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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt misses the mark in its satire of campus culture

Illustration for article titled Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt misses the mark in its satire of campus culture

“Kimmy Is A Feminist!” is a follow-up to “Kimmy Goes To A Play!” in the sense that it clearly has something it wants to say and yet ends up saying nothing at all. The episode is poised to critique performative allyship and faux wokeness, but it never reaches that point. Instead, it ridicules millennial attitudes toward political correctness in a way that minimizes the issue rather than satirizing it. Robert Carlock and Tina Fey set out to interrogate consent culture and performative feminism and end up crafting a lazy satire that doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. Whereas “Kimmy Steps On A Crack!” contains nuance and layers, this episode is a clumsy and ultimately ineffective stab at cultural criticism.

The episode places Kimmy in her new collegiate environment. The best parts involve Perry, who quickly acknowledges Kimmy’s privileges as a white woman when he obliquely spells out his frustrations over the fact that he worked for so long toward attending Columbia and she seemingly waltzed in with a full-ride scholarship. Kimmy remains oblivious to his frustrations, easily swayed by her new friends, the seemingly intelligent and subversive roommates of Xan. They claim to be 7th wave feminists, encouraging Kimmy to wear a short skirt so that her butt looks good…for her. They give Kimmy horrible advice and drag her along to a college party, where it eventually becomes clear to Kimmy that they don’t know enough about the real world and are just babies pretending like they know more than they do.

At the college party, Kimmy meets a very forward white boy who asks her to sign a sexual consent contract before they engage in anything physical. When Kimmy turns him down, he calls his mother crying, villainizing Kimmy for merely saying no. At this point, it seems like “Kimmy Is A Feminist!” is finally ready to take its satire to the next level by looking at the ways some straight white men use feminist language to their advantage, building themselves up as “nice guys” and then ultimately making women feel guilty for rejecting them. But the episode never fully engages with these ideas, opting rather to just dismiss political correctness and consent altogether. It feels like Fey and Carlock have a very specific bone to pick with millennial social justice warriors, and yet their satire paints college students in broad strokes, making fun of consent in a way that doesn’t really make a coherent point.

The best parts of Kimmy’s storyline are her interactions with Perry, who has more in common with her than she initially realizes. Both characters feel like they had to grow up too quickly, never really having the privilege of being as carefree as their fellow undergraduates. Kimmy and Perry’s shared experiences make them drawn to one another, and that connection is one of the more coherent parts of the story. The episode paints the other college students as wealthy idiots who know the right theorists to quote and yet don’t know what it means to actually live through the hardships of life, which could be an interesting message if it weren’t conflated with this half-baked critique of performative wokeness. Kimmy and Perry feel like outsiders among these Ivy League kids, and that connection is compelling. But the episode ultimately makes light of sexual consent, masking its comedy as satire. But who is “Kimmy Is A Feminist!” really making fun of? That remains unclear, and as with “Kimmy Goes To A Play!,” the writers just miss the mark in terms of smart social commentary, coming off as unnecessarily reactionary. The storyline lazily points fingers at millennials without actually critiquing the issue at hand. There’s potential for a smart take on what it means when seemingly feminist allies fall short, and yet the episode never goes there.

While Kimmy’s storyline makes overt, yet unsuccessful, attempts to say something meaningful about current social sentiments, Jacqueline’s storyline defaults to complete farce. Attempting to evade Duke’s advances, she calls in Titus, who has to pretend to be her gay friend Flouncy Magoo and, after Duke catches onto him, Cork Rockingham. Titus’ attempts at being the very masculine and straight Cork are funny, and the unexpected sexual tension between him, Duke, and Jacqueline makes for a fun premise. With the help of Titus, Jacqueline ultimately leverages Duke to get what she wants, moving her along in her quest to take down the Redskins.

Kimmy moves forward as well, realizing that she’s smarter and more experienced than the people who surround her at Columbia. Again, it’s a poignant message, one that stresses the importance of lived experiences over academic knowledge. Kimmy assumes her new peers are mature and smart because they use the right language, but she eventually sees them for the babies they are. But “Kimmy Is A Feminist!” offers a very surface-level takedown of performative feminism that goes for the easy jokes rather than more critically and humorously engaging with Ivy League culture. It’s unclear who the target of this satire is, and it comes off as needlessly indignant. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is more poignant in its more subtle cultural commentaries. This episode shouts without ever really saying anything.


Stray observations

  • Life According To Titus: Cherry-flavored lube is for dipping bread into.
  • Life According To Kimmy: Kimmy’s unsure what her friends mean by “ghosting” and at first interprets it as acting like an actual ghost and then also considers that they actually said “goatsing.”
  • “I just want to watch Beaches and drink rose!”Jacqueline’s type: “Rich, mean, knows a lot about watches.”
  • “I overstand.” For some reason, this Lillian line slayed me.