That theme tune. That theme, though. The catchy auto-tune goodness from the Gregory Brothers is such a strong opener and does focus on the inner strength of the character. The key word in the lyrics, and the show in general is the Unbreakable. The first season introduced us to Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper), a woman who was part of an underground cult for fifteen years who wanted to finally live life in New York City. An eternal childlike optimism and naivety was the dominant characteristics for her and this bright personality led to some funny situations and interactions with others. But season two begins to ask the question: what could theoretically break Kimmy Schmidt?
The first season was originally meant to be a weekly NBC sit-com and the season was very much filmed by the time the show got bought to Netflix. So the short twenty-minute episodes of the first two-thirds of the first season have faded into full half-hour slices of comedy. It’s now moved to the Netflix model, but the transition is seamless and episodes still feel they breeze by. The show also remembers that it still has an episodic foundation at its heart, so whilst there are extra attempts at ongoing character development, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are still able to give us thirteen stand-alone stories that are linked together.
This feels more like a TV show you can binge, rather than compartmentalizing up a six and a half hour movie into equal bite-size chunks. This doesn’t break Kimmy Schmidt the show, it just demonstrates the freedom the creators have to let their stories breathe. Might not be the best example to compare to, but when you look at Arrested Development‘s fourth season the lack of a restriction on duration of episodes hindered the show (though there were other factors – cutting the length would’ve helped a lot). This doesn’t seem the case with the second season.
With The Netflix Model of television creation now in the capable hands of Carlock and Fey, it’s fascinating to see where exactly they go with the character of Kimmy. When the question of what could “break” Kimmy (though the show doesn’t explicitly say “break”) arises, the dark undercurrent of the show’s premise creeps out and there’s a definite theme of recovery that begins to show. Throughout the nice fluffy nature of Kimmy as a character, she has issues. The series doesn’t shy away from the fact that Kimmy’s a survivor of abuse. It doesn’t go into too much dark detail, but with references to stuff that’s apparently brushed off in season one the show decides to tackle moments of Kimmy resorting to violent outbursts. Hitting Dong over the head with a telephone when they try and initiate sex or slapping Titus over velcro are weird quirks to raise a laugh, but the show doesn’t make it the punchline – it has a real interest in what causes these reactions.
A key factor in the season’s success is the introduction of Tina Fey’s Andrea – a psychiatrist with a severe dul-personality drinking problem and possibly just as messed up as Kimmy may be. Fey manages to be sensible at day and a crazy wildcard loose canon at night, but both times they’re allowing Kimmy access to stuff that she needs to hear. It’s the catalyst for Kimmy to face head on her need to be helpful to other people and be self-sacrificing to others. It’s built-up as a strong focus in the first half of the season as Jacqueline using Kimmy to do mindless things moves from a joke to a key arc point (a clever recurring motif in the show, I may add), but never taking stock and being selfish for herself. It takes an interaction with someone incapable of dealing with their problems but intelligent enough to understand them to push Kimmy in the direction of facing her mother – someone she has issues with. This leads to the second best celebrity cameo in Lisa Kudrow playing Lori-Ann Schmidt. Kimmy’s frustrations are all thrown out via a roller coaster and a decade and a half of resentment all
It’s built-up as a strong focus in the first half of the season as Jacqueline using Kimmy to do mindless things moves from a joke to a key arc point (a clever recurring motif in the show, I may add), but never taking stock and being selfish for herself. It takes an interaction with someone incapable of dealing with their problems but intelligent enough to understand them to push Kimmy in the direction of facing her mother – someone she has issues with. This leads to the second best celebrity cameo in Lisa Kudrow playing Lori-Ann Schmidt. Kimmy’s frustrations are all thrown out via a roller coaster and a decade and a half of resentment all comes pouring out. It’s very Kimmy, but all so good.
With the other main characters, Titus continues to be a scene-stealing self-centered diva who finds a boyfriend in the lovably naive Mikey and trying to seek himself, Jacqueline finds herself falling in love and embracing her heritage a lot more – and Lillian remains Lillian; but the series remains self-aware of this. They have their roles in the story, and whilst they all feel separate from each other at several times – the stories help shape the themes of self-acceptance and dealing with their pasts that mirror Kimmy’s story. Jacqueline’s new found causes all want to highlight Native-American plight in the US, Lillian wants to go back to her rebellious youth and combat the internet and Titus learns that his own inhibitions are holding him back yet still expects this to happen in a romanticised and melodramatic way.
The general structure of these reviews means that the bits that weren’t so good appears in the last bit. The thing is, the show does really well in it’s second season that I am finding it had to be critical of it. It doesn’t have the scope and complexity of You’re The Worst but manages to allow itself for repeated viewings to dig deeper into Kimmy’s character. If anything – there’s perhaps some ill-advised attempts at being meta that don’t exactly work but I admire the show attempting to tackle it’s critics in some way. It’s almost South Park-levels of self-referential-ism.
Slight worries over the show changing too much with its freedom on Netflix can fade away now the season’s over – Kimmy Schmidt is Unbreakable (she’s alive, dammit) and bring on the third season!
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