Sunday, May 1, 2016

REVIEW: 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' - Kimmy Has a Breakthrough on a Roller Coaster in 'Kimmy Finds Her Mom!'

Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Episode 2.13 "Kimmy Finds Her Mom!"

Kimmy reunites with her mom at Universal Studios. Titus heads to Miami. Jacqueline invites Russ and his family to Thanksgiving dinner.

The second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has been building to the big reunion between Kimmy Schmidt and her mother, Lori-Ann. The narrative has been pointing in that direction for a long time - from brief references to Kimmy's horrible mother in the early episodes to Andrea pointing out just how damaged Kimmy is because of Lori-Ann. It set up a big confrontation for the season finale. One where Kimmy is finally presented with dealing with all of her emotional baggage and trauma in the hopes of understanding why she is the way that she is. She just wants the chance to have a better future that is not defined by her past. She has made so much progress as a character this season. She has admitted that she still suffers from the trauma of her past and has done everything to correct it. And now, all of that is culminating with one big confrontation in Florida on a roller coaster.

Speculation has always been high on who would eventually show up as Kimmy's mother. Even during the first season, it was clear that Lori-Ann was a terrible parent who didn't do a good job teaching Kimmy or making sure that she was safe. And now, Kimmy has tracked her down to talk about everything that has been building up inside of her. That leads to the revelation that Lisa Kudrow is playing Kimmy's mother. That's fantastic casting made even more humorous by the show's love of Friends references. More importantly though, Kudrow perfectly embodies this woman who the audience has been heard so much about for two seasons now. Lori-Ann is wild, reckless and irresponsible. She chooses her own needs above those of her family. But there is a hardened edge to her as well that showcase a lifetime of bad mistakes and family trauma. Her life has been just as damaged as Kimmy's. This finale truly delves into that with a fantastic reunion between mother and daughter.

Kimmy went into this reunion with a plan to confront Lori-Ann for every horrible thing she has ever done to her. She is surprised when Lori-Ann apologizes immediately and wants to get to know her again. She really seems truthful when she says she never stopped giving up hope that Kimmy would be alive. Lori-Ann does everything that Kimmy wants her to do. And yet, that's not helping her deal with her very real issues. Lori-Ann can't just say she's sorry and not offer any deeper emotional revelations than that. Kimmy owes it to herself to accept the part that Lori-Ann played in what happened to her all of those years ago. It's a difficult process for Kimmy. She enjoys having a mom in her life again. But it also showcases just how twisted and complicated this relationship has always been. Kimmy always wants to care for others because she was always caring for her mother as a child. Her fear of velcro comes from Lori-Ann refusing to teach her how to tie her shoes - which is what ultimately gets her kidnapped by the reverend.

Kimmy and Lori-Ann do have their epic confrontation. It happens in the most unexpected but truly fitting places as well: a roller coaster. Each of them take turns lashing out at the other. Kimmy criticizes Lori-Ann for being a horrible parent. Lori-Ann counters with saying she was just doing the best she could. All of this is painfully true. Lori-Ann did her best as a 17-year-old mom. And sometimes a parent's best just isn't enough for their child. Kimmy wants so much from her mother right now. She wants her to change even though that seems impossible for her to actually do. She just has to accept that there is nothing she can do to change the past and what happened to her. It is what it is. Kimmy can blame Lori-Ann all she wants. But that's not going to help her move forward with her life. She just has to accept that she's damaged and is on the path towards bettering herself. That's all she can do right now. It starts with allowing Lori-Ann back into her life. She'll never be a great mom. But their relationship doesn't have to be solely defined by the past either. Kimmy addresses all of her issues in this reunion. But more importantly, she makes plans to see Lori-Ann again at Christmas - which likely means more Kudrow in Season 3 (maybe they can bring back Tim Blake Nelson and Kiernan Shipka as the rest of Kimmy's family too).

This finale is jam-packed with a ton of other stories as well. Is it the first episode to feature Kimmy, Titus, Jacqueline and Lilian all carrying their own plots? It feels like it. It's a weird choice for the finale. And yet, it works because of all the fantastic character work the show did this season. Sure, Titus' story felt like it had most of its proper resolution in the previous episode. He's just nervous and tries to runaway here in order to give him something to do and mirror his actions from the season premiere. But it's still significant that he once again finds the courage to get on that bus that will take him to the ship that will take him to the sea. Elsewhere, it's amusing to see Lilian finally get the attention she's wanted only for that to make things a whole lot worse for her. It comes with the promise of her pursuing a political office which is just a hilarious set up for next season. And lastly, Jacqueline's pursuit of Russ has been a really rushed story during the final part of the season. She has grown the most of any character this year. She re-entered New York society hoping to be a better person. She failed at launching her charity and regressed towards needing a man to fulfill her lifestyle. But now, her love with Russ is being presented as this genuine thing. With him, she can actually affect change that is meaningful to her. So now, the two of them are going to be taking on his family in the hopes of getting the Washington Redskins to change their very offensive name.

Despite the separate storylines though, Kimmy, Jacqueline, Lilian and Titus end the season together - though Titus appears in the form of an old audition tape. They come together to celebrate Thanksgiving and everything they are thankful for. They have each grown so much this season. It's because of the friendships they have with each other that they've been able to do so. And yet, the season ends with a very tantalizing tease of the past once again threatening to ruin Kimmy's life. She gets a phone call from the reverend in prison. It's the first time Jon Hamm's face has been seen all season long. The reverend has had an important presence but his face has been shrouded in darkness. That has been a meaningful stylistic choice showing the darkness of the situation and not just the humanity behind it - or simply scheduling difficulties. But now, Kimmy will need to interact with the human side of the equation again because the reverend is getting married but needs to get divorced from Kimmy first. That's a fantastic and scandalizing way to close out the season while also setting things up to continue being great in Season 3.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Kimmy Finds Her Mom!" was written by Tina Fey & Sam Means and directed by Michael Engler.
  • Josh Charles shows up as Russ' cocky brother who hits it off with Jacqueline but is also the type of horrible guy she usually goes for. He's the whole personification of this family being awful. Hopefully, he'll return next season as well.
  • Lilian is approached by a group called ISIS - no relation to the terrorist organization because they had the name first - who want her to run for office. That's a joke that could get old very quickly.
  • Titus escapes from his problems to a place called Titusville. He believes it's the sign Black Jesus from Madonna's "Like a Prayer" video sent to him. It eventually gets him back on the right path but it spends the majority of the time talking about space and astronauts - which Titus actually has a lot in common with.
  • The joke about Lilian dating Robert Durst never really went anywhere. It was never a big part of her story. And yet, it's an amusing visual to see him at the Thanksgiving dinner table as well trying to pose as his mute sister, Roberta.
  • Lilian: "Leah Remini joined Gretchen's church."
  • Kimmy on SpongeBob SquarePants: "Who is this guy? Do people like cheese businessman?"
  • Lilian: "My neighborhood is ruined. It's my fault. I did it. Just like O.J. Simpson."
  • Titus upon learning no has gone to space since 2011: "So, it's like American Apparel?"
  • Kimmy: "I wish you were Geena Davis!" Lori-Ann: "Me too dude!"
  • Jacqueline: "I know what I'm thankful for. Loving someone other than myself... and revenge!"
  • Well, that's it for Season 2. This has been such a terrific season for the show. It really grew and evolved in fantastic ways this year. All of the characters are so amazing now. I can't wait to see more in Season 3 - even though it may be a bit longer of a wait due to Ellie Kemper's pregnancy. But still, I expect many Emmy nominations for the show this year.

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.