Each week, we're recapping the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episode by episode. Take a seat, the performance is starting.
Few sitcoms can go for very long without a single bad episode, and it's actually a little impressive that Kimmy made it this far. But "Kimmy Goes to a Play!" is the first episode of the show that swings and completely misses. The forceful politics don't hold up to scrutiny, the storytelling lacks nuance, and the humor only begins to compensate. It's the low point in an otherwise consistently entertaining series.
Jacqueline has moved into a beautiful new apartment, but she can't afford to put anything inside it. This is all in an attempt to keep up appearances while she wins over her rich associates. On top of that, she goes out to find a new man to show off, but everyone she knows works with her ex in some sense, making her strictly off-limits. Instead, she picks up her dog masseur Doug as a date for an upcoming wedding, imagining herself as the sugar mamma supporting him. But when she starts treating him without respect, she realizes she has to respect herself rather than show off, and she chooses to go to the wedding alone.
Meanwhile, Titus draws on his vivid memory of his past lives and puts together a one-man show about his past self Murasaki, a Japanese geisha, titled Kimono You Didn't! A group of online Social Justice Warriors take offense with his stereotypical portrayal of Asian women, and they show up at the performance to boo him into oblivion. But they find the performance so moving, they give up the cause. Doug shows up at the venue (for absolutely no good reason) and tells Kimmy of Jacqueline's decision. Kimmy goes to the gala to meet her, where Jacqueline passes off Kimmy as her date.
This looks like the writers' way of responding to the wave of online reactions that broke out over season one's portrayals of Native Americans and the casting of white actress Jane Krakowski in a Lakota role. But rather than defending the show in an insightful way, Tina Fey and her crew have chosen to respond to the criticisms over stereotypes in Kimmy by stereotyping the criticizers, and in a far more mean-spirited manner than their Native American portrayals ever were. Not to mention the episode makes the point that SJWs view art without context and blindly promote censorship, which simply doesn't apply to Kimmy. Those who argued against the Native American portrayals in Kimmy largely did so very much within context, and yet this episode unfairly makes generalizations about those arguments anyways.
This episode signals the beginning of what becomes perhaps the biggest problem with season two of Kimmy as it progresses: the dumbing down of its most interesting components. Jacqueline's attempts to empower herself without replicating her husband's behavior provide plenty of material for exploring power dynamics of couples and the difficulties of establishing oneself as a strong independent woman. But the show spells out every step of Jacqueline's narrative to the extent that nothing remains to unpack; she even outright says the general theme of her arc, stating "Everything that power does, it does in a circle" in a deeply uncharacteristic philosophical moment. This also could have been a chance to tap into the implications this statement holds over Jacqueline's Native American roots, but the opportunity passes by untouched.
Titus' plotline suffers from oversimplification as well, but this time on a more basic storytelling level. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt prides itself on its degrees of absurdism, which is why we'll allow the idea that Titus can draw on his past lives with near-perfect memory in the first place. Yet we're supposed to believe that Titus can overcome the ignorance and laziness that basically defines him as a character, put together a full one-man musical that movingly portrays the life of a geisha literally overnight, perform it in yellowface, and win over an audience predisposed to despise him? There's a difference between silly unrealistic and nonsensical unrealistic, and this episode crossed into the latter.
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This episode also sees the reintroduction of Amy Sedaris as Mimi Kanasis, an equally washed-up old friend of Jacqueline's. She's been great over the last couple years voicing Princess Carolyn on the fellow Netflix show Bojack Horseman, but her screaming-only approach to Mimi comes off mostly as obnoxious and grating. Maybe that's the point, as she appeared in season one's "Kimmy is Bad at Math!" as a sad, lonely woman preaching the horrors of life after divorce, and now that Jacqueline's in more or less the same position, this pathetic creature has become her competitor. But at the moment, Mimi's not fun - or funny - to watch.
As always, the writers sprinkle enough good jokes throughout that "Kimmy Goes to a Play!" remains passable to watch; for instance, Kimmy's online screenname is "KimmysRadScreenname." On a storytelling level, though, this episode is an all-around failure. Hopefully it gets better from here.
Biggest Laugh: Titus [on the SJWs]: "They called me one of their top five Hitlers of all time. Real Hitler wasn't even on the list!"
Biggest Surprise: Sadly, probably the fact that the writers chose to respond to the SJW issue in such a tone-deaf manner. It's a surprise if only because we expected better of this show.