TV Review - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 2

The first season of this Netflix original comedy was great because it told a compelling story over 13 episodes. It didn't meander the way that 30 Rock meandered. That show, also written and co-created by Tina Fey, shares actors and a certain silly sensibility. That sensibility makes some compare it to being a kind of live-action cartoon. Yes, the characters are ridiculous and cartoonish, so are the characters in numerous sitcoms, or else they're just patently ridiculous. What this series does that others don't is that it's truly a study of the titular character and it truly tells a complete story. Each episode isn't just a standalone, a pull-out, wacky adventure, but instead each episode is part of a grander piece. Each episode builds toward something. It truly takes the viewer on an arc where by the end one walks away thinking you've gone on a journey with Kimmy where she's actually grown or she's learned something about herself.

If you don't know the premise, it's about a teenage girl who is kidnapped and held hostage with other girls in an underground bunker, held there by a cuckoo, cult leader. After spending many years down there, she's rescued and has to start her life over in New York City and discover the world in a lot of ways but with an undeniable optimism. She is embodied with all constant, upbeat glee by Ellie Kemper (The Office).

The first season was in a lot of ways just establishing the environment and the characters. Yet, it's also about Kimmy reconciling what happened down in the bunker and eventually seeking justice against the cult leader who kidnapped her. The first season also had her reconnecting with her father and her sister, and dealing with their roles before and after her abduction.

This season, Kimmy has to reconnect with her mother, played by Lisa Kudrow, and deal with her role before and after. Yet, this is just the cap to a journey on which this series takes us. This truly is a character study. There are feelings and behaviors that Kimmy experiences. This season is about peeling back and understanding why she's acting the way she does. She might seem one-note, but Kimmy has layers and the writing here is rich and nuanced, as well as extremely smart, and Kemper's performance is the glue that holds it together.

However, you couldn't have a great character study if there wasn't a great supporting cast. Kimmy doesn't lean on these characters as much, but they support the show in a myriad of ways. Fey and her co-creator Robert Carlock spin off the characters and give them interesting story lines separately.

Emmy-nominee Tituss Burgess who received his first nomination last year for originating this role co-stars as Titus Andromedon, an aspiring Broadway star who hasn't been very lucky in making it to the stage, not like his comparable contemporary, James Monroe Iglehart who famously won the Tony Award for playing the genie in Aladdin. Both Burgess and Iglehart are African-American. Both are similar in body type. Iglehart guest stars as a version of himself named Coriolanus Burt, and Titus and Coriolanus are rivals in this series, but there is this meta-aspect where the two comment on each other's real-life careers and personas.

What separates them in real-life and on this show is that Titus is a gay black man, a pretty flamboyant one, but only slightly more flamboyant than Coriolanus who is straight. Titus isn't straight, but he does have a past where he was seemingly heterosexual. This show, like any and all great shows, connects the past with the present and even the future.

Titus Andromedon isn't his real name. We learn that Titus' birth name was Ronald Wilkerson and he was married to a woman named Vonda, played by Pernell Walker (Pariah). In Season 2's first episode, there is the question of whether Titus runs away from his problems and ditches people when the going gets rough. This informs the new relationship he begins in the second episode.

Emmy-nominee Jane Krakowski (30 Rock and Ally McBeal) also co-stars as Jacqueline White, a recent divorcee who has to think up ways to maintain the illusion to all of the wealthy Manhattanites that she's still uber-wealthy herself. This is after her spiritual retreat to her family home out on a Native American reservation. Her waspy nature, her privileged and materialistic nature just doesn't jive with her parents who are members of the Sioux tribe.

It provides this series unlike any other series an opportunity to give voice to Native American characters. It doesn't make them the butt of jokes. It makes white privilege the butt of jokes, but in a slightly satirical way. By making Jacqueline a family member of the Sioux tribe, though nonsensical, also provides an empathetic link where that Native American voice can't be ignored.

While the show gets the Native American representation right, not only this season but last, unfortunately the show dropped the ball when it came to Asian representation, particularly last season. Criticisms last season of this show was that its one Asian character was somewhat offensive. The character was tantamount to Jar Jar Binks in its offensive regard.

Ki Hong Lee (The Maze Runner and The Stanford Prison Experiment) plays Dong Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant who fell in love with Kimmy when they were in the same class trying to get their G.E.D. While his character and his behaviors are justifiable and could be found in real-life, they were stereotypical and over-the-top in a way that echoed the same negatives of Jar Jar Binks. Luckily, Ki Hong Lee is so handsome and charming that he could overcome those negatives, but the show did receive a backlash.

Instead of avoiding it, this season, the show addresses the criticism head-on. In the third episode, the character of Dong Nguyen disappears and other Asian characters are introduced. Each collectively give voice to the complaints. Most were online comments. The show is therefore personifying those Internet comments. The show also double-downs in a way that doesn't lessen the offensive material but almost increases it. The character of Dong returns and remains the same in his speech and behavior, but he's so adorable that one could conceivably forgive it.

Other guest stars of note include Anna Camp (True Blood and The Good Wife) who plays a rival to Jacqueline named Dierdre Robespierre who is rich, snooty, stuck-up and waspy to the nth degree. There's also Mike Carlsen who plays Mikey Politano. Carlsen is a relatively new actor. He had a brief role in 30 Rock as a construction worker, probably because he looks like a stocky, Italian boy from Queens, cute and sweet if a little juvenile, the kind of guy who would catcall women on the street.

Carlsen also had a brief role as seemingly the same construction worker in the first season, catcalling Kimmy but feeling guilty about it. Fey and the writers bring him back as the same character, now called Mikey Politano, to explain perhaps those guilty feelings, boasting comparisons to the construction worker from the Village People, and Carlsen is great when he's unleashed, he becomes a ball of energy. His eyes light up and he becomes verbose in almost manic joy. It's almost comparable to Kimmy.

Oscar-nominee and Emmy-winner Carol Kane (Taxi and Gotham) co-stars as Lillian, the kooky landlord of Kimmy and Titus' tiny and crappy apartment. She's a funny third-wheel, but at times her character feels extraneous. She gets great one-liners and is funny.

It's not to the degree of something like Arrested Development or Community, but the show is layered with a lot of jokes with a lot of sight-gags that are simply laid out without too much pointing. There's a reference to the "pizza rat," a viral video from New York that made the news this past year. There's a background running gag of a white robot walking around, asbestos and films like My Girl (1991).

The final episode of Season 2 is great, and it's great for two reasons. The first is its inclusion of Josh Charles who ever since leaving The Good Wife has really stretched his comedic muscles. He was great on Inside Amy Schumer and Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. He appeared in Fey's recent film Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which is probably why he was placed here. Yet, the final episode is great because it pulled off a cool gag. The show went to Universal Studios theme park in Florida and had its emotional climax on a roller coaster. It's amazing.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 30 mins. / 13 eps.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.


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