There are few shows that manage to pack a punch with such a lightness of touch like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s wonderfully absurd look at contemporary America through the eyes of a kidnapping survivor of fifteen years, has been one of the most sharp and startlingly confident comedies since it first dropped in 2015. Now entering into the first half of its fourth and final season, the writers have managed to perfectly distil the best of the show’s cutting satire, infectious joy, and subversive social dynamics into six episodes.
Events continue from Season 3’s conclusion, which found Ellie Kemper’s ever-beaming Kimmy Schmidt now employed as a HR manager at a technology company called ‘Giztoob’. The writers poke fun at this calculated shift in setting by opening with a cheesy 90s sitcom pastiche song ‘Little Girl, Big City’, remarking on how this new status quo ‘is the show now’. However, for all its self-mockery, the new set-up really does reinvigorate proceedings, after Season 3 had become slightly tired with unfocused sub-plots. Co-stars like Jacqueline and Lilian feel relevant again, their plots having drive just as much as the main characters; Jane Krakowski and Carol Kane remind us why we fell in love with their performances in the first place. And Titus Andromedon continues, as always, to be one of television’s greatest quip-throwers, his ego put to the test in this season, as his appointment as director of a school play goes to his head.
‘The world of New York portrayed is a bizarre patchwork of pop-culture references and surreal encounters, bursts of colour jittering just under the SURFACE of the everyday’
Despite this new shake-up though, there is one thing in Kimmy Schmidt that remains the same; its embrace of all things oddball. Just a few of the new season’s comic highlights feature talking backpacks, flaming mannequins and an alcoholic robot. The world of New York portrayed is a bizarre patchwork of pop-culture references and surreal encounters, bursts of colour jittering just under the surface of the everyday. This strange, rainbow painted reality allows for traditional tenets of sitcoms to be thrown out the window in a style that is both chaotic and assured, while still maintaining a feather-light feel that makes it so much of a joy to watch. Episode Three in particular is one of the boldest bits of television comedy I’ve seen in a long time, for reasons that will become apparent upon viewing.
To say because of this lightness however, that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is without weight, would be to overlook its true nature. Its edge comes from the fact it is one of the most scathingly critical looks at contemporary culture wrapped up in a bubble of rapid-fire gags and sunny optimism. This season alone features some of the most devastating and prescient deconstructions of topics like the rise of vile ‘meninist’ culture, harassment in the workplace and white privilege. The show may not exactly be subtle about the way it approaches these topics, but it does so with such tact, style and cutting rage, that it doesn’t matter. Traditional stereotypes are completely knocked down, social systems are torn to shreds and conservative notions of class are never far from being sneered at. Even a character like Jon Hamm’s convicted kidnapper, Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, who on the surface seems to be played as broad and ridiculous, elicits the unshakeable feeling of something nasty, sinister, and all too real when compared with prominent public figures in today’s world.
‘Its edge comes from the fact it is one of the most scathingly critical looks at contemporary culture wrapped up in a bubble of rapid-fire gags and sunny optimism’
And that’s exactly why television needs Kimmy Schmidt right now. In a time where divide is increasingly on the rise, to have something which reminds us of the things that unite us, and the importance of kindness in the face of overwhelming cynicism, is crucial. But it can only be achieved by addressing the uglier side of the life as well, lest it fall into the category of trite sentimentality and naivety. While I admit the programme has occasionally lapsed into forced sentiment in previous seasons, this time round, it walks the line perfectly. It allows us to both revel in the blissful, bright outlook on life that Kimmy has, as well as address our own cultural problems. It is a celebration of the simple, but deeply powerful heart of comedy; the smile.bookmark me