Wednesday, April 20, 2016

REVIEW: 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' - Titus' New Show Opens a Discussion About Criticism in 'Kimmy Goes to a Play!'

Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Episode 2.03 "Kimmy Goes to a Play!"

Titus develops a one-man show about his past life as a geisha. While Jacqueline tries to make Julian jealous, Lilian battles gentrification.

The Internet has been a wonderful invention. It has connected human civilization in an immense way that allows for everyone to have a voice in this world. Technology has become a prominent part of the culture. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt wouldn't exist without Netflix being so successful on the Internet. Sure, it would have aired its first season on NBC. But there's no way it would have gotten a second season. Netflix did that when the show made the transition between networks. That move brought much more critical acclaim and attention to the series. And yet, it's still a very scary prospect to put one's work out there for the entire world to critique. As the Internet has proven time and time again, many people out there have opinions and aren't afraid to share them. So any piece of work despite the love and care put into it has the potential to be ripped to shreds with just a few words written by anonymous commenters.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt had a very successful first season. But it also got a lot of criticism for its portrayal of Jacqueline's Sioux heritage. She was a blonde, white woman playing someone of Native American descent. It really didn't work at all. It proved that race really wasn't a topic that the show knew how to handle well. The Sioux storyline happened just in order to push the boundaries of comedy and character. It wasn't that great. Jacqueline has become a very fascinating and funny character. But that has almost nothing to do with her heritage or her respect for her past. "Kimmy Goes to a Play!" plays into the online criticism culture by once again depicting race in a questionable way that could inspire outrage. Titus develops a one-man show about his past life as a geisha. It's not surprising that a group of Asians on the Internet take issue with a gay Black man playing a Japanese woman. And yet, the way the show tackles this subject really isn't all that inspired or original. It's just simply clickbait for critics to write even more articles about the show's racial politics.

At the center of all of this is Kimmy. She's very supportive of Titus. She's the one who convinces him to use his newfound money - his job can actually pay him now that he's no longer technically dead - to put himself out there as a performer. He realizes that his personal story as Titus is very familial and overdone in the entertainment industry. In order to spice it up, he decides to tell the story of one of his past lives. He believes fully that he has lived for hundreds of years as different people all across the world - from a dog to a slave to a geisha. Kimmy doesn't question this at all. She believes that this is something that Titus believes about himself and she supports him. She's just so happy that he's finally doing the work he has always wanted to do. She's not aware of how offensive it may or may not be. Titus is oblivious as well. It's not until news of the show makes its way to the internet that they realize just how problematic this performance might be.

Again, Kimmy being Kimmy, she decides to reach out to the anonymous commenters in order to get them to actually see the show before they get angry or feel offended. That's the show's philosophy as well. Kimmy believes "they just need to see the show." That's the approach Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt seems to be taking as well. And yet, the audience has seen this show and how it integrated Jacqueline's Sioux story last season and at the start of this one. It wasn't necessary or important at all. The first season finale propped it up as this important thing that would help define who Jacqueline is for the better. But this season quickly dropped that prospect in order to get Jacqueline back to New York and in Kimmy's life. That was an understandable decision. Her story has been pretty great this year as she's trying to rebuild her life while not having as much money as before. Her friendship with Kimmy has become one of the best relationships in the show. So, it's easy to get past all of the questionable decisions when it comes to race. But that doesn't inherently make Titus' story in this episode all that easy to take.

It just seems like a simplification of the issue on display here. Kimmy invites all of the haters to Titus' show. They show up planning to boo throughout the entire performance. But as Titus begins, he wins them over with his incredible singing. It's a play filled with passion. Titus decides that he's not going to let the haters get to him. He's not going to quit this time like he has in all of his previous lives. He wants to stand up tall and be proud of the work he has done no matter what anyone says. That confidence is ultimately what wins over the crowd. They were determined to think one thing about the work and were completely shocked when it wasn't offensive at all. It was genuine and they were moved by it. And yet, it's a story that solely seems to suggest that people nowadays get offended on the internet for the sole sake of being offended. There is so much outrage out there about race. Some of it is completely justified. There needs to be an environment that is respectful and inclusive of diversity of stories and storytellers. Again, it's scary to put one's work out there. But it's still important to do it because new stories told from a different perspective can be so rewarding in the end. This story from Titus only scratches the surface of that concept. The show wants to address this issue without digging too deeply into it. And thus, the episodic structure gets a little too caught up in making those semi-big proclamations.

However, this episode still works incredibly well on a personal and character level because of how everyone is continuing to develop this season. Titus, Jacqueline and Lilian all come to the realization that they can't just live their lives according to others. They can't let the comments of other people keep them from doing what they really want to do. With Titus, that's his show which becomes a rousing success - for at least one performance. With Jacqueline, she is able to stand up as an independent and single woman - though with Kimmy by her side. And with Lilian, she refuses to let gentrification destroy the history of the neighborhood she loves so much. It's because these characters have the support from Kimmy that they are confident enough to handle the uncertainty of their futures. She's helping all of them be better people. And it's fascinating to watch as those bonds of friendship continue to develop this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Kimmy Goes to a Play!" was written by Sam Means and directed by Linda Mendoza.
  • Amy Sedaris' Mimi kicking off her shoes before walking on the expensive rug that Jacqueline has just bought is one of the best moments of physical comedy ever. Plus, Sedaris is just having so much fun with how over-the-top her character really is. That enjoyment is infectious.
  • Another solid moment of physical humor happens when Jacqueline is yelling at both her dog and her new arm candy boyfriend, Doug, to stop ruining her carpet. That's the moment where she realizes that she is being just like Julian in this situation.
  • The show continues to incorporate curse words in wonderful and funny ways this season. Here, Kimmy gets a text from Jacqueline "to get the duck over here." And then, she proceeds to go to the park to find a duck for her.
  • Jacqueline is throwing away a lot of her money to keep up her appearance of wealth - without a plan to eventually replace it. She's going to run out sooner or later. Plus, she's not even paying Kimmy even though she's more like an assistant than a friend. And yet, their friendship is important to both characters.
  • Titus' expression as he goes on a face journey while reading about his show on the Internet is incredible. As is the sign in the public library saying "No Face Journeys." Again, the signage on this show is fantastic.
  • When one of the people outraged by Titus' show stops being outraged after the performance, she isn't sure what to do anymore and even lets out a phrase that could be offensive. Her miraculous disappearance after that was just a little too weird and pointed to work though.
  • Jacqueline: "Hey, I'm the one who found the cookbook mine was based on."
  • Titus: "That's what the internet is, just anonymous hosers criticizing geniuses."
  • Titus: "They drew a Michael Jordan mustache on me!"
  • Mimi: "Yes! Turtle finally gets his!"

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.