Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: “Kimmy Goes To School!”

Illustration for article titled Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: “Kimmy Goes To School!”

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s greatest strength—besides its star Ellie Kemper—is its high-concept premise. Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t fit neatly into sitcom categories like “family” or “workplace” or even the more nebulous “hangout.” Kimmy Schmidt is about a cult survivor reclaiming her life. That dark and complicated backstory gives depth to the zany world the series exists in and also lets the writers lean heavily on conflict that’s a little weightier than the problems typically faced by sitcom characters. Conflict has been used for comedy very effectively in Kimmy Schmidt, and “Kimmy Goes To School!” is no exception.

Kimmy starts her GED class, but soon learns that her teacher (played by Richard Kind) doesn’t give a shit about his students’ success. Kimmy spends most of the episode trying to beat her worthless teacher, and there’s a lot of funny material along the way, especially about the school’s budget cuts, which have led the nurse to be replaced by a teddy bear and the gym teacher to be replaced by a cardboard cutout of Michael Jordan. The script, penned by Happy Endings’ Dan Rubin and Lon Zimmet—creates and solves conflict but also keeps the jokes clipping along at rapid-fire pace. Ultimately, Kimmy remains unbroken in the face of her GED-class obstacles.

But in order for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to be sustainable, its philosophy of unbreakability should go beyond Kimmy. I’ve been dancing around my critique of how the show employs Titus for a while now, but I think this is what it comes down to. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a story about strength and resilience in the face of conflict, and Titus is poised to tell a side of that story, but we haven’t quite gotten there. Once someone finds out she’s a mole woman, Kimmy is limited by the assumptions people make about her, but until that point, she can navigate life without bringing that much attention to herself, even in light-up sneakers. Her outsider status is more often invisible. She doesn’t face the same kind of structural oppression as Titus, whose queerness and Blackness mark him as other by normative society. But most of the times Titus has brought up his sexuality or race, it’s in a throwaway line, like at the top of this episode when he’s dropping Kimmy off at school and says “I hope some day when you’re a gay Black man, you have a Kimmy that treats you like this.”

All of that being said, Titus’s “Pinot Noir”—“an ode to Black penis”—music video is the funniest part of this episode and possibly even the series so far. Tituss Burgess is an absolute gem, and he’s on fire this episode, whether he’s rhyming “Roseanne Barr” with “Pinot Noir” or using his “straight voice” to convince Xan he’s a handyman. Titus often has the funniest lines in every episode—or, at least, the ones that I tend to remember and quote days later. He’s definitely more developed than a “gay best friend” stock type, but the writers do seem to kind of gloss over the hardships he has overcome, privileging Kimmy’s. Watching Kimmy beat down her problems with her upbeat attitude and determination entertains, but if every episode follows that exact same pattern, we aren’t left with much.

The main problem Kimmy Schmidt struggles with right now is its tone, which oscillates so chaotically that it can be hard to parse it all out. “Kimmy Goes To School!” shows Kimmy sticking it to the man, Major League-style, and Titus is shooting a music video. It’s one of the best music videos I’ve ever seen in my life, but in terms of character development, there just isn’t much there. He does protect Kimmy when Xan threatens to have her fired, and that works toward establishing his close relationship with Kimmy. But Titus can and should be so much more than he currently is.

It’s complicated, because as I’ve said before, I think it’s important that Titus has his own life outside of Kimmy. It gives the character autonomy. But at the same time, he’s dropping her off at school and saying he loves her and defending her against the evil Xan, and that relationship needs to feel rooted in something real.


Stray observations:

  • “Not so fast, MTV’s Daria.” - Titus, to Xanthippe
  • My two favorite jokes in this episode are syntax-based. First, there’s the school staffer who answers Kimmy’s request to see the principal with: “You can’t. He’s dead—” *coughs* “—serious about education so he went to a conference in Hartford.” Then there’s Titus’s “She quit, wound up walking the streets selling drugs. She’s a pharmaceutical rep…I phrased that so badly.”
  • “If we’ve learned anything in this class, it’s the plot to the movie Major League.”
  • Xan texting her friend who is right next to her with nonsensical emoji combinations is my favorite Xan moment to date.
  • The episode also introduces recurring character Dong Nguyen (Ki Hong Lee), a student in Kimmy’s class.
  • “I can explain! You’re in The Matrix!”
  • Titus has used MLK’s birthday as an excuse to get out of things with Kimmy four times.