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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Anna Camp terrifies and mesmerizes on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

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As Kimmy Schmidt’s world expands, so too does the world of the show, which adds a brand new player in “Kimmy Goes on a Playdate!”: Deirdre Robespierre, played by the delightful Anna Camp. Deirdre is the perfect addition to the show’s collection of heightened characters. It’s easy to poke fun at the up-tight trophy wives and supermoms of Manhattan’s private school system, but Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t merely stick to jokes about google calendars and white wine. Deidre is both majestic and terrifying, and Camp brings a whole lot of magnetism to the character that it’s hard to imagine anyone else better suited for the role. Kimmy instantly falls under Deirdre’s spell from the moment she sees her and inhales her summery scent (“It’s actually pre-fall, but you’re sweet,” Deidre coos). Even Jacqueline—who once belonged to Deidre’s world but fell out when her ex-husband left her with a measly $12 million in the divorce settlement—can’t figure the ice queen out. “Oh Deidre, I can never figure out if you’re trying to help me or destroy me,” Jacqueline says through tense laughter. Deirdre’s response: “I honestly don’t know!”

Deirdre’s confusion about her own motivations becomes the runner for the character throughout the episode, and it works very well. Jane Krakowski so often dominates scenes on this show, but with Camp, she finally has a formidable sparring partner. Both have a full-bodied approach to the comedy, making great lines even greater through their specific—and sometimes weird—delivery. Netflix released the park bench clip ahead of the series’s premiere, and it turns out that was only a tiny taste of the delicious dynamic between the two.

My issues with Jacqueline’s backstory persist, as I made plainly clear in my review of the premiere, but I do like the new direction Jacqueline is heading in. As over-the-top as the show’s characters are, they’re also grounded people with real emotions, wants, fears. Season two has already injected Jacqueline with a healthy dose of humanity. She spends “Kimmy Goes on a Playdate!” pretending to have the money she no longer does, but she finally explains to Kimmy that it isn’t because she’s ashamed of her lowly $12-million lifestyle. She’s trying to get back in with the upper echelon of New York wealth in order to get these rich white people to essentially pay reparations to her Native American family. Jacqueline’s Robin Hood mission doesn’t, by any means, absolve the show’s writers of the choice to cast a white woman in a non-white role (and part of me is convinced they thought it would), but I’m all for Jacqueline becoming a more complex character. Jacqueline and Titus have their moments in the first season, but if these first two episodes are any indication, season two invites them deeper into the thematic framework of the show and giving them more serialized narratives.

Titus’s initial storyline takes a while to find its footing, but the sudden reappearance of Mikey—the closeted construction worker who came out to Titus in season one—is an exciting development. Tituss Burgess brings so much humor to every little thing that Titus Andromedon does that the writers could stick the character into any scenario and it would probably work, but throwing a potential love interest into the mix creates a storyline that we can really get invested in and helps keep Titus from just being a bit character. Season two isn’t necessarily shifting focus away from Kimmy. In fact, she’s very much involved in Jacqueline’s storyline here. But instead of Jacqueline and Titus’s plots really orbiting Kimmy and her journey, they’re telling their own stories about identity and agency.

Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees returns and, more importantly, the perfectly awful teenage-girl banter between Xan and Kimmy returns. As with so many characters on this show, there’s a lot more to Xan than meets the eye, but this episode doesn’t really get into that. Instead, it almost redoes an identical Xan storyline from season one, when Kimmy empathized with Xan’s feelings about her parents’ divorce and projected her own experiences onto the mean teen. This time around, Xan again talks about Connecticut in a way that makes Kimmy think about the bunker. To Xan, losing the house she grew up in feels like losing control over her life. Kimmy, obviously, can relate. But again, we’ve seen this before in season one, and it was actually done much better then, with Kimmy coming to a crucial realization that her bunker experiences might not be applicable to everyone and that projecting isn’t the same as empathizing. That realization doesn’t really come into play here, and in fact, the Xan stuff feels like filler for now. Since this season does already seem to have some more serialized elements to it than the first half of last season (which was originally made for NBC and not for binge viewing), it could lead to a more compelling and better developed story. But “Kimmy Goes on a Playdate!” ultimately belongs to Deirdre and Jacqueline and their ambiguous frenemyship.

Stray observations

  • “Speaking of which, is that my elf costume? Oh, no, I left mine in that river.” Titus’s ability to tell a full novel’s worth of story in a couple of sentences is inspiring.
  • If you know me at all, then you know I fully screamed when Jacqueline seemed to desperately want to make out with Kimmy.
  • Kimmy and Jacqueline were both sexually attracted to the cartoon Robin Hood.
  • Titus succinctly and powerfully sums up his relationship history with Jacqueline: “We buried a robot together!”
  • “I don’t get it. I was putting Windex in your food like every day.” There have been lots of little hints that Kimmy’s resilience extends beyond just her ability to embrace joy and fun in her post-bunker life. Between her apparent immunity to poison and the super strength she uses to remove that sewer cover…could the the unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt be a superhero?
  • “I’m not a quitter, Kimmy! I watched Interstellar all the way to the end!” I’m always here for some Interstellar shade.
  • “Much like Icarus, a friend of mine who put too much stuff in his closet, I put too much stuff in my closet!”
  • Jacqueline, on real estate: “If I could see New Jersey, that means it could see me.”
  • Mikey miming taking a basketball shot before asking out Titus is actually an adorable moment.