Season Two of ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ serves laughs, problematic commentary

Ian Erickson/Staff

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is back! And so is Tina Fey’s iconic comedic voice, through some of the most talented actors and actresses on Netflix. Season Two proves a riot, with some of the funniest moments (both musical and nonmusical) of this series.

In Season One, the jokes were funny, but seemed to be mostly situational humor with witty one-liners and hilarious musical numbers (Peeno Noir, anyone?) injected sporadically throughout the season. But Season Two sees “Unbreakable” settling into its comedic rhythm and venturing into new narratives. Every single character has broader, more complex storylines that allow each of them to become more than the one-dimensional personas we saw in Season One. This can be attributed to not just personal development, but also to the unlikely combination of ridiculous characters and ordinary situations.

Take Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski), for instance. For all of Season One, she’s the spoiled socialite who can’t do a thing for herself and equates extreme wealth with happiness. But in this season, she navigates a life without money and status, exploring what really makes her happy. Titus (Tituss Burgess) also takes an introspective journey, learning to care more for others and not just himself. But he doesn’t just develop with depth over the course of Season Two — he’s also easily the funniest character this season, with dynamite narratives and one-liners that never cease to entertain.

The show really hits its stride in episode four. The first three episodes have funny moments, but they’re clearly just the setup to the good stuff, which becomes clear as the season progresses. Ironically, Kimmy’s storyline starts as the most boring, but by the halfway point of Season Two, she has some of the best adventures the entire series has to offer — not to mention her exploration of some deep-seated issues she has buried deep down. At one point, Kimmy wrestles a date to the ground when her PTSD is triggered by some loud noises, and that’s just the surface of what she’s dealing with.

Unfortunately, “Unbreakable” doubling down on its comedic style has led the series to double down on problematic storylines that just don’t add anything substantially funny or interesting to the series. Jacqueline’s Native American storyline continues into Season Two, which not only fails to make any genuine social commentary but also suggests that Jane Krakowski can pass as Native American as long as her eyes aren’t blue. This trope is compounded by a similar situation that Titus gets into: Believing he was a geisha in a past life, he adopts a Japanese alter ego and puts on a one-man show from this perspective. When Asian American activists come to protest his show, he blows them away with his performance, leaving one of them to wonder “What do we do now that we’re not offended?” The show deals with race only in the most superficial sense, failing to fully engage in any worthwhile social commentary while simultaneously poking fun at anyone who is socially conscious.

That being said, there are significant strengths this season — overall, the plots are more interesting, the characters are better executed, the writing is funnier. It helps that the all-star cast has perfectly embodied the comedic tone necessary to make this kind of humor work. There’s a new depth to the plot — Kimmy dealing with the effects of her captivity, Jacqueline learning about what really matters to her and side characters dealing with everything from coming out to alcoholism to prescription drugs to abandonment. The writing and execution balance these significant storylines with perfect comedic timing.

The beaming optimism, unbelievable characters and endless jokes of Season One come back in full force in Season Two — and as long as you choose to watch for entertainment rather than the derogatory social commentary, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is a wonderfully bright comedy worthy of attention.

Contact Paige Petrashko at [email protected].