Photo: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

When it comes to satire, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt shines brightest when skewering the lives of rich people. The show turns wealth and privilege into a grotesque horror show. The rich almost seem like an alien species on this show. They’re dumb to the point of absurdity. Even the way they move and carry themselves has a monster-like quality.

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When Jacqueline schemes to get her apartment back by going after its current subleaser Broderick Knob, she encounters the man actually living in her apartment: Broderick Knob’s son Broderick Knob III (he pronounces the Roman numbers as if they are the letter I three times because, yeah, he’s real dumb). People call him Tripp because his babysitters keep falling off boats (P.S. he’s a grown man). When Jacqueline holds up her finger to ask for a moment to answer the phone, he shouts “one!” He “wrote a song” that involves strumming one string on the guitar and saying “look out peeholes, gotta spread my wings, New York”...and that’s the whole song.

The jokes are so wildly specific, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt going the extra mile instead of landing on the obvious, easy jokes about wealthy lifestyles. Here’s where the show’s over-the-top voice becomes so handy Paul Walter Hauser magnificently brings that specificity to life (and it’s hard not to think of his I, Tonya character when watching).

Of course, Broderick/Tripp is so insulated by his wealth that he thinks he can do just about anything, so Jacqueline easily manipulates him into becoming an actor. He’s swiftly scooped up by Sophie Van Nuys, who used to work at a Jamba Juice but then became the head of a studio after all the bad men were taken down. Samantha Buck brings specificity to this role, too. Kimmy Schmidt has consistently strong guest stars and clearly defines a perspective and comedic scope for these quick bit characters, which is crucial to maintaining the immersive feel of its world.

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So Kimmy Schmidt has long showed the extreme privileges of the uppermost 1%, but this episode also goes somewhere more nuanced by delving into the white privilege Kimmy experiences. Her experiences in the bunker constantly teach Kimmy new things about herself and her surroundings. The show still brilliantly makes the bunker a core part of her character development and motivation. When she sees the workers at a nail salon being subservient to the whims of a nasty customer (who is a “verified complainer” on Yelp, naturally), she starts to get a bunker vibe. Kimmy still perceives the world around her through the lens of her trauma, and it’s realistic that that hasn’t totally changed since she arrived in NYC.

But this time, Kimmy learns one of her most complicated lessons to date, especially since it upends her trauma victim narrative so thoroughly. Kimmy hates being perceived as a victim and entirely defined by her bunker experience, but that gets complicated here. She wants the nail salon workers to know she has been through shit, because she wants them to know she can relate, to know that she isn’t like the other rich, white ladies who come in with tall orders and nasty attitudes. When Titus points out that she can’t know the salon workers’ lives because of her white privilege, Kimmy immediately misinterprets the term, assuming that its implication is that it erases her experiences in the bunker.

The show then uses Kimmy’s incorrect assumptions to more clearly define white privilege within the context of the storyline. Kimmy’s instinct, as with a lot of white people, is to deny her white privilege—but that’s impossible. Titus demonstrates in the department store, where a worker encourages Kimmy to take a walk around the block with the fur coat she’s trying on and subsequently turns around and tells Titus to get out for even thinking about trying on the coat. It’s a simple but effective real-life lesson on white privilege, and it wakes Kimmy up, teaching her not only something about herself but about others, too.

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She then does some genuine good by utilizing her white privilege to advocate for the salon workers. This ends up being so much more effective than if she had just followed her initial instincts to force the workers to push back. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t get in over its head with its straightforward and effective exploration of white privilege. As usual, it shows Kimmy’s flaws (her initial reaction and her tendency to force her own values and perspective on others) but ultimately allows her to learn and grow.

Stray observations

  • Life According To Titus: “Algorithm” is the “Al Gore rhythm,” a formula created by Al Gore to predict your interests. This joke is so dumb and so smart at the same time?! I love it.
  • I hope C.H.E.R.Y.L’s drinking problem turns into a recurring gag.
  • The bee-in-throat bit is too good, especially because of the face Ellie Kemper makes after she says there’s a bee stuck in her throat. I have yet to praise the many comedic faces of Ellie Kemper in these reviews, so here we are!
  • The background sight gags in the show remain on point: Broderick’s wikipedia page says he’s a collector of rare human skulls, that he’s known for his uncanny Mitch McConnell impression, and that he’s the son of a disgraced gym teacher and an aspiring foot model. When watching this show on a laptop/mobile device, I highly recommend having those screenshot fingers ready.
  • If you look closely, you’ll see that Kimmy, Jacqueline, and Titus got through nine seasons of “Gals On The Town,” “written by a rich, mean gay man.”

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