Early on in the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt pilot, the Indiana mole women are interviewed on the TODAY Show by Matt Lauer. In a now eerie line, he remarks: “I’m always amazed at what women will do because they are afraid of being rude.” A clip from the 2015 episode is still billed on YouTube as a “hilarious” cameo.
In the latest season of the show, Kimmy explodes at a gentleman she’s speaking to, invoking the Real World tagline “so this is what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.”
If the former quote explains how Kimmy Schmidt has operated to date, the latter is an apt descriptor for where the show is going in its final season. Prior seasons have let us watch Kimmy and her friends/colleagues/sometimes-boss explore emotions that can come from the aftermath of capture. Fear, frustration, loss, and confusion were all pretty well-worn as we approached this premiere. Now, a new emotion is surfacing, and it’s been time to see it: anger.
All this a product of co-creator Tina Fey’s anger at our current climate, or call it a natural arrival at an emotion anyone in Kimmy’s circumstances could have arrived at earlier, but it’s been incredibly satisfying to watch. Anger with our present moment demonstrates itself in sly ways, like when Kimmy’s efforts to fire a staff member without hurting his feelings leads to a sexual harassment claim. (This feels like a theme Fey is intent on exploring, if a storyline featuring her on NBC’s Great News – produced, but not created, by her – is also a reflection of her thinking.) The anger shows up in Pittsburgh, at a tech conference where Kimmy is asked to cover up a fellow tech conferencegoer’s philandering because “it’s part of the culture.” The anger shows up as Kimmy bucks the expectations for a book proposal she’s asked to write about her experiences in the bunker.
And the anger shows up most hilariously in the season’s third episode, a “bottle episode” mockumentary that aims to exonerate Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, Kimmy’s one-time captor. Here, the show is at its most angry…and most effective. In its slightly expanded 33 minutes, it explores the complicated legacy of men we’ve grown to admire (with unsubtle nods to Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby), where men might feel justified in possessive treatment of women, and – separately – our obsession with true crime documentaries. It’s smartly executed and packed tightly with jokes, while also saying something very important about the moment we’re in.
While I’m excited about the emotional arc of the season, I’ll also say that the subplots feel more scattered than in season’s past. Titus Burgess’s Titus Andromedon was the unequivocal standout in season 3; this year, he’s shuttled between a number of subplots, none of which serve him and his considerable talent particularly well. The same can be said of Jane Krakowski and Carol Kane, who spend minimal time onscreen in fairly uncompelling storylines. Even cameos by Busy Phillips and Black-ish’s Marsai Martin are far less memorable than the talents of those actors should merit. With a show that consistently draws outstanding, it’s only Bobby Moynihan – as men’s rights activist Fran Dodd – and a repeat appearance by Jon Hamm as the reverend, who feel anywhere near reaching their full potential.
This batch of episodes is only the beginning of Kimmy Schmidt’s farewell; the second half of the season will drop in January 2018. And while I’d never attempt to guess what the show has in store for its end, I’m hoping for a bit more focus, more room to shine for its supporting cast, and – yes – as much anger as they’ve got.