‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Sees Your Concern About Insensitive Jokes, Raises You ‘Top Five Hitlers’

CREDIT: ERIC LIEBOWITZ/NETFLIX
CREDIT: ERIC LIEBOWITZ/NETFLIX

“When you shove your problems down, they’re gonna bust out in weird ways.”

That’s what Andrea, an alcoholic therapist played by Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt co-creator Tina Fey, tells Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), blasted in the backseat of Kimmy’s car. See, Kimmy has some stuff she hasn’t dealt with yet. That she was locked in an underground bunker for 15 years by a man who called himself the Reverend is the most obvious — and, Kimmy inocrrectly believes, the only — trauma Kimmy hasn’t processed. Ignore it, Andrea warns, and one day “your body will do something rough… and you’ll find yourself wandering along a highway, or eating at a Boston Market.”

Season one saw Kimmy decked out in a Lisa Frank color palette, emotionally and pop-culturally frozen in the early 1990s, and lying to herself about her ability to move on from her past without ever looking back. But season two shows Kimmy discovering that she is, despite all her effort and enthusiasm, very far from fine. With her words, she says she’s totally cool; with her peristaltic Robert Durst-y burps, she reveals she needs help, and fast.

This progress, and so much else about Kimmy, is even smarter and sharper in this sophomore season than it was last year. The joke density is a wonder to behold. Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) grows up as Kimmy does, figuring out his intimacy issues and taking professional risks. Stoop crone/landlord Lillian (Carol Kane) doubles down on her desire to save her asbestos-ridden neighborhood from an even more horrifying invasion: gentrification. The music, especially the parodies from the off-brand “Now That Sounds Like Music” tapes Kimmy and Titus listen to, is perfection. The series is zany and cutting and bizarre, and great.

That said, Kimmy has a recurring weakness when it comes to jokes about race. Last season introduced Jacqueline Vorhees (Jane Krakowski), a Native American passing as a white woman. Those jokes… did not go over so well. This season, it appears the writers at Kimmy decided to take that criticism and use it as an excuse to wildly lash out at “internet outrage culture” in an episode that finds Titus — who, for reasons, believes he was a geisha in a past life — put on a one-man show, “Kimono You Didn’t,” dressed and made-up as an Asian woman.

This project lands him on an online list of “Top Five Hitlers,” a list that leaves off actual Hitler to make room for modern-day offenders. His show is so magnificent that the protesters who show up to terrorize him realize they adore him after all, and one is so overcome with the idea of not having anything to be mad about that she says, “I can’t breathe — wait, I’m not allowed to say that,” before vanishing into a beam of light.

Showrunner Robert Carlock and Burgess discussed the thinking behind the episode with The Hollywood Reporter. Carlock’s take: “We wanted to play with those ideas of perception and appropriation and it seemed like a funny double bind that he really believes he was that person, so is it offensive for him to portray that person?”

The Wonderful Weirdness Of ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’Culture by CREDIT: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix The first five minutes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are perfect. Kimmy, which…thinkprogress.orgFey has expressed her attitude about critiques of the show and its various offenses in a handful of interviews she’s given between these two seasons and it can be summed up as, in the grand tradition of her partner in excellence Amy Poehler, she doesn’t fucking care if you like it. She is above all of the fray, and hers is a privileged position that, as a human who writes things on the internet, I envy and hope to one day be powerful enough to obtain. Her take is that if you think anything in the show is offensive, that’s on you, not the show. This is not exactly a fair point of view regarding art that exists in the public space and thus makes itself available for thoughtful engagement which will, on occasion, be negative. But it means that the tone of race-themed jokes in season two is something close to trolling — troll-adjacent? — that dares you to say that Kimmy missed the mark.

There is one race, though — more specifically, one class within one race — that Kimmy skewers with consistent nuance, insight, and hilarity: uber-wealthy white people. This just so happens to be a perfect cultural moment for that particular evisceration, struggling as we are as a nation with an ever-growing disparity between the one percent and the rest of us, staring down the gullet of a possible Donald Trump presidency.

Our ambassador to this world is Jacqueline, who has fallen from her kept-trophy-wife status in season one and is scrambling to earn back her spot in society, even as she lacks the financial resources to do so. This season brings us Jacqueline’s frenemy/nemesis, Deirdre Robespierre, played by Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp. (Kimmy’s take: “Owen R.’s mom? He’s so cool!”)

Deirdre’s formidable intellectual horsepower has no purpose in her day-to-day life, and every now and then, she makes that Sad Ben Affleck gazing-into-the-void face when she considers how pointless her existence is. Then she goes back to planning a gala for Lupus Awareness Awareness. “Not enough people know about Lupus awareness.”

As for her encounters with Jacqueline, Deirdre utilizes Art of War-style machinations to defeat her fellow mom. “I have a degree in political science from Princeton,” she squeals to Jacqueline over white wine in Central Park. “And all that wasted mental energy has to go somewhere!”

“I have a 150 IQ but I spent all morning picking out dog stationery,” Deirdre says to Jacqueline later on. “Maybe I’m just tormenting you to feel alive. But also, there is a chance that this is real empathy. We may never know!”

When she discovers that, through a planning glitch, she and Jacqueline have scheduled their galas for the same night, she thrills at the prospect of a competition. “I haven’t felt this alive since I left the State Department! You know I faked the Saddam capture? He’s still out there.

The men of this world, with whom Jacqueline is trying to earn favor, are no better. Once they discover what Jacqueline is really raising money for (to help Native Americans; no, this doesn’t really save that whole joke which is apparently a huge part of the show now so… there’s that), they balk at the idea of donating. “I saw First Americans and I assumed it was some kind of Super PAC,” says one. “We give to causes that actually affect us: prostate cancer, schools for our dumb kids to get into, the arts, because of all those old nudie paintings,” adds another.

I left this season of Kimmy not so much longing for season three (although, I am excited for that, too) but wishing Fey would make a Mean Girls sequel that followed Regina and her clique into adulthood and found them in exactly this life stage: The obscenely rich moms of young children in a yuppie New York private school. I would watch the hell out of Mean Moms or, as I can only dream it would be titled, 2 Mean 2 Girls.