Silly but smart
‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ is a joke-dense teaching tool
Ellie Kemper in “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Part one of season four of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” on Netflix is fast-moving, joke dense, and strong in its feminist politics. Many of the women characters on the show, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (who also made “30 Rock”) find their agency this season. Jane Krakowski’s character, Jacqueline White, starts her own actual talent agency where she represents the show’s flamboyant and failing actor, Titus Andromedon and “Titus with a fake mustache on.” The agency is called White Talent, by the way.
Jokes are written into the show in every way possible—like the robot named C.H.E.R.Y.L. or “Cybernetic Human Empathy Response Yuko slash Lamp,” who might have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Then there are jokes you can’t hear but only read in the subtitles—like the low-budget, off-brand high school musical Titus is directing, “Beaudy an’ the Beest.” There are subtle jokes that you have to pause and look for, like one scene where Titus eats “Dog Chow” out of a box that looks like it should have cereal in it.
I’ve heard a lot of folks talk about “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” as a “guilty pleasure” show, and I don’t get it. It might be silly, but it’s also smart with fantastic writing. The premise of the show, that the titular character (played by Ellie Kemper) is finding her way in the world while living in New York City after being trapped in an underground bunker in Indiana for 15 years, might not seem inherently political, but it is.
Kimmy went into the bunker in 2000 when Bill Clinton was still the president. She missed 15 years of wars, identity politics, and dramatic political moments in our country and the world, so she has to catch up on all of that. “Unbreakable” is a primer on contemporary race, sex, and class politics masquerading as a comedy. Just as much as it’s for laughs, it’s also a teaching tool for people who are politically ambivalent—or for those who just don’t get what white privilege means.
Part one of this season accomplishes that task better than the previous seasons. It addresses the #metoo movement but flips the story and makes well-meaning Kimmy the perpetrator when she’s asked to fire an employee of the tech startup she works for. She wants to fire him in a “fun Kimmy way” and so tells the employee that she likes being friends with him but maybe they should have a “nighttime friendship” and she instructs him to “suck on this” but before she can hand him the smoothie she got for him to soften the blow, he’s already run out of her office. And it’s well-meaning Kimmy who struggles to learn about how, no matter how terrible her past was, she always has the privilege of her whiteness.
The worst part about the show is that part two of season four comes out in early 2019.