With all the buzz surrounding The Keepers, you may not have noticed that the third season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has also landed on Netflix. After a wobbly season 2, does the show re-find its form?
The first episode picks up a few weeks after the last season left off (there's a helpful catch up for anyone who's a little fuzzy on the details). Titus washes up on shore after leaving his cruise and makes his way back to New York where Kimmy and Lillian are the same as when he left them.
And that's the problem with the show, after 39 episodes everyone is still more or less the same. Kimmy is naïve but endlessly optimistic, Titus is a lazy struggling performer, Lillian is a socialist who is concerned about her neighbourhood being gentrified, and Jacqueline is a dim gold digger with a good heart buried deep inside her. Most of the action revolves around set-ups that allow the characters to play up to these characteristics. Any growth they seem to have is forgotten within a few episodes.
As the trailers highlight, one of the main story lines weaved through these 13 episodes involve Kimmy going to college. She somewhat improbably gets into the prestigious Columbia University, where her classmates include Xanthippe (you have to get secondary characters in somehow) and new character Perry played by Hamilton star Daveed Diggs. While Kimmy college adventures do have their funny moments, but it's all too often dropped so she can be roped into another scheme with Titus. The episode where they plot to distract a shopkeeper so Titus can use the bathroom is something I could have done without.
Jacqueline is kept busy with her relationship with Russ and his wealthy family, while Lillian has a rich boyfriend of her own. Jacqueline's story in particular feels disconnected from the rest of the show, but they have to give her something to do. The ridiculous Native American plot from last season is continued as she attempts to get Russ's family to change the name of the Washington Redskins.
From the start Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was based on a weird premise. They took one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a person and used it as the starting point for a comedy. In order to remind viewers that the show is about more than group of whacky friends, the bunker and Kimmy's psychological trauma is dragged up every few episodes.
For the first season they pulled this balance off, Kimmy was endearing and the show managed to be both funny and uplifting, but this year it feels off to me especially when the character Cindy appears. Maybe it's the world we live in now, or Brie Larson's performance in Room still haunting me, but something about it didn't sit right. Kimmy is often portrayed as being dim and even though she has been out of the bunker for a while, she remains ignorant of many aspects of the real world. Is this a sign of her continued trauma? Why isn't she getting proper psychological help? Am I completely over-thinking this?
Episodes are packed with topical pop culture and election jokes, some landing better than others. Titus's recreation of Lemonade in episode 2 was a highlight, and worth watching. I would love to use the use of Lemonade as a verb catching on. Various SNL alums show up in guest roles, the wonderful Maya Rudolph playing Dionne Warwick was particularly excellent.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt feels like a TV sitcom that would make for good hangover or end of a long day viewing. But on a platform like Netflix, that prides itself on innovation and offering something new to the viewer, it feels old fashioned and a bit stale.