Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt debuted on Netflix last spring to critical acclaim. The unlikely comedy, which garnered seven Emmy Award nominations, centers on Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), imprisoned for 15 years in a bunker with three roommates with sporadic visits from the cult’s leader, the Reverend (Jon Hamm). It’s a dark premise for a comedy, but this season makes it clear that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, while so outlandishly overacted for effect, can still deal in nuance.
After a SWAT team rescues the Indiana Mole Women, Kimmy begins a new life for herself in New York City, where she finds friends in her out-of-work actor roommate Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), their landlady Lillian (Carol Kane), and Kimmy’s boss, the trophy wife Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowsi).
The first season of the Tina Fey-created show established its characters as caricatures before subverting each example, both as punchlines and punctuation in its drama. Kimmy, kidnapped in middle school and thus stagnated in her growth, must confront adulthood and independent life. Jacqueline’s confident façade fades to show her personal insecurities in the face of financial ones. Titus steps outside his personal brand of narcissism to be a better friend to Lillian and Kimmy.
The conflicts in the first half of season two continue the development of some of these same themes. Titus’ ex-wife from his hometown in Mississippi travels to New York to confront him, forcing him to consider his past and his treatment of other people. Titus also makes a new more-than-a-friend in Mikey, a construction worker who comes out to Titus and who must deal with daily intolerance. Jacqueline, her husband having abandoned her, must come to terms with the personal and social implications of sudden financial limitations.
But while the second season continues to explore some of the same themes, it delves into darker material than before, especially as it concerns its relentlessly sunny protagonist. Season one made nods to Kimmy’s experiences in the bunker, but it often treated them with irreverent humor. The finale saw the prosecution of the Reverend, forcing Kimmy and her compatriots to band together to make a defense. But the show never explores Kimmy’s psychological damage until the later episodes of season two.
Kimmy, for instance, brings a date to one of Jacqueline’s lavish parties with a veteran. When he panics at a loud noise, pushing her out of the way, she jumps on him and reflexively tries to pull at his nonexistent beard (which the Reverend had), showing the characters’ separate traumas. Kimmy also begins therapy, reunites with her family, and is forced to give up on her first love, Dong (Ki Hong Lee), who is trapped in a green-card marriage.
Gretchen (Lauren Adams) was a willing and believing member of the Reverend’s cult. While it seems in the first season that she was just taken by the Reverend’s personality (and who could blame her for her interest in Jon Hamm?), she immediately joined another cult, prompting Kimmy to confront her about her follower personality and susceptibility to extremism. All this in a funny and lighthearted tone, of course.
The show has some slip-ups, to be certain, especially as concerns the representation of race. Kimmy Schmidt has come under criticism for both its treatment of Jacqueline’s Native American roots and a season two sequence in which Titus, an African-American man, portrays a Japanese geisha that he believes himself to have been in a past life, to the chagrin and then appreciation of an Asian representation activist group. These interactions in the context of comedy are somewhat enigmatic, but they can certainly make for some cringeworthy moments depending on the interpretation.
Despite its darker dramatic developments, Kimmy Schmidt still elicits genuine laughs. One of the highlights among season two’s new cast members is Anna Camp as Deirdre Robespierre, a State Department exec-turned-socialite housewife who uses her excess mental energy to manipulate Manhattan’s wealthy. She transcends the mean-girl stereotype by betting against herself, doing her best to outsmart Jacqueline and expose her relative poverty (she’s now only a “dozen-aire” with $12 million) while hoping Jacqueline will match her wits.
And on the subject of wittiness, if you can’t get enough of the catchy, key-changing theme song, get ready for new songs this season. In the fifth episode, Titus sings the majority of his lines while citing numbers from fake (and comically offensive) musicals. Plus, there’s even a new option to “Kimmify” your Netflix account, which changes the color scheme to pink and purple.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has its ups and downs in its character development, but it has proven itself to have an unbreakable spirit.
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