Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt second season review
Looking for a breakthrough
First season spoilers below.
When Netflix handed comedy wizards Tina Fey and Robert Carlock the keys to their very own series in April 2015, what few doubters there were quickly hushed their reservations. The result was thirteen episodes of nonstop laughter in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” a streaming sitcom that follows a thirty-year-old woman as she adjusts to living in New York City having survived fifteen years held hostage underground in an Indiana bunker. When Ellie Kemper’s (“The Office,” 21 Jump Street) Kimmy left last season, her boyfriend stumbled into an immigration marriage, her socialite boss adopted Native American roots, and her roommate’s ex-wife showed up on the scene. The second season opens on all these colorful characters in the protagonist’s life clamoring for her assistance; but nobody seems interested in helping or furthering Kimmy, who quickly notices this trend among her friends. The titular hero wonders why she never chooses her own needs over being nice to others, which she realizes ties back all the way to the day she was abducted. What makes the second season of UKS unforgettable is Fey and Carlock’s ability to create constant comedy around this character stuck in arrested development while simultaneously seeking a breakthrough. It should be an utterly tragic show, and yet the jokes never stop.
Kemper’s Kimmy charmed audiences in the first year with her undying positivity and child-like, excitable quality. The second season takes her sunny disposition and examines it at length—why exactly does a 30-year-old woman walk, talk, and behave in the quirky ways Kimmy does? Especially after everything she endured in the bunker? Series co-creator Tina Fey returns to play a different role in the season two—a therapist with dual identities (one sober, one drunk) at odds with each other. Fey’s therapist agrees to examine Kimmy, though not in a typical analytical setting. In a way, these new episodes of UKS make it easier to accept the instant humor of each joke as opposed to wondering if it’s okay to laugh when one considers the dark, looming punch line that is the Reverend’s bunker. As Kimmy finds out why she is the way she is, the writing treats the viewer to a massive psychological breakthrough blooming in a bed of comedy.
Despite Kimmy’s confusing psyche, the others in her life find themselves in psychological conundrums of their own. Tituss Burgess’ (“30 Rock,” The Angry Birds Movie)Titus Andromedon starts the year right where we last left him—face-to-face with Vonda, his ex-wife. Titus always avoided and ran away from whatever plagued him in the first season and now he finally has to face the music for running out on his bride before they even had a chance to dance. His psychology is another aspect that could always make the series a dark drama instead of a widely-loved comedy. Titus reconciles his youth as a closeted man in Mississippi to his present situation of climbing the show business ladder in New York City during the new season. While he may not have been trapped underground against his will, it’s clear that Titus felt “trapped” by his surroundings. As he faces a new relationship, Titus needs to follow Kimmy’s example and grow up a lot.
Another emotionally “trapped” character appears in the form of Jane Krakowski’s (“30 Rock,” “Ally McBeal”) Jacqueline. After triumphantly leaving her husband with her chin up toward the end of last season, Jacqueline left her hollow Manhattanite lifestyle to adopt her Lakota roots. However, she soon wears out her welcome at the reservation and returns to New York with “just” twelve million dollars. As she tries to rise in the ranks again, Jacqueline begins to feel more and more “trapped” at thought of residing in Manhattan and living up to the social expectations of her peers. What will happen if her Lakota beliefs directly clash with climbing the societal ladder? This subplot never gets as dark as Kimmy, or even Titus, but a few episodes focus on her abilities as a mother—a theme always waiting to get gloomy that avoids the rainclouds on this series.
Perhaps the most twisted aspect of Jacqueline’s arc is landing on the radar of Anna Camp’s (Pitch Perfect, “True Blood”) Deirdre Robespierre. Camp’s Deirdre is a socialite-supermom-“it girl” who chooses Jacqueline as her successor/ nemesis, mostly due to the wasted mental energy in her life that never gets devoted to anything beyond menial things like “dog stationery.” Deirdre always makes you think twice (and laugh harder) while you’re enjoying the joke because it typically references how simultaneously awful and pleasant her circumstances are—was being the number one Manhattanite worth giving up self-identity and the soul? Her only way “out” is to make friends with Jacqueline while simultaneously trying to socially sabotage her (because you can’t let people win). Talk about trapped.
Now that Kimmy seems free to find out she is and why, Carol Kane’s (“Gotham,” The Pacifier) Lillian winds up as the most “trapped” character on UKS. Remember that the first season’s final episodes took place in Indiana and the only way Lillian could make it there was to hitch a ride with Jacqueline. A hilarious and unlikely team-up ensued, but there was an undercurrent of immobility in regards to Lillian. As all the people close to her branch out, Lillian notices that she’s losing a lot more than just her friends—she’s losing the entire neighborhood to ironic hipsters! As Kimmy and Titus seem to be finding their “best selves,” Lillian’s merely watching from the sidelines as her friends grow up and have less time to share with her. She has no big complaints or problems with herself—she’s just getting older. While it should feel heartbreaking, the situation just can’t on this show. Especially when Lillian’s new gentleman goes by the name “Bobby Durst” and shows up in the form of SNL veteran and “Portlandia” co-creator Fred Armisen.
So much emotional and psychological material went in to the making of the newest “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” season and all of it appeared to pay off well. Fey and Carlock create a humorous route to understanding tragedy and finding a breakthrough. This cast not only maintains what made the first season an undeniable hit, but also shows the actors’ and actresses’ ability to grow with their written characters. In the end, the second season of UKS simply follows a handful of damaged New Yorkers with tragic pasts and optimistic futures from an unmistakably chipper perspective.