Viewers pick their paths to amusement in ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend’

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

When Netflix debuted its first interactive special with “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” in 2018, the streaming service still seemed to be finding its footing using online technology creatively and compellingly. “Bandersnatch” was an interesting, if not completely convincing, use of the choose-your-own-adventure experience, set in the world of television’s signature dark thriller. It’s fascinating then that Netflix decided the next best show to use the interactive format would be its flagship sitcom — “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Although “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” concluded with its final season in 2019, its newest interactive special, subtitled “Kimmy vs. the Reverend,” is an incredibly entertaining epilogue to the series. Whereas “Bandersnatch” aimed to challenge and push viewers out of their comfort zones, “Kimmy vs. the Reverend” employs the interactive format for myriad comedic and storytelling purposes. The result, no matter which choices you make, is a special filled with plenty of engaging plotlines and clever humor.

“Kimmy vs. the Reverend” picks up several months after the conclusion of the series. The titular heroine Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), a woman rescued from an Indiana doomsday cult and currently living in New York City, is engaged to a bumbling British prince named Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe) and begins to prepare for her wedding. After discovering a choose-your-own-adventure book hidden in her backpack from the doomsday bunker, Kimmy realizes that there could be other women who were kidnapped by the now-imprisoned Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) and remain in captivity. Depending on one’s choices at the special’s beginning, Kimmy sets out to visit the reverend in Indiana and find answers to help the women who may still be forcibly hidden from society.

Alongside Kimmy’s journey, multiple subplots in the special allow viewers to make decisions for supporting characters. For example, Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski), working as a manager and agent for now-successful actor Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), is on a film set covering for his absence as he heads off to support Kimmy on her journey. While much of the film is spent with Kimmy and Titus on their journey with the reverend and a handful of new characters, these subplots allow fans of the show to spend time with some of the standout supporting characters from the series.

Despite its cartoonish, saccharine tone, the original “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” always had an undertone of darkness due to its subject material, creating a signature satirical sense of humor that lasted throughout its run. “Kimmy vs. the Reverend” understands this strength of the show and brings it front and center, thanks in great part to its zany but focused script. The special brings back several writers from the show, including creators and executive producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, and manages to be of a piece with the series in terms of running gags and satire, while playing up its humor designed specifically to be effective through its new format. 

Rather than relying on the interactive format simply to propel its plot — which could have come across as rather gimmicky, as it often did in “Bandersnatch” — “Kimmy vs. the Reverend” uses it as a vehicle for its comedy. Early on in the special, for example, choosing Jacqueline rather than Titus to accompany Kimmy on her journey leads to a clever scene alluding to Jacqueline’s involvement in the 2019 college admissions scandal.

Several decisions may lead to starkly distinct and potentially fatal results for the protagonists, but rather than forcing viewers to restart the special entirely, “Kimmy vs. the Reverend” uses viewers’ mistakes to break the fourth wall, incorporate cameos and steer the plot back to its correct path. This, perhaps, is the greatest improvement in Netflix’s interactive format since “Bandersnatch.”

“Kimmy vs. the Reverend” is as distinct from the “Black Mirror” universe as one can get. While its use of the interactive format may come as a surprise, it outdoes its predecessor and succeeds as a series epilogue because of the strength of its script. If the interactive format is one that Netflix hopes to make the most of in future projects, “Kimmy vs. the Reverend” surely sets the bar for a successful, entertaining customizable feature.

Contact Anagha Komaragiri at [email protected]. Tweet her at @aaanaghaaa.