“Unbreakable” second season unearths optimism in absurdity
THE SANTA CLARA
April 28, 2016
“Whose ghosts are they? Why are they haunting Pac-Man? What did he do to them?” These are some of the important questions “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” asks in its second season. The popular Netflix comedy returned for its second season on April 15, with new villains and love interests for our favorite Indiana Mole Woman and her exuberant, surreal outcast friends.
In season one, Kimmy reclaimed her life after being kidnapped into a cult and trapped in a bunker for most of her teens and twenties. Season two picks up with Kimmy in denial about her problems—from her sort-of boyfriend on the verge of deportation, to her cult sisters bad lifestyle choices, to realizing she needs help coming to terms with her past abuse. Season two explores themes of identity and agency as the characters find themselves in arcs that force them to recognize they can’t control all aspects of their life.
For Titus (Tituss Burgess), aspiring actor and Pinot Noir loving diva, acceptance means learning to fall in love with construction worker Mikey, the “tasty little Bob the Builder” who hit on Titus in season one. Meanwhile, “stoop croon” Lillian plays to her New Yorker spirit and fights the hipster gentrification of her neighborhood through acts of rebellion like graffiti commemorating Biggie’s bigness.
No jokes are off—from quick one-liners about the different types of gay men (“I’m an otter”) to digs at Scientology and “Interstellar”—but the writing reinforces the individual personalities of the characters. From the comedy, viewers fall in love with the characters so that the show’s emotional moments resonate, even when the characters are at their most misguided.
Most guided of them all is Jacqueline (“30 Rock” alum Jane Krakowski). She sheds some of her Manhattan socialite caricature and digs deeper into what is important to her now that she’s no longer living the trophy wife lifestyle. Krakowski gives a tour de force performance and even Ellie Kemper’s never ending spectrum of facial expression can’t beat out her brand of physical comedy.
That’s why saddling her with a strange subplot about her character’s Native American heritage is a shame, especially when this subplot refuses to go away. Whitewashing a story about whitewashing is confusing at best, but it’s worse when the writers themselves don’t fully appreciate how this fits into Jacqueline’s established character.
Instead of laughing when Jacqueline uses a dreamcatcher as a mystical nightmare machine, viewers are left wondering if it’s okay to laugh at such a fundamental misunderstanding and stereotyping of a culture. Yes, Jacqueline the character is Native American, but Jane Krakowski the actress is not. And the whole joke is just too much trouble for such an unsatisfying payoff.
But the show doubles down in an episode that mocks online crusaders when Titus attracts their ire. He performs a one man show as a Geisha from one of his “past lives”—yet does an inspiring job. And after the performance, one of his former protestors gets raptured by a light beam when she accidentally offends herself.
The show’s brightness and unabated enthusiasm can sometimes trivialize what Kimmy has been through. A woman kidnapped and forced into an underground cult for most of her life sounds like the start of a “Law & Order” episode, not a comedy starring a character who is optimistic to a fault. But embracing optimism is what makes this comedy a refreshing break from sarcastic, meta-driven shows like “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” or “Community” that find humor from people behaving at their worst.
The comedy is definitely there, but it’s the characters and viewers investment in them that is at the heart of the show. The genuine depth given to these cartoonish characters existing in a cartoonish world allows for themes of emotional trauma, anti-materialism and feminism to surface.
Kimmy Schmidt is not unbreakable, despite her apparent superhero strength and immunity to poison. But the writers and crew deliver incredibly poignant and satisfying storylines while maintaining the heightened comedy aspects that make a show a success. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” won’t fall apart any time soon.
Contact Perla Luna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.