UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT is that rare thing: A show that lives up to its title. Coming into its second season on streaming titan Netflix, its first season was originally set to air on NBC (the network that previously aired 30 Rock) until it was pulled for no reason and disappeared. Seeming left underground in the bunker of cancelled television, it was rescued by Netflix to begin a new life on the internet. Over its first series, creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock faced claims of racism, racism again and making light of trauma but it continued to present its sunny, if refreshingly dark, face and remain optimistic. If you haven’t seen Season One or haven’t worked out, yes, this is me playing a spin on the plot of television show reflecting the life of the television show. How meta. But truly, it seems that in spite of everything, this show is unbreakable and I’m very glad it is.
Catching up where Season One left off: Kimmy (Ellie Kemper, relishing the escaping of the rapidly bloated ensemble of The US Office) is still living in New York with her roommate Titus Andromedon (Titus Burgess, also a 30 Rock alumnus) and her landlady Lillian Kaushtupper(Carol Kane). The love of her life Dong (Ki Hong Lee) is in a green card marriage, her former employer Jacqueline Vorhees nee White (Jane Krakowski, furthering the 30 Rock links) has moved back to the Native American reservation she grew up on. Luckily this season massively improves upon season one in terms of its approach to this particularly divisive storyline.
It’s worth saying one thing now, Season Two catches up where One left off in the most important way: right from the off, I was laughing my head off. Kimmy Schmidt is a comedy, admittedly one that plays right into a lot of my favourite elements of comedy, but quite simply all it needed to do was make me laugh and it did that a lot. Honestly, I could probably end the review there, watch an episode, any episode, did you laugh? Then keep watching, if not, well, I think it’s clear what the opposite is. It is worth highlighting how well the network comedy stylings have been developed for the looser netflix form, taking the episodes out of the rigid structure of standard TV has allowed the jokes more time to breathe (and pile up, expect to rewatch the series just to catch jokes you missed) but also by limiting itself to thirteen episodes, it manages to tell a concise story without the flab that so often accompany twenty-plus episode series’. I know it’s odd that I’m saying the season is worth of praise for being both loose within episodes but concise overall but screw it, I like contradictions.
Kemper nails every scene she’s in, even managing to give some growth and inner pain to her performance. Obviously the series never goes full Room in its portrayal of a woman imprisoned but at the same time it finds humour without ever playing her emotional trauma itself for laughs. There are some cameos and guest appearances that I don’t want to spoil but I do need to praise the cast for their incredibly game performances. I could have just made this review a complete list of my favourite lines they gave to Carol Kane (did you know that everything she owns, she got in the ’77 blackout and when she needed some new shoes, she caused the 2003 blackout?) but beyond the obvious brilliance of the main cast, there are so many great additions like Amy Sedaris and Anna Camp as deranged New York socialites with Camp’s psychotic intellectualism playing especially well with the show’s standard characterisation veering towards the blithe idiots of the world, her not-quite antagonistic position is refreshing and enlivens every scene she has. Tina Fey also appears (as a different character to that from her first season arc) in a role that reminds us how strong she can be in front of the camera with the right material, especially when she had a hand in writing it. Jon Hamm casually steals the series despite limited screen time but thats always going to happen, its Jon Hamm, he came up with the ‘buy a coke’ ad.
As well crafted as the jokes are, sometimes the plot can feel a tad underwhelming, more a vehicle to move from joke-to-joke, especially the romance between Kimmy and Dong never quite gelling overall as an idea beyond some surprisingly strong chemistry from Kemper and Lee (and his incredible Kardashian impressions). Also Carol Kane’s journey to prevent her Brooklyn neighbourhood from becoming hipster-y and gentrified has strong comedic potential but never quite links into anyone else’s stories enough to feel like much more than something to give her to do when the rest of the cast are off having their adventures. Also as much fun as Fey’s character who shall still not be named because spoilers (I’m not saying that’s a hint that she’s Voldemort but…) is, she does seem to mostly provide second act emotional exposition that seems lazy and arguably unearned.
Despite its issues, Kimmy Schmidt has found a rhythym that is unique, confident and very funny. It also has a cop duo who are a rabbit and a kitten, these things are important. As well as this, its a show with a breezy, colourful cinematography that befits the protagonists mental state, it has some quite wonderful moments of poignancy and some brilliant work by musical director jeff Richmond that might outdo Season One’s Pinot Noir (an ode to black penis). I really want to just ramble on here about all the gags I loved but I don’t want to ruin them for you so just treat yourself, go watch it.