Because it was originally packaged for network television, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, especially in the beginning, didn’t necessarily feel like Netflix’s first original sitcom. The redundancy of some of the first few episodes became even more noticeable when bingeing back-to-back. But over time, Kimmy Schmidt’s writers have become better at the long-term plotting and serialization of the show. That’s especially exemplified by the final three episodes of the season, which function as a very clear serialized story, grounded in the trial of Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne.
Suspense isn’t something you usually look for in comedy, but this finale has real twists and reveals that make it exciting. It’s not the same kind of suspense you might find in a drama, but rather a comedic rendering of these kinds of story devices. The penultimate episode ended on a textbook cliffhanger, with the mole women finding an unmarked tape in the vault of the reverend’s man cave. The finale picks up right where things left off, and when Kimmy pops in the tape, it isn’t the confession the women were hoping for. Instead, it’s a hilarious combination of the reverend advertising his DJ services, yelling “karate” while doing karate around his private tube, and auditioning for The Apprentice (I feel like the writers were playing a game of How Much Crazy Stuff Can We Get Jon Hamm To Do, and the results are perfect). Throughout the episode, the bunker door slowly closes until finally locking the women in, but the ways it gets pushed closer and closer to sealed are hilarious: First, a single leaf nudges the door down, then Ed Hardy on a four-wheeler finally shuts it completely. Kimmy Schmidt plays the more dramatic conventions of these Durnsville episodes for comedy, and it works very well.
For these reasons, the courtroom has been home to some of Kimmy Schmidt’s best scenes, thanks largely to the comedic prowess of Hamm, Tina Fey, and Jerry Minor. In the finale, the courtroom scenes continue to poke fun at the conventions of legal dramas, with the characters delivering jokes with the same cadence as slick lawyers. When Kimmy finally nails the reverend by pointing out the timestamp on his Apprentice audition tape, the courtroom breaks out into the standard buzz courtroom revelations bring, and Marcia and Chris—always three steps behind—say “murmur murmur murmur.” That moment might just top their initial opening statement from two episodes back.
“Kimmy Makes Waffles!” also connects different parts of Kimmy’s life by bringing Lillian and Jacqueline together for a road trip to Durnsville. “This is getting a real Thelma & Louise vibe,” Lillian says after Jacqueline smashes her patriarchal “driver talky box” (GPS) with her heel. “I like it.” I do too, Lillian. Jane Krakowski and Carol Kane play off each other brilliantly, and I could have easily watched an entire episode dedicated solely to the two of them on their dysfunctional road trip. Unfortunately, a lot of the fun of the Lillian/Jacqueline pairing is undercut by the return to Jacqueline’s backstory.
I’m having a lot of trouble figuring out how to write about the fact that Krakowski is playing a Native American character. Because if I’m being honest, the choice is a deal breaker. Yes, on a story level, Jacqueline’s experiences are compelling and give the character depth beyond just being a rich Manhattan mom. Her identity crisis—which reaches its peak in the finale—ties in with some of the show’s overarching themes. But unpacking those ideas feels fruitless when they’re rooted in a plotline that colonizes Native American experience by telling it through a white actor. When I say something along the lines of “this story is really great, but,” it’s almost too kind, like I’m somehow defending the blatant case of whitewashing by pointing out the narrative merits of Jacqueline’s arc.
At this point, the only way to course-correct would be be to retcon the whole thing altogether, and I don’t think the show would ever make that move. In the finale, when Lillian and Jacqueline see a high school band with “Indians” as their school mascot, Lillian says: “After everything that Native Americans have been through—robbed of their land, ravaged by smallpox, forced to watch Mexicans play them on TV.” How can the show that includes this critique be the same show that casts a white woman as a Native American character?
The finale also sets up a lot of changes moving forward for the second season, which Netflix already ordered before the first even dropped. Titus’s secret wife—hinted at throughout the season—shows up. Jacqueline decides to go home to reconnect with her family. Dong calls Kimmy to tell her he married someone else from the study group. Of these reveals, the Titus one has the most potential for some rich storytelling. At this point, there’s no way to really salvage Jacqueline’s storyline, and that’s a shame, because the more we know and learn about Jacqueline, the more she escapes the looming shadow of Jenna Maroney (although, I think many would argue that there’s nothing wrong with Krakowski playing the same exact character here, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong). As for Dong, I hope this whole marriage thing doesn’t mean he’s just going to be written out of Kimmy’s life. Dong’s arc has been really unsatisfying so far, interrupted jarringly by the trial. I hope we get to explore the relationship more next season, but I worry the immigration and marriage storyline signals the end for the character. Prove me wrong, show!
Overall, it’s an exciting finale that plays to a lot of the show’s strengths, especially its ability to really own its high-concept premise and find comedy in unlikely places. I think Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt had a pretty solid first season that lays the groundwork for an even better second. The trial is an important component of Kimmy’s character development, but in a way, the fact that it’s now behind her opens up more story possibilities for the character. The show’s best surprise has been Ellie Kemper, who has been good in her past work but who really brings something extra special to her work on this show. She’s just as responsible for keeping the character feeling fresh and dynamic as the writers are. When I inevitably rewatch the series, it’ll be mostly because I just miss seeing her ever-contorting face as she plays the many shades of Kimmy Schmidt.
- Well folks, we did it! We finished the first season of of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. You probably binged faster than I did, but hopefully this one-review-a-day thing was as fun for you as it was for me.
- “Indiana?! I barely know Diana!” Lillian stays dropping the funniest lines on the show.
- At this point, I think I’ve made this abundantly clear, but casting Jon Hamm as the reverend was such a strong move.
- “I still believe the world is good, that bunnies are nice, and snakes are mean…that one day sandra bullock will find someone that deserves her.” I snapped for this Kimmy speech.
- And Lauren Adams’s delivery of “bunnies can be very mean” made me finally fall for Lauren Adams.
- Donna Maria confesses that she actually knows how to speak English but that she used Spanish as her coping mechanism to escape the white girl nonsense of the bunker. This, I love. But Donna Maria continuing to speak Spanish in the trial because she was afraid speaking English would hurt her brand? That was a little too stupid. Although, I suppose with the weight people place on their personal brands in 2015, maybe it’s not that far off-base.
- Kimmy should enter all rooms by saying “Stop. Kimmy Time!”