It is impossible to dislike the UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT. She’s funny, determined, always kind, has endless energy, and she makes oddly specific 90s references that send us all flying back to our childhoods. Season three has the same flaws as the previous two, with some jokes/storylines that are worth criticism, and issues fitting cohesively into the binge format, but also the same positives with a great cast and a seemingly endless well of ideas.
While season one of the show was quickly met with rave reviews, I, among others, had some issues. Most online criticism revolved around humor deemed racist, and I definitely agree that it was problematic. If you’re going to make jokes about taboo topics you better be bringing a point of view to the table or subvert the usual on-screen depictions of those topics somehow, but Tina Fey’s writing is always jokes first, story/message second which created the problem. Season two was different. Those who immediately praised season one were less-than-thrilled with season two, while many that had been concerned felt their comments answered. The show’s humor was more specific to 90’s kids, it felt less critical of the generation that Kimmy was a part of, and dealt with the emotional impact that living with the bunker had taken on the titular character.
As much as season two felt like a response to the backlash from season one, this season felt as though the writing team regretted taking the internet’s reactions to heart and wanted to go back to season one’s attitude of not caring as much. They also wanted to take the emotional arc of Kimmy and her trauma forward by having Kimmy actually use the word “rape” in regards to her time in the bunker.
The attitude of shrugging off the internet is best seen as Kimmy attends Columbia University and explores the idea of feminism. Kimmy is surrounded by young women who are still figuring out their own individual identities, but with the relentless confidence that comes with a traditionally sheltered life. The goal is to mock the often overwhelming discussions of feminism and empowerment among young women, but at times it comes across as tone deaf in the same ways that Gloria Steinem angered female Bernie Sanders supporters with statements she made during election season. The episode is funny but you can’t help but ask yourself: what is the point? Should we walk away from the discussions? Are you not allowed to dress in a “sexy outfit” for yourself or is it always defined by male gaze?
Also, where were the 90s references all season? When season two aired I could’ve sworn that the writing staff had added a few millennials. The references made (like how Kimmy still wants Nickelodeon to take over her school – who doesn’t?) were so specific to kids who grew up in the 90s that it seemed impossible that someone who was in college then or older would be able to pull them. This season they were much fewer.
Emotionally, Kimmy made huge strides last season with her relationship with her mother, but since the 30 Rock team is best at joke-based stories, it didn’t hit home as strongly as it needed too and viewers felt that it slowed down the episodes. However, the show finds great ways to bring Kimmy’s past to the forefront this season, particularly when Laura Dern visits the series early on to play the Reverend’s fiancee who is completely forgiving of his past crimes. While Kimmy tries to convince Dern’s character of the horrible person Reverend Richard is, she finally says that she was raped. The line isn’t a throwaway, it hits hard, but it also doesn’t halt the story. Another show might’ve let this moment sit longer and had Kimmy break into a somber, heartfelt moment, but that’s not Kimmy or this show. It is definitely a highlight of the season. Towards the end of the season, the show does what it has done each season and tries to close out the emotional arc. Kimmy’s decision to not sign the divorce papers ends up biting her in the ass as it keeps her from her dream job as crossing guard, but thankfully she finds another opportunity through a classmate with a start-up company who needs her “emotional intelligence” to help him interact with others.
The ending is happy, but ultimately it’s a round-about-season. Kimmy going to college, only for it all to be a waste when she goes for a crossing guard certification, is extremely clunky. What does it say that Kimmy should learn from this year? That when she’s not her perfectly nice self that she’ll never succeed? But that only applied to the divorce, so what does it have to do with all that time she spends trying to settle into college? The thing is, if this were a week-to-week show then these start-and-stop storylines would be fine, but when you binge it’s important to either commit to the (mostly) isolated episode format or lean into the clear, season-long emotional arc. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is great when it’s the former, but the handful of episodes that stretch a situation over two or three episodes can hurt whatever messages the writing is commenting on.
The best part of the season by far are the guest stars. While Kimmy’s plots are hit-and-miss, the overarching storylines of Titus and Jacqueline were fantastic this year. When the show began, Jacqueline was clearly a combination of Jenna and Jack from 30 Rock and season two had a lot of work to do to fix the reveal that Jacqueline is Native American, and the jokes that mocked that culture. The choice was to set her on a path to change the name of the Washington Redskins, which brought David Cross onto the show to play Russ and Josh Charles as Duke, two brothers whose family owns the football team. Jacqueline and Russ fall in love, and season three finds Russ slowly run over and his body “destroyed,” giving Duke time to make moves on Jacqueline. What makes this storyline sing is Josh Charles, who does not get enough opportunities to show off his amazing comedic skills. It also finally depicts Jacqueline as her own, unique character. She’s finally smart, independent, and knows the direction of her life, which doesn’t involve getting married anymore. Titus, meanwhile, has his own trauma on the high-seas this season, giving Maya Rudolph a phenomenal chance to show off her Dionne Warwick impression. He also finds success singing a song about boobs, which is a hilarious and catchy bit.
This season was very entertaining as always, but this show would benefit much more if it were on network television and not set in a binge format. Thankfully, the season ended on a happy note and I personally think it would be better if they let the show end there. Everyone is happy and satisfied in their life. Kimmy still has plenty of work to do for herself but there’s never been a doubt she won’t succeed. She is unbreakable after all!
Season 3, Episodes 1-13 (S03E01-13)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt streams on Netflix
Emily is a writer and television obsessor. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why soap operas are underrated, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed.
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Emily J | Staff Writer