Sunday, June 3, 2018

REVIEW: Netflix's 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' - Season 4

Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt returned with the first six episodes of its fourth season on Wednesday, May 30. This post will feature brief reviews of each episode of the season.

The new season stars Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski.

401. "Kimmy Is... Little Girl, Big City!"
Written by Sam Means and directed by Tristram Shapeero

This is a show that should have something very important and meaningful to say about sexual harassment and assault. The audience probably doesn't have to be reminded of the traumas in the past. But the premiere does so anyway by showing that Kimmy was a victim of the Reverend while Titus fell into a casting couch situation. As such, it could be amusing to see the situation flipped with Kimmy being so obsessed with having fun with her new co-workers until she realizes that they are all absolutely terrified of her. But the big message of her story is basically to always be aware of how others are feeling and to be mindful of their personal space. Again, that's an important lesson. One that Kimmy is continually learning as well. She is so eager to have the world embrace her style of fun that it doesn't dawn on her that she is hurting the people around her. This should be a sign of her emotional growth as she learns how to work this new job. But instead, it mostly feels like the show's attempt to be topical without really adding anything new to the conversation. It's not bad. The two subplots just work significantly better. It's absolutely hilarious seeing Titus and Jacqueline team up in order to both get success in their new careers. Jacqueline wants purpose and Titus wants to win Mikey back. Of course, lying is probably going to do more harm than good. But it's also so wonderfully meta to see this show continue to rip apart this era of Peak TV and the idea that every place imaginable is just picking up shows now. Titus doesn't even have to be in a real one for the world to think that he is suddenly a success story they should be interested in. But again, it's a story much less about his career and more about winning Mikey back. Mikey is the only one who becomes aware of this fake TV show. He asks too many questions which forces Titus and Jacqueline to rope Greg Kinnear into this fake plot. It works too. Mikey believes it. But it's so completely unclear if this will help Jacqueline's new business or if Titus should feel good about lying to his greatest love. Meanwhile, it continues to be so effective seeing Lillian just get into a bunch of random situations with some peculiar punchlines. Here, she wants to scatter Artie's ashes but the building has been turned into an elite private club she can't get into. Sure, the punchline of her dressed as Cyndi Lauper killing a stripper isn't great. But Lillian getting $1200 by pretending the ashes are drugs is pretty amusing and should lead to even more hijinks for her now that she has cash. B+

402. "Kimmy Has a Weekend!"
Written by Dan Rubin and directed by Tristram Shapeero

Kimmy has always fought against the idea of being defined by her time in the bunker. She was scared to share that past with the people in her life. Now, everyone knows and has their own unique relationship with her beyond that trauma. She has found closure with both the Reverend and her mom. She's trying to forge forward with her life by starting her career. And now, she has an actual weekend for the first time in her life. She has time to just spend with herself away from work and with the money she has earned. That's what makes it so fascinating when Kimmy wants others to see her trauma. She wants the world to know that she isn't just another rich white lady. She doesn't want to be perceived as an entitled white woman who has no problem complaining and being very demanding of the most expensive treatments. She doesn't want to confront her own white privilege. She wants to deny it just like everyone would when confronted with such an accusation. Kimmy wants to be seen as someone who understands the plight and trauma of others because of what she went through. But she also has to be aware of how the world perceives her and that her intentions aren't always the best. This season has done a terrific job in confronting Kimmy's bias. She wants to see herself as this fun-loving, career woman who tries to help others whenever she can. But she also has to find the right way in order to be an ally. Here, she is able to use her white privilege in order to make the working conditions at the salon better. That may still be her trying to do what she perceives to be better without forming a lasting relationship with one of the workers there. But the show also wants the audience to see it as a victory that everyone can celebrate no matter how small. Conversely, Jacqueline has always been the personification of wealth. This show has always offered so much biting comedy about the wealthy actually being pretty dim. Here, Jacqueline is able to use that in order to get her apartment back from its subletter. She just has to get him to go to Los Angeles for a movie. That proves to be surprisingly easy for her to do. As such, she could be a beneficial agent for Titus if Titus was actually willing to put in the work. But also, Jacqueline is personally motivated to get this done because she needs her home back so her son has a place to stay. A home with her instead of the clone of her that her ex-husband has now married. B+

403. "Party Monster: Scratching the Surface"
Written by Meredith Scardino and directed by Rhys Thomas

It's so difficult to mine the true crime documentary genre for parody and laughs. It's a form of storytelling that is absolutely sincere with the intention of illuminating some of the greatest and unknown stories throughout the world. It's a format that calls attention to itself in the hopes of generating noise. And now, the spoof for this entire episode makes this the strongest episode that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has ever produced. This is an episode that could only exist a couple years into a show because the comedic voice of the overall show is so specific and known while the audience has such affection for the characters. It's because of those skills that the show can just sideline all of the main characters in order to be a documentary spoof about a silly white boy DJ named DJ Fingablast trying to reopen the case of the Reverend because he is his DJ idol. Like so many formats in this genre, it starts as one type of story and then morphs into something completely different. It starts with DJ Fingablast just trying to find a DJ for his wedding. Then, it becomes DJ Fingablast trying to reopen the Reverend's case due to misleading information. Then, it becomes the story of three men believing that what the Reverend did shouldn't even be wrong in the first place. The show is so absolutely insightful about toxic masculinity throughout this entire episode. It paints a bleak picture because a story like this could absolutely be real while still existing in the same brand of Kimmy Schmidt humor. There are so many jokes that are flying out at the audience that most will probably miss until a second viewing. This show has always been so jam-packed with humor. But here, there are so many sight gags - especially when it comes to showing events that were previously seen but with a new perspective. Here, the show introduces the Reverend's girlfriend when he had the four women in the bunker who knew about them but just thought they were Victorian ghosts. That's such a specific joke but it also further illuminates this world and just how creepy and manipulative the Reverend can be. Jon Hamm has always been fantastic in this role. It's a performance that really should have won him an Emmy by now. But this may be his best episode so far because of all of his reaction shots at the camera while he's so easily manipulating these guys. DJ Fingablast and Fran Dodd are such despicable people who have no understanding of the female perspective or just how dangerous their actions can be. And yet, it also shows just how easily they can be placed into positions of power. Through this simple and dumb documentary, the Reverend's case may be reopen. There's no legal reason for that. They just take the Reverend's word about his marriage to Kimmy being real and loving. Kimmy and the mole women earned such a victory when the Reverend was rightfully sent to prison. But now, all it takes is a couple of men to completely destroy that good will that the criminal justice system earned. It's so absolutely baffling to Kimmy that it makes her actually swear for the first time ever on the show. And that's the most fitting punchline this show has ever produced at the end of an episode. A

404. "Kimmy Disrupts the Paradigm!"
Written by Leila Strachan and directed by Claire Cowperthwaite

This show has always been keenly aware of just how much technology has permeated our current society. Yes, it can be read as over-the-top satire that robots are basically treated as everyday people throughout the world of this show. That is treated as normal. It's solid humor. But it also shows just how controlling and toxic the world of technology can be as well. Yes, this episode has the overall message that nerds should be empowered because they are the ones actually changing the world. Jocks flame out quickly after high school because they have no further identity than their physical prowess and popularity. It's important for Titus to realize that he can identify with nerds and that he has only picked on them for so long because he was afraid of being labeled as an other as well. And now, he sees the value in empowering nerds and making the community trusting and accepting of one another. But the show also delivers some biting humor about nerd culture being toxic and male-dominated as well. Yes, Titus can form new friendships. But they also convince him to see Dr. Who becoming a woman as absolutely horrifying. That's terrible and props up the idea that nerds see things as so precious and incapable of change. That's so counterintuitive though. They have the power to change the world but only the aspects they deem worthy of change. They still have no problem giving C.H.E.R.Y.L. a menstruation cycle. They still feel the need to control her in that way. But Lillian still feels the importance of getting these nerds to realize that their bodies are the greatest machines ever invented. She does so mostly because she's horny and expected more from this conference than finding new ways of avoiding physical contact with one another through virtual reality. All of these insights are important to include here even though Kimmy's storyline has the most obvious bad man in it. Danford is presented as a genuine love interest for her at first. In the past, the show has typically made Kimmy's problems be the reason her relationships end. Instead, the show makes the pivot to show that Danford is a horrible man because he's married and wants to be cheating on his wife during these tech conferences that he doesn't understand. As such, Kimmy has to learn how to fight back and make sure that he gets what he deserves even though she doesn't want to hurt his wife or their new dog. B+

405. "Kimmy and the Beest!"
Written by Robert Carlock and directed by Claire Scanlon

Kimmy is really discovering just how misogynist the world can be. Those themes have always been a part of the show. Kimmy's trauma from the Reverend was so completely horrifying and abusive. For so long, it was the only kind of sexual harassment and assault she was willing to let define her story. She didn't want it to be the only thing that explained who she was to the outside world. Now, she believes she has moved past that trauma in a very healthy way. And yet, she's realizing that the world is filled with bad men. They range from a variety of "nice guy" insistences and identity. Kimmy has known Titus for awhile now. But he's still being abusive and selfish by continuing the cycle of pushing people away from the spotlight for his own chance to shine. Kimmy is able to make the right speech to Titus in order to get him to ultimately do the right thing. He needs this student to play the Beast in the school play. But Kimmy is finding it much more difficult to confront the ugly faces of the patriarchy throughout the world. It's such a personal story for her because of the connection to the Reverend. But she is also astutely aware that people just now listen to the voices that prop up the same ideas that they have. As such, there is a corner of the world that supports people like Fran Dodd. He is such a despicable man who believes in traditional values and his stature as a nice guy. And yet, he's a guy who is always abusing his power and making inappropriate gestures to women who are clearly not interested in him at all. Once he's rejected, it needs to be some kind of elaborate conspiracy against him and not because of whatever he did. Kimmy can prevail in a physical fight with Fran. In fact, it's very rewarding seeing her beat him up to show that the Reverend wasn't trying to bring the world back to its natural order. Fran makes that argument even though the Reverend had multiple "girlfriends" held against their will. But it's also important for Kimmy to realize that it's no use trying to change the minds of the Fran's of the world. It will be much more effective to actually teach young boys how to be respectful of girls at all times. And yes, that does mean needing to criticize the Disney princes that have been propped up in the media for so many years. Those actions aren't appropriate either. Yes, the play gets a standing ovation. But so does Kimmy's speech about needing to teach the young generation how to be respectful and accepting of everyone. Sure, it's still her stealing this moment for herself and not really care about the trauma inflicted on the children by their parents not showing up. But it still feels like a victory as well. A-

406. "Kimmy Meets an Old Friend!"
Written by Nick Bernardone & Tina Fey and directed by Jude Weng

Kimmy's childlike wonder and sense of fun have always been defining characteristics for her. She has had to figure out a way to balance those qualities with being an adult and someone who endured so much trauma for a significant portion of her life. She is still learning how to address everything that happened in her past while still finding a way to move forward. This season she does have a job. But it's not a career she is actually passionate about. She wants to keep dreaming. She believes she's been blessed after finding Jan the backpack which she lost in the very first episode of the series. In the bunker, Jan was used as a form of escape. It was a coping mechanism for Kimmy and the other women down there. In the outside world, Kimmy wants to use Jan once again in order to connect with her fun and creative side. But she is sent down a dark path by the world not wanting to take her seriously as the author of a book targeting young boys to get them to understand and respect women and the world around them. The world just wants her to be defined as a mole woman. She can't escape that identity. Her new publisher only wants to buy her tragic memoir. They want to capitalize on the recent documentary that has brought renewed interest to the case. They want her side of the story. But that's not something Kimmy wants to do at all. She believes she has moved past that chapter of her life. She just wants to embrace the fun she had from her childhood while finding a new path forward. That becomes so complicated here because her sense of joy and wonder is crushed and she believes she needs to get rid of Jan in order to make it as an adult. That's what makes it so exciting when a boy Kimmy is targeting with this book actually reads it and loves it. It's clear that he gets the message even though his presence doesn't stop his TV executive father from fooling around with the secretary at all. That's such a bitting criticism of the idea that men can't be monsters if they have children and are constantly around them. That's such a myth that is quickly dispelled here. But this young man happens to be in the right place at the right time to give Kimmy the encouragement she needs to actually pursue this as a career that will make her happy. In fact, this episode does so much to show just how far the characters have grown over the course of the series. Jacqueline recognizes that she needs to be there for Xan during a pregnancy scare instead of focusing on her own selfish interests. Lillian is forced to be responsible for someone other than herself for the first time in her entire life. And Titus is given an opportunity to be an actor even though his pitch for The Capist is terrible and doesn't work at all. A-

Like with my reviews of Arrested Development earlier this week, it once again seems pretty clear that Netflix only split this season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt into two halves because it wanted the show to be eligible for this upcoming Emmy cycle. The show has had a significant presence at those awards for its first three seasons. The streaming service didn't want the show to sit out a year because production on 13 episodes wouldn't be complete in time for the deadline. With the show not dropping the next seven episodes until January 25, 2019, it's also clear that the show just barely got these episodes produced for the deadline as well. And yet, that also afforded the show the opportunity to make these episodes feel more like a cohesive mini-arc for the season with a beginning, middle and end. Sure, the themes and stories will continue in the next round of episodes. But there is a fair amount of closure that comes at the end of the sixth episode as well - especially with the replay of Jane Krakowski signing the song "Little Girl, Big City." Plus, this really does feel like a final season as well with the amount of success the four main characters are currently experiencing. I don't know if this is a show that can run forever. But if it knows that it's building towards an ending, I trust that the creative team will do so in a very satisfying way. This is a strong start with the characters bonding more together as a makeshift family while also pursuing their own lives and careers. Plus, there's still the ongoing mystery of whomever is watching over the characters for some nefarious reason.