Since its premiere, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has been bogged down by claims of what the show was supposed to be. It’s been a fresh feminist parable; then an offensive deluge of racist tropes; later, a radical survival narrative; and finally, an anti-feminist outrage. In the final half of its last season, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” settles for a half-baked attempt to address every topical issue of today, but with little actual commentary and a lot of uncomfortable insensitivity.
One of the worst comedy takes of the moment is that everything is fodder — even what might be considered “off limits” by the politically correct. This is a sentiment that is unfortunately and excessively practiced in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” The issues that the show attempts to deal with — cultural appropriation, gentrification, racism — are important issues, but any real commentary via comedy is completely buried under clumsy attempts at edginess that fall flat.
Buoyed by its big-name production team (Tina Fey and Robert Carlock) and a recognizable heroine (Ellie Kemper, best known from her role on “The Office”), the series did begin in promising fashion. The show, initially, was the intense and almost nonsensically eccentric successor to the void left by “30 Rock,” (which also requires some reflexive examination) packed to the gills with joke after joke and building into itself a unique little world. And that’s where the show truly succeeded, in weird little bits such as Titus Andromedon’s version of “Lemonade” or his seminal anthem, “Peeno Noir.” But these moments were exchanged for flaccid “commentary” throughout this final season, leaving behind what made the show intriguing in the first place.
The show might have once gotten by, being designated as a problematic favorite, but there have been too many instances of slip-ups to excuse. Jane Krakowski playing a Lakota woman is just not acceptable, nor is Lillian (Carol Kane) becoming the leader of a “Latin gang” in “Sliding Van Doors,” the “what-if” episode showing what Kimmy’s life would have been like without the bunker. Even if these jokes are made out to be self-referential in the context of the show (along with the many other instances of racism in the past), they are simply unnecessary and alarming.
In the context of wrapping things up, many of Kimmy’s engaging character qualities were also left to the sidelines. One of the truly successful “subversive” things the show did was explore the ways in which Kimmy dealt with the horrific trauma inflicted upon her in the bunker. There were successful storylines that dealt with this, such as in season 2 when we get to see Kimmy build a relationship with her therapist (played by Fey). Or even in episode 8 of this season, “Kimmy is in a Love Square!” in which Kimmy “cheats” on a man she’s dating to spend time with her parents, time she never got to have. By episode 12, Kimmy does get her happy ending and does get to make the world a better place, but it’s still in a way that finds her escaping reality, rather than continuing the arcs of growth the show had been building season to season.
One of the few silver linings of this final season is the happy ending created for the show’s best character, Titus Andromedon, whose performance by Tituss Burgess is excellent. In these last episodes, it was satisfying to see the conclusion to Andromedon’s arc, which, after six seasons of mishaps leaves him with his dreams achieved.
Burgess has long been the best part of the show, taking the spotlight in the first season, and there were many moments when the show may as well have pivoted entirely to Titus’s exploits. These last six episodes appeared to nearly turn out that way — the first episode of the last half, “Kimmy Fights a Fire Monster!” begins with a ‘90s sitcom-style intro with Titus narrating before launching into one of his many storylines this season. It’s a look into a series we probably would’ve been better off with.
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” could have been a lot of things, and over four seasons, it was. But sadly, this conclusion to the series isn’t the triumph that would have been fitting for Kimmy’s narrative, but rather was a barrage of uncomfortable identity-based jokes and plotlines that the initial charms of the show couldn’t withstand. With rumors of a movie circulating, here’s to hoping that any further iterations of the world of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” take a good look at what kind of story it truly wants to be.
Camryn Bell covers film and television. Contact her at [email protected].