Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is making a triumphant return—offering not just a new episode, but also the first interactive comedy special on Netflix. Using the same technology seen in Black Mirror’s “Bandersnatch,” but with much funnier results, Kimmy Vs. The Reverend tracks the titular eternally optimistic redhead as she heads out on her biggest adventure yet.
Kimmy Vs. The Reverend brings with it all of the series’ sorely missed cast members, including Kimmy (Ellie Kemper); Titus, the greatest roommate in the history of roommates (Tituss Burgess); Kimmy’s snooty former boss, Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski); and Kimmy’s enterprising former landlady, Lillian (Carol Kane). Also back on board are minor players like Kimmy’s fellow mole women, Cyndee (Sara Chase), Gretchen (Lauren Adams), and Donna Maria (Sol Miranda); Jacqueline’s son, Buckley (Tanner Flood), and her stepdaughter, Xan (Dylan Gelula); and even a YUKO robot and Jan, Kimmy’s backpack. Kimmy is still rich—thanks to her bestselling book—Titus is still a movie star, and Jacqueline is still his agent.
Jon Hamm—in his hilarious depiction as Kimmy’s captor, Richard Wayne Gary Wayne—showed up all too sporadically in the series’ later seasons (granted, his character was in prison). But as the title suggests, he plays a large part here, as Kimmy finds out that Dick has another bunker of mole women, who she has to save mere days before her wedding, to Prince Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe). The situation imbues viewers’ choices with a sense of urgency, as Kimmy and Titus, or maybe Jacqueline, search for yet another bunker. The many fractured plots unfortunately mean that Kimmy’s ensemble is split as well: Lillian and Frederick go off on an odd branch of the storyline related to the wedding, while Jacqueline is stuck on a movie set talking to either a screenwriter or a wardrobe assistant (Zak Orth and Heidi Gardner, welcome to the Kimmyverse).
Intriguing tech options aside, all the one-liner, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them jokes that made Kimmy Schmidt so much fun in the first place are thankfully still intact. Radcliffe’s Frederick appears to be a perfect match for our heroine. Despite identifying a random book as “the thing you learn horse breeds from,” he’s down with their wedding theme of “cool grown-ups,” and the couple is registered at Tiffany, Build-A-Bear, and Sky Zone trampoline park. Meanwhile, Titus despairs that all his puns are failing (“Tuba Gooding Jr.—is that something?”), while the Reverend remains committed to his ka-ra-te skills. Lost in the woods, Kimmy is faced with two conflicting signs: “Canyon Mountain” versus “East Virginia.” Amy Sedaris’ Mimi Kanasis shows up for a typically frantic appearance at a karaoke bar. Even as a straightforward special, Kimmy Vs. The Reverend would still have been pretty fun.
The interactive element adds a level of ingenuity. On your first go-through, you’re probably going to run into a dead end at least once, which will lead to a gentle scolding by a minor character like Mikey (Mike Carlsen) or Cyndee. You may also reach one in a variety of endings that still conclude with a wedding, but not the one you were expecting. Because this is the Kimmy world (far removed from Bandersnatch), there are do-overs, and you’ll soon go back to make the correct choice in that particular fork in the plot. Somehow, the only thing better than getting to watch Titus sing “Freebird” is not watching Titus sing “Freebird.” There’s even a heartwarming throwback to one of Kimmy’s first lines in the series.
The setup is so entertaining that it belies the tremendous amount of work that must have gone into it: In a “production notes” press release, Tina Fey says, “It was really fun. I think it suits the comedy writer’s brain to have this freedom to think about crazy ways to have a dead end or a funny way for things to loop around.”
Yet the result is seamless, as plots veer off in different directions without ever feeling jarring. The interactive element also makes you more involved in Kimmy’s plight, as, after all, you’re the one in charge of her success. But once you do make it all the way to the end, the list of guest stars in the credits may fill you with dismay: How did you miss Josh Groban? Charlotte McKinney? Bowen Yang as Kim Jong-un? (Full disclosure: We still haven’t found the robot uprising teased in the trailer.) Naturally, it will make you hit the restart button, eager to experience the whole thing over again.