The New York City of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s wondrous Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is an absurdist-satirical funhouse, a busy metropolis where robots walk dogs and denizens speak modern nonsense fluently. Unlike, say, the NYC of Louis C.K.’s brilliant Louie, the world that the 30 Rock masterminds have created here is not that of a native New Yorker expressing the intoxicating weirdness of the city, but rather one of naiveté, confusion, and, ultimately, giddy discovery. It’s reflective as much of Fey and Carlock’s arguably feigned inability to understand modern pop culture, lingo, and technology as it is of the titular transplant, played by the routinely hilarious Ellie Kemper. If finding some kind of home in such a place, and a community of friends and colleagues, was the thrust of this comedy’s first season, it’s second season seems to be focused on creating a sustainable, independent life under such conditions, and making peace with the freedom that the city thrives on.
In the first episode of the new season, Kimmy’s friend and landlord, Lilian (the great Carol Kane), introduces her tenant to the idea of moral relativism when Kimmy becomes conflicted about wanting to steal a kiss from a married man. The message is simple: if you can live with the act and its consequences, you can do whatever you want. Though the show has a light but convincing set of morals in its thematic backbone, the bigger consideration in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is personal exploration, the testing of limits to find out who you are as a fully formed human being and who you want to be around.
Mind you, Kimmy is not the only person who is struggling to figure these things out. Her roommate, Titus (Tituss Burgess), is just starting to get some kind of hold on his life, with a one-man show – Kimono You Didn’t! – and a paying gig when he tentatively begins dating a construction worker, Mikey (Mike Carlsen), who makes Titus remember a long string of heartbreaks and disappointments. Meanwhile, Jane Krakowski’s Jacqueline White attempts to find her way back into high society, a task that requires her to face the shallowness, cruelty, and wanton judgment of New York’s fiscal elite. Though these main characters don’t cover the entire spectrum of New York, the show ultimately does give a full sense of the vast landscape of strange, oft-sad stories that can be found in the myriad faces of New Yorkers through supporting roles, whether it be Ki Hong Lee’s Dong, an Asian immigrant, or Mikey or, in an inspired turn, Lilian’s old flame Robert Durst (Fred Armisen).
Not unlike 30 Rock, the barrage of ridiculous plots and jokes upon jokes always runs the risk of overwhelming the tenderness and empathy of these characters, but rarely does the show ever lose sight of its heart. The humble triumph of the series comes from its unerring, hard-won optimism: Kimmy has every reason to distrust humanity and the world at large, and decides to brazenly seek out hope amongst the great confusion and hurt that she has suffered in her life. It’s not a false optimism either, as the horrors, frustrations, and shortcomings of the world are still on display and occasionally discussed at length. Throughout the second season of this wildly funny and joyous series, Kimmy comes to embody a full knowledge of the power of being kind and helpful, even when people don’t deserve such aid or the world convinces you that such acts are negligible in the face of wide-scale murder, rampant bigotry, and worldwide corruption. With Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Fey and Carlock may evince a skepticism about our modern times, but they also know that the world, inside and outside of New York City, is worth fighting for, and that a good sense of humor is often the best utility for such a job.
★★★★ Very Good – Damn Fine Television
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2 premieres in full on Netflix on April 15th.