Saturday, March 14, 2015

REVIEW: 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' - Kimmy's Birthday Party Gets Interrupted by Her Family in 'Kimmy Has a Birthday!'

Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Episode 1.09 "Kimmy Has a Birthday!"

Kimmy's 30th birthday party isn't quite the fun celebration of adulthood she wants it to be.

Kimmy often enjoys helping other people. That's simply who she is as a person. In "Kimmy Has a Birthday!" though, Kimmy gets to be a little selfish. It is her 30th birthday and she wants to throw a party where she is the center of attention. She sees this day as a big deal because it's the first time she is celebrating a birthday as an adult in the real world. She has new friends, a solid job and a boyfriend now. She wants to celebrate her new life. But of course, things don't go according to plan.

The emotional weight of this plot comes from the sudden introduction of Kimmy's stepfather, Randy (Tim Blake Nelson), and her half-sister, Kymmi (Kiernan Shipka). It's an odd introduction because a lot of backstory just gets told very rapidly. Randy is an incompetent law enforcement officer who was the lead on the mole woman case. Through the investigation, he met Kimmy's mom, fell in love with her and then married her and had a daughter. We also learn that Kimmy's mom is unreliable as she wasn't there the day they found Kimmy nor her birthday. Meanwhile, Kymmi is a perpetually angry teenager because her parents don't let her do anything out of fear that she'll go missing just like Kimmy. It's all understandable information and backstory. It helps shade in Kimmy's family dynamics. The show so far has been about Kimmy becoming an independent woman in New York City. Her fellow mole women were supportive of that but we previously had no knowledge of her family. How did they feel about this move? This episode fills in some of those holes. But it's also pretty predictable. The episode has to introduce all these elements with some conflict and then quickly reach a resolution because 25 minutes isn't enough time to tell this full story.

More problematic with this episode is the fact that Randy is never a funny character. He's so completely incompetent that it's the only thing that defines his character. He doesn't know how to react to the world around him which largely just makes him an awkward presence that doesn't really mesh well with the rest of this universe. That heroin bit failed hard. Sure, it was random but also completely pointless. Kymmi was a much stronger character because of her unexpected amount of anger towards Kimmy. Shipka was able to match Ellie Kemper's energy in a way that made the relationship between those characters feel meaningful. The bit with the tiny violin, tiny hammer and the shark worked so well because of Shipka and Kemper's commitment to it. It was inevitable that once Kymmi went missing that she would end up at New York's Olive Garden. But Kimmy also had to realize that these people are family whose lives have been effected by what happened to her as well. She can't completely shout out that part of her past. She's furious when they show up at the party because she thinks they'll ruin the life she has built for herself now. But in the end, she spent her birthday eating family style with her family as she attempted to build that connection.

For all the hype that Kimmy puts into this birthday party, it is disappointing because it's about everyone else except her. Titus is too worried about whether or not his crush from his job will show up - only for him to be his ex-boyfriend once they are both unmasked. Dong and Logan get into a fight because they are both in love with Kimmy. Dong is doing regular boyfriend things for her and she doesn't notice while Logan is being a little entitled and giving her impersonal gifts. Lillian is trying to explain that their apartment really is an apartment. All of these bits helped add to the chaos of the main event. And yet, none of them felt like ideas that were fleshed out all that well. So much time is spent on Kimmy's family that none of the other stories have the time to make a lasting impression or build up into anything dynamic. The funniest thing happening with Titus is when he tries passing off Katy Perry's "Firework" as an original song that he wrote for Kimmy. Even better is her reaction to realizing that she really is "like a plastic bag." That's just a part of the story though. It comes as he also explains how the party she threw was exactly like a regular birthday party for an adult. And then, whenever it comes to the two men in Kimmy's life, it's too easy to see Dong as the considerate one and Logan as the guy who doesn't care because he came from a world of money. Logan's relationship with Kimmy was built on honesty and him enjoying that she didn't know anything about him. But the more we see of him, the more it becomes clear that he just doesn't feel like a right match with Kimmy. Dong is the sweet one. He built a bike for her!

Some more thoughts:
  • "Kimmy Has a Birthday!" was written by Jack Burditt and directed by Todd Holland.
  • Randy is so bad at his job that it took a psychic pig from the FBI to find the bunker. And yet, he still has a job somehow.
  • Who were the rest of the people at Kimmy's party besides Titus, Lilian, Randy, Kymmi, Logan and Dong? How do they know who see is?
  • So, who's going to end up playing Kimmy's mom when she eventually appears on the show and reunites with her daughter since her abduction?
  • Kimmy: "I knew the exact minute I was born because it was in my mom's lawsuit against the roller coaster."
  • Titus: "In my next life, I'm coming back as a baby."
  • Titus: "I will handle the music. And it will all be from the year after Christina Aguilera started eating hotdogs."