WIRED Binge-Watching Guide: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s premise sounds like tragedy porn: After spending half her life locked in a doomsday cult’s underground bunker, Kimmy Schimdt is finally free, and utterly unequipped to deal with reality. But—thankfully—this is a Tina Fey/Robert Carlock sitcom. No schmaltz is allowed, unless it is there to be ridiculed.
So rather than a sad-sack pity case, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) is a preternaturally cheery Peter Pan in light-up sneakers. She moves to New York to escape memories of cult-leader Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (a beardy Jon Hamm) and her notoriety as one of the “Indiana Mole Women.” Once ensconced, Kimmy rents a tiny basement apartment with flamboyant, perennially out-of-work actor Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), and nannies for nightmarish Manhattan socialite Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski). But mostly, she learns to navigate life aboveground.
Fans of Fey and Carlock’s work on 30 Rock will recognize (and enjoy) the biting, absurdist tone, the dense, joke-machine episode format, and many of the cast members. But rather than a kaleidoscope portrait of NBC’s inner workings, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is an odd couple/fish-out-of-water story too bizarre to ever feel cliché. It’s sweet, it’s prickly, it’s surprisingly musical, and with Season 2 now up on Netflix, it’s the perfect time to binge.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Number of Seasons: 2 (26 episodes)
Time Requirements: If you watch three episodes per night, you’ll finish the series in a little more than a week, long before its masterfully executed earworm of a theme song gets old.
Where to Get Your Fix: Netflix
Best Character to Follow: Ellie Kemper is fantastic as Kimmy, who in less capable hands could easily be the most irritating character on television. Every perky anachronism and malapropism that tumbles out of her mouth is hilarious. But if we have to choose just one, it’s got to be Titus. We already loved Tituss Burgess as 30 Rock’s scene-stealing D’Fwan—Angie Jordan’s hairdresser, Queen of Jordan co-star, and creator of D’fwine (see below)—but as Titus he gets to settle into his role, and it is a delight to watch. A supercut of just his musical numbers and one-liners alone would be a viable show.
Seasons/Episodes You Can Skip:
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is not a very skippable show. But it’s no secret that (like 30 Rock) it occasionally has a bit of a race problem. Jane Krakowski is many wonderful things, but a believable Native American woman is not one of them. And even though Kimmy’s love interest Dong (Ki Hong Lee) cuts against some Asian stereotypes, he plays right into other familiar tropes. So it’s hard to recommend those character arcs in good faith. In general, though, the jokes come so thick and fast that there’s barely two unfunny minutes to rub together. If you’re strapped for time, here’s the rundown on the stuff you can miss.
Season 1: Episode 2, “Kimmy Gets a Job!” Kimmy has to throw a birthday party for Jacqueline’s obnoxious son. There’s nothing wrong with this episode, per se, but it rehashes a lot of stuff we just saw in the pilot, so it drags a bit.
Season 2: Episode 3, “Kimmy Goes to a Play!” Titus puts on a one-man show about his past life as a Japanese geisha named Murasaki, and Titus and Kimmy’s landlady, Lillian (Carol Kane), fights gentrification. Titus’ is called “one of the top five Hitlers of all time” (which is funny) by a group called Respectful Asian Portrayals in Entertainment (which is not). This is pretty clearly the writers’ response to the general anger and queasiness over the racial politics of the Dong and Jacqueline plotlines in Season 1, and it is also pretty clearly a big middle finger. Cue the regrettable makeup and lazy Internet outrage jokes. Basically, this episode feels like a live-action Twitter fight, so feel free to skip if you just don’t have the energy.
Season 2: Episode 6, “Kimmy Drives a Car!” Titus puts the apartment on Airbnb, hipsters invade the neighborhood, and Kimmy and Jacqueline have a falling out. While Kimmy learning the difference between kindness and servility is pretty important, the rest of this episode is all old-fogeyish hipster jokes that don’t quite meet the high bar the show typically sets for itself.
Seasons/Episodes You Can’t Skip:
Season 1: Episode 1, “Kimmy Goes Outside!” This pilot brings the heat immediately. Not only do we get to experience Kimmy’s infectious exuberance for the first time, we also get our first taste of the sharp and snarky moves that give Kimmy Schmidt its edge (e.g. talk show staff dismissing the Mole Women with a quick,”Thank you, victims!”).
Season 1: Episode 4, “Kimmy Goes to the Doctor!” Jacqueline and Kimmy go to a plastic surgeon, and Titus auditions for a Spider-Man musical, Spiderman Too: 2 Many Spidermen [sic]. Martin Short is hilarious and macabre as frozen-faced Dr. Grant, who offers to get rid of Kimmy’s pronounced “scream lines” (they’re like laugh lines, but for people who have had a lot of stress). Titus’ audition song (“And I will crush that Spider-Man/And then that other Spider-Man/And all the Spider-Men/’Til I’m the Spider-Man!”) is an early glimpse of the amazing bespoke musicals that have become one of the show’s trademarks.
Season 1: Episodes 12 and 13: “Kimmy Goes to Court!” and “Kimmy Makes Waffles!” Kimmy returns to Durnsville, Indiana for the Reverend’s trial. Titus stars in a viral video. Jacqueline and Lillian try to drive. Jon Hamm demagogues like nobody’s business.
Season 2: Episode 5, “Kimmy Gives Up!” Kimmy is struggling to prepare for her GED exam, Jacqueline puts her son on a drug called Dyziplen, and—most importantly—Titus is in love. And when Titus is in love, he sings show tunes. What does he sing? Ersatz standards like Alabama! (the black version of Oklahoma!) and Gangly Orphan Jeff, which had the misfortune of opening six days after Annie. Just watch it.
Season 2: Episode 7, “Kimmy Walks into a Bar!” Kimmy meets a cute veteran in a bar, and Jacqueline clashes with her nemesis Deirdre Robespierre (Anna Camp). Deirdre is easily the best addition to the show in Season 2 because A) competing for social standing with Deirdre gives Jacqueline a plot arc that has nothing to do with her being Native American, and B) Anna Camp. Her performance in this episode in particular is a scene-stealing tour de force of delightful insanity.
Season 2: Episode 10, “Kimmy Goes to Her Happy Place!” Kimmy has a session with her alcoholic Uber passenger/therapist Andrea (Tina Fey), and Titus has mixed feelings about his boyfriend Mikey (Mike Carlson) coming out to his family. Mikey’s very Italian grandmother is played by a puppet. There’s a Disney-esque animated sequence with almost Happy Tree Friends levels of violence. And that’s all amazing. But this episode also shows that as much as full-tilt absurdity is the show’s bread and butter, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt isn’t afraid of feelings or character development.
Why You Should Binge:
Because despite its occasional missteps and controversies, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt consistently delivers a brand of comedy that’s witty, unhinged, incisive, and capable of poignant sweetness—all at the same time. And in the best and most bizarre way, spending time in Kimmy’s warped universe lets us see our own more clearly.
Best Scene—Peeno Noir:
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has many memorable scenes, and many of them are musical. Titus’s fever-addled jingle about how teeth are “outside bones” had us rolling. But the Internet has spoken: the show’s most viral moment is clearly “Peeno Noir,” Titus’ endlessly meme-able “ode to black penis.” Not only are the song’s transcendently inane lyrics hilarious, but they were also apparently improvised, as if Burgess’ ability to hit those wailing high notes wasn’t proof enough that he is disgustingly talented. (Not-so-incidentally, Burgess now has his own brand of wine, Pinot by Tituss. He’s really come full circle on that D’Fwine bit.)
Females are strong as hell.
If You Liked Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt You’ll Love: 30 Rock and Parks and Rec, obviously. Probably Broad City, The Office, Master of None, and Community, too. If you’ve already watched all of those, watch them again. When you’re finished, you can binge on Tina Fey/Amy Poehler YouTube clips and wait for the pilot of The Kicker, the next Tina Fey/Robert Carlock/Jack Burditt collaboration.