Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is whirlwind of goofy staccato-style humour interspersed with heartfelt moments, inside jokes, and the occasional social commentary. Season two came out on Netflix in its entirety on Friday and after binging through all thirteen episodes, I have to say I’m left feeling a bit dizzy. With half-baked racial politics, great cameos, memorable one-liners, season two is a meal I enjoyed, although, not all the ingredients were quite to my taste.
Does Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt have a race problem? You can read here, here, this, and this to see why and how many people think that it does. Are we living in a “culture of apology” series creator Tina Fey would like to think? Is it that we’re just asking for the joke to be explained to us? I don’t want the joke explained to me, I just know when it comes to Native American and Asian characters the show leaves me cringing.
Jane Krakowski is a white actor who plays a Native American woman who’s been pretending to be white and decides to go back home to her family to learn about herself. They immediately don’t want her because she fucks everything up, and she decides to return to Manhattan to… I’m not quite clear: Raise money for her family? Resolve racism? Change the name of The Washington Red Skins?
I’m sure in the creation of this character’s back story there was some thought about how to utilize satire and parody in order to provide a commentary through humour. But these tools of hilarity, I’m afraid, are just not sharp enough. The comedic potential for these subjects isn’t untouchable by any means, but the show tries too hard, and just casts the wrong person to crash into the issues head on.
Unbreakable has also been criticized for its portrayal of Asian characters. The “Dong Problem” as some on the interwebs has ‘splained it is that many felt Dong Nguyen (Ki Hong Lee) was a one-dimensional stereotype of Asian immigrants in America. Another cringe emerged on my face when we see Dong again — but without his trademark accent. The reason for the change in his enunciation is accredited to the Kardashians and his keeping up with them — but is this merely a correction after a wave of criticisms?
The show has a self-reflective episode about critics themselves, “Kimmy Goes To A Play!” wherein Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) crafts a one-man show about his past life of as a geisha. Those taking issue with an appropriation of culture are painted as Internet trolls with their indecipherable sarcasm and seemingly blind hate. Their hearts are inevitably melted with a moving performance by Titus: as if to say, “It’s alright I can do this. We’re all cool.”
With its complex tragic/heroic depictions of women, gay men, and social justice vigilantes, 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy would cite Unbreakable as a cog on the Liberal Agenda Machine, and I bet he’d have some no-holds-barred hilarious views about the whole affair.
Perhaps what Kimmy Schmidt needed was someone like Jack: he’s unapologetically skewed to the far right and his thoughts about women, poor people, and race have a tangible bite. But there is not such character in Unbreakable to lead us out of awkwardness to straight up comedic offensiveness meant to birth commentary and reflection. Instead we see the series fall short on the issue of race with a toothless, flippant, and wishy-washy stance. I wish things were different.
That isn’t to say the show is not funny.
Ellie Kemper plays the unbreakable woman with her trademark smile and upbeat naïveté. Kimmy Schmidt’s past is a dark one, and her transition from Mole Woman to uncharacteristically chipper New Yorker is expertly executed (not to mention her impression of 90’s stand up comics). She’s trying to move on from her past and make a life for herself, but she must face the demons that simmer inside her releasing themselves periodically as stinky burps.
Carol Kane portrays the deliciously deviant Lillian Kaushtupper whose noodle hair, Robert Durst connections, and rejection of gentrification leaves one pausing the action just to react to the depravity of her life.
Tina Fey joins the cast to play Kimmy’s Uber customer/therapist with an alcohol problem. Her character’s life advice after having a little too much P Diddy vodka as well as her general shenanigans is too funny to resist. After seeing this and her role in Sisters, I’m really loving the “hot mess” Tina.
We are dazzled by Tituss Burgess’ singing voice as well as his comedic timing. The “Pinot Noir”song was his big hit last season, but he slays every single song in season two it’s hard to pick a favourite.
Amy Sedaris plays the too-tanned, so sad socialite Mimi. She delivers her panicked one-liners with devastating accuracy with just a hint of clown. I half wished she and Jeff Goldblum, who plays a Maury Povich style therapy-tainment show host, could have met. Think of their two crazed eyes meeting across the room.
It’s not just punchy lines that had me tittering throughout the season, but also the music. “Daddy’s Boy” is a particularly darkly funny diddy about sexual predators, and the song “I’m Freaking Out” played to the tune of “All By Myself” might just be my new stress song.
This season was particularly emotional. Kimmy tries to deal with her love for the married Dong, works on self respect, tries to help the other mole women from joining a new cult or marrying a gay man, she finally cries, and meets her mother (Lisa Kudrow) for the first time since getting out of the hole. Titus is in a serious relationship with a construction worker who’s in denial at work about his identity, confronts his issues about being rejected, and puts his butt into gear when it comes to his career. Jacqueline falls for sugar daddy (David Cross) and gets closer to her son. Lillian’s devastated at the prospect of losing her shitty neighbourhood to hipsters and jogger moms.
Fee fees were had by all, but never lingering in the sullen moments for too long before we get a spray painted effigy of Tilda Swinton, or a Mad Men reference (“The Reverend tried to tell me he wrote the ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke ad.”) to break the tension.
Season two of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is worth watching if you want that trademark Tina Fey style and some excellent performances and twisted musical numbers. Just keep in mind the whirlwind of emotions you might be feeling when coming to terms with what the show has to offer.