character’s journey through a dark world to come to terms with her surprisingly disturbing, stunted past. The series has remained true to that vision through its four seasons, but this feels like an especially important virtue right now.
The world is considerably more of a bummer since Kimmy Schmidt started, and a series that shoves a character in everyone’s faces who’s a consistent beacon of light during dark times is needed more than we realise. This season may see Kimmy at her lowest and her light at its faintest glow, but it also has her shine brighter than ever in a fitting swan song to this unconventional hero’s journey.
The first half of Kimmy Schmidt season four ended on the ominous “Phase Two” warning as someone spies on the show’s characters, but that marks less of a new era for the show, but more of a resolution to what the first half of the season introduces. Much of this season continues to explore the changes in climate regarding representation, abuse, and the #MeToo Movement, with each character fitting into a unique position on the topic, as Kimmy just struggles to cling onto a stable future for herself and the children of tomorrow.
At times, this subject matter is just in the background or dressing up B-stories, but it does get a considerable amount of focus, with plotlines pulling from real-life events like how Harvey Weinstein would use ex-Mossad agents to keep tabs on his targets, the difficulty and stigmatisation of victims who come forward, and Ronan Farrow even appears as himself to pursue an exposé on an abuser.
This conversation certainly seems relevant to this series, especially when it has such a female-driven perspective, but at times it feels like it’s a little too real for its own good. This is surely intentional to some degree and it’s fine to see such a wacky world tackle such prescient and important topics, but it feels like the first half of the season does better with these stories and how to subvert them (like how Kimmy inadvertently abuses one of her co-workers), rather than doing such a 1:1 translation of headlines. That said, the idea of a puppet as a perverted serial abuser is so absurd that it becomes strangely hilarious in an awkward way. This is also a show that made Robert Durst a character for a multi-episode arc, just because he was currently popular, so it’s hardly the most absurd thing that they’ve done.
The first half of this season concluded with Kimmy’s undying optimism getting knocked down a few pegs and her realisation that perhaps the best way to change broken men is to get through to them when they’re just boys. This piece of the season continues to embrace that idea, as well as dismantle it. However, the season’s mantra is still that nobody is beyond the point of change and improvement, and it explores this through many different ways. Kimmy has been able to improve herself, but as she lets more people into her life, can she help all of them, too?
Now it’s no longer just Kimmy who’s trying to figure out her future, but everyone finds themselves at a similar cross roads as they try to plan out their lives. Everyone is still blinded by his or her own biases, but the season does hint at clarity finally being found. There are crucial scenes that do show that Kimmy has grown and become savvier about the world around her where she doesn’t make the same mistakes that she would have back during the first season. She’s not an entirely new person, but she’s more fully formed as the series prepares to say goodbye to her.
Ellie Kemper remains perfect in this role and the real tragedy of the show ending is that we won’t get more time with her and this unusual character that she’s given such life. Kimmy offers such a genuinely optimistic, innocent vantage point that’s rare in comedies of this nature. She makes certain lines flow like magic, whereas they’d just fall flat through over-performance. Kimmy tries to learn where her trauma lies and in which area she’s lacking. She wants to accept who she is rather than go crazy over who she isn’t. She realises that people are capable of change, but that you have to work at it and push yourself to take risks. At the same time, it’s also equally acceptable to use your painful past to define who you are and make you stronger or decide that it’s better for you to just abandon your baggage and move on.
Kimmy also attempts to figure out who her real friends are, who she can depend on in life, and who she wants to keep in her life. Before she was desperate and in need of support, but now she can afford to figure out who’s good for her and who isn’t. What’s important about Kimmy is that she listens to everyone and tries to do what’s right, which may seem simple, but it’s crucial to why she’s such an inspiring agent of change. There are also still lots of ridiculous bunker flashbacks to highlight just how far Kimmy has come in her post-bunker time
Titus is very much front and centre in this half-season and other than Kimmy, he receives the most attention. He’s still trying to get on the rebound when it comes to his romantic affairs and remains delusional about his level of fame. Titus also gets caught up in the fallout from his Mr Frumpus Sesame Street audition in the first half of the season. This becomes a large part of his arc for this season and Titus gets put into an interesting position that provides him with a lot of spotlight, but perhaps not in the way that he wants. Titus arguably gets a little too over the top this season with just how helpless and oblivious he is, but it still works for his hyperbolic character. He gains some dimension when his character gets put into a serious storyline, rather than something purely silly.
Jacqueline and Lillian also get some fairly absurd storylines, but at times they feel more like background characters in this collection of episodes. They’re more sounding boards for Kimmy and Titus than they are major forces themselves. The show is still by all means an ensemble, but it feels less so than in previous years with Kimmy and Titus clearly leading the pack. That said, Lillian’s end game and ultimate goal is perhaps my favorite story of the whole season and incredibly perfect for her character.
These episodes confront characters’ past and who they are, both figuratively, but also now in a very literal, creative way, with an extended Sliding Doors riff (a film that seems like it will always be relevant…). It’s a fun, fluffy way to highlight how different Kimmy and Titus’ lives (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the cast, by proxy) would have been if they made different decisions back at certain crossroads in their life. It uses this structure as a surprisingly poignant way to dissect these characters one last time and show how they’ve all had a profound impact on one another for the better. It also highlights how what we think are mistakes can actually be the most important events in our lives and shape us in ways that we didn’t realise. These are different takes on the characters, but they still carry the same fundamental values, which becomes even clearer through these differences.
Kimmy Schmidt’s season four tackles some heavier and more matures issues than usual, but it still provides a biting, sarcastic look at the entertainment industry and the fast-moving nature of celebrity culture. The show’s electric cast of radical supporting characters is also on display with many returning faces as well as new guest stars in tow, too (including a wonderful runner with Anthony Atamanuik as Donald Trump). There’s also a fantastic storyline about the musical Cats that’s too good to reveal and one of the funniest things that the show has ever done.
Perhaps the biggest issue with this half-season of Kimmy Schmidt is something that’s not even the show’s fault. Netflix’s decision to split this season in half hasn’t done it any favours. The first half of the season didn’t end on a very revelatory note, and this season begins in an equally normal place. It feels like you’re being thrown into the middle of the season as your brain attempts to play catch up with the various storylines in play. This isn’t a strong starting place for the year, but instead feels like the continuation of half-finished stories from last year.
There is no question that this show’s final season plays better as a whole and even if these six concluding episodes do go by in a flash (much like the first half of the season), their segregation doesn’t inherently ‘break’ the season, it just makes for an unnecessarily rough start. In what would normally be a bit of a slump at the halfway mark of the season now becomes the starting point. It feels a little wonky, but it still works and quickly gets back on track from this self-imposed obstacle. The subject matter also seems like it would have more of a punch back when the first half of the season dropped, not that it’s by any means irrelevant now.
The second half of Kimmy Schmidt’s season four doesn’t feel like the strongest that the show has been, but it does feel like the relative end of this story without dragging things out further or being disingenuous to the characters and their progress. It’s still a ton of fun, but it seems less seminal than when it began, even if does still have plenty to say. The series ends on a very conclusive note, but the door is definitely open for that hypothetical movie to happen and to check in with these characters’ progress. But in spite of any missteps, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt still puts together a satisfying, appropriate final season that beautifully encapsulates the message that we’re in control of our destinies and that we can be whoever we want.
The final six episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season four are available now on Netflix UK.