This article previously appeared on Crossfader.
Could it be that UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT ages like a fine wine? From the day Kimmy burst into our lives in a cloud of pink and yellow confetti, it seems the goofy Netflix show has gone a few steps further every year to push its own boundaries to become more relevant in our current climate. After a tone-deaf and forgettable season two, season three gave us hope with some fun cameos and pop culture references that were actually of this century. It’s safe to say that with the fourth and final season, KIMMY SCHMIDT is finally knocking it out of the park.
Due to the debut of Tina Fey’s MEAN GIRLS musical on Broadway this year, the release of KIMMY SCHMIDT’s season four has been split into two parts—six episodes now, six episodes in January 2019. Though it’s cruel to tease the audience and make them wait over seven months for the rest of the season, the show goes beyond episodic comedy this time and provides a strong narrative throughline that leave us wanting more by the end of the mid-season break. It all ends with an extremely bizarre cliffhanger that may leave viewers beyond baffled (more on that later).
Characters on a streaming service watching a streaming service . . . so meta!
The season starts with our main characters at the start of big turning points in their lives. Kimmy is now working the job that fell into her lap at the end of season three: head of HR at a cushy tech start-up. Jacqueline is now working as Titus’ agent, helping him land a string of hilariously strange acting gigs. And in the least interesting subplot of the season, Lillian’s lover from season three, Artie, has passed away (his cause of death is never explained). Except for a funny gag of her selling Artie’s ashes in dime bags, Lillian’s antics are mostly overshadowed by the growth of the other main characters. This time around, we don’t just see our characters get swallowed whole by the Big Apple and fall on their faces over and over again. We see them experience success for the first time, and best of all, we see them become more mature, compassionate people.
It’s not to say that UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT is no longer a ridiculous, in-your-face comedy with 10 one-liners per second. It most definitely still is. But season four miraculously maintains this energetic, rapid-fire manner of storytelling while tackling serious issues in a funny and powerful way. This season hits on topics such as gentrification, sexual harassment in the workplace, toxic masculinity, and white privilege. But it never veers into afterschool special territory. KIMMY SCHMIDT season four is nothing short of biting satire that is more bubbly and flowery than we’re used to in 2018. The fact that the tone is never bitter works tremendously well. There are an abundance of darkly funny moments, depicted proudly with a cheeky grin. When Kimmy discovers her white privilege and attempts to use it for the greater good, I both laughed and covered my eyes as Jacqueline uttered “that’s why I became white in the first place!”
The face I make when I watch smart comedy
The ultimate highlight of the season is episode three, “Party Monster: Scratching the Surface.” In the style of a true crime documentary, we see DJ Fingablast (Derek Klena) uncover secrets about his hero DJ Slizzard (aka Jon Hamm’s Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, who kidnapped Kimmy). It’s the perfect parody of a crime doc, and does an excellent job parodying “meninism” in the form of men’s rights activist Fran Dodd (played hilariously by Bobby Moynihan) who attempts to clear the Reverend’s name. As risky as a full-episode-long mockumentary may be, KIMMY SCHMIDT pulls it off marvellously. It’s genuinely funny enough to warrant a second viewing.
In addition to our characters becoming more educated on the issues, they are also forced to confront their tragic flaws. Titus, who has always been the most self-centered of the characters, becomes much more empathetic and is driven to share the spotlight as his career leads him to working as the director of a school play. Jacqueline, who has always relied on having a rich lover to solve her problems, must now rely on her street smarts to keep her head above water. And of course, our title character, Kimmy, who has always coasted through the show as a naïve innocent, now starts to realize how her actions affect people, and must question whether or not it’s time to abandon some of her childish tendencies and become a “normal” adult. The character arcs put in place in the first half of this season are excellent, and long overdue. I found myself feeling a lot more invested in these characters than ever, even after four years of loyalty to this show.
Who doesn’t love to see Jon Hamm like this?
The head-scratching mid-season cliffhanger we are left with at the end of episode six seems even more off-brand than the rest of the season, and not necessarily in a good way. There appears to be an outside antagonist we have not yet been introduced to, or perhaps they have been introduced and hiding in plain sight. It’s possible that only time will tell whether or not this big twist will play out well. Despite the confusing finish, the first six episodes give plenty hope for the rest.
In just half a season, UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT takes its viewers on quite the wild ride. There’s a lot going on, but it never feels chaotic. The show has mastered its tone and has made the absolute most of its zany cast of characters. If season four’s part two maintains the quality of part one, this season will most definitely shape up to be the best one yet.