The first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was an unabashedly joyful surprise. Filled with densely layered comedy delivered with smiles instead of snark, Kimmy Schmidt found comedy in the absurd, yes; but also in the thrill of breaking one’s chains. Kimmy was a fish out of water after being rescued from her kidnapper of 15 years, and spent that first season helping her new friends escape their own versions of her bunker.
Now in season two, all of these characters have real room to breathe, discovering who they want to be now that the entire world is open to them, and the show takes full advantage of the comic potential here. Kimmy Schmidt season two is an almost perfect follow up, growing into new territory while providing more of what made the first season so charming and endearing. Unfortunately, season two also has more of a problem I had with first season, with some shockingly un-nuanced views of certain touchy topics.
Just to get the negative stuff out of the way (because I really do enjoy this show), the sour points for me involve how the show treats Advocates for Asian American Representation, and the issue of behavioral disorder diagnosis in children. The first topic, of representation, comes in an episode where Titus, one of the show’s leads and a gay black man, decides to perform a one-man show about one of his past-lives, a Japanese Geisha. His show is protested by a group of advocates, Respectful Asian Portrayals in Entertainment (RAPE), who disappear in a beam of light when they can no longer be offended by something. The point that the show tries to make, that art shouldn’t be judged sight-unseen, isn’t in itself bad, but how it chooses to argue this by throwing representation advocates under the bus is both confusing and insulting. It also feels like the show’s creators doubling down on issues people pointed out with the first season’s representation of Native Peoples, instead of attempting to fix them.
Another episode deals with a character getting medication prescribed to take care of her hyper child, only to discover that the pills take away all ability to feel joy. Again, what the show is trying to say about being a responsible parent is admirable, but I again have to question why the people making the show felt it necessary to continue to push the outdated narrative that children with behavioral disorders never need medication if parents just try hard enough.
Besides those issues though, Kimmy Schmidt remains one of the smartest, funniest, and all around most joyful shows around. With more room to breathe, each of the show’s leads: Kimmy, Titus, Jaqueline, and Lillian are able to each have their own fleshed out stories. Now free from reverend Richard Wayne Garry Wayne, Kimmy has to solidify the foundations of her new life, which means settling affairs with last season’s love interest, Dong; and finding a new job; while still confronting her past traumas. Her roommate, Titus Andromedon, last season’s breakout character, gets his own romantic arc with a recently out-of-the-closet man who expects the overly camp Titus to teach him how to be gay. Jacqueline returns to the city to try and do right towards her native people while struggling to live with a fraction of the wealth she’s used to. And Lillian does her best to preserve her neighborhood from the ever-present threat of gentrification.
These stories are made all the more colorful by the show’s cast of new and more fleshed out reoccurring characters. Titus’ new boyfriend, Mikey (the construction worker from season one) plays a delightful (ahem) straight man to Titus’ extravagance. Tina Fey is incredible as ever as Kimmy’s therapist with a drinking problem. And Jacqueline gets the best supporting characters with a conniving rival in Anna Kamp’s Deirdre Robespierre, and a lawyer played by David Cross. And besides them, this season has an outstanding roster of special guests and cameo performances.
Explaining why a comedy is funny has always been hard for me because it’s a case where specificity ruins the experience, and explaining a joke is always a surefire way to make it unfunny. However, I can say that Kimmy Schmidt season two is one of the densest and layered comedies since the first three seasons of Arrested Development, using every comedic tool and set-up from one-liners, puns, misdirection, crossing-the-line-twice, gag humor, visual gags, absurdism, pop-culture reference, self-reference, and call backs; weaving them in-and-out of each other so effectively that every laugh you take means missing some second or third joke to discover on a second viewing. And not only is the humor in this show smartly constructed, it also, for the most part, refuses to punch down, which is always admirable in my book.
Jauntily following in season one’s footsteps; Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season two is a happy-go-lucky comedy that has both smarts and heart. It takes advantage of no longer having to carry the burden of Kimmy’s story in order to flesh out its colorful cast of main characters and introduce many new faces that are sure to become people’s favorites. Barring a couple confounding blemishes, Kimmy Schmidt provides opportunities for anybody to laugh at, and characters for anyone to laugh with.