Netflix debuted the third season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Friday. If you’ve watched the whole season already, I have some overall thoughts on the season, followed by mini-reviews of each episode — with spoilers for each one as you go — coming up just as soon as I find out if Trace Adkins is a group, person, or diet plan…
First, big picture. In my preview post last week, I said that the first six episodes were good but not great, but that I wasn’t worried because Fey and Carlock tended to put their best stuff — both comically and emotionally — in the back half of each previous season, and I figured this year would also make that turn from “There are a lot of individual jokes here that I’m enjoying” to “That felt really satisfying overall.”
That turn never really came, though, particularly where Kimmy’s story was concerned. It was a really strong season for both Titus and Jacqueline, who have been humanized just enough to make the show’s many turns for the absurd even funnier because they start off in a real place. For that matter, Lillian has been able to carry far more screentime than I would have guessed when the show started. But Kimmy’s own character arc felt a bit like a placeholder, whether because the writers didn’t have a good idea to follow Kimmy vs. the Reverend and Kimmy vs. her mom (and herself), because of the availability of the guest stars, or because the creative team simply wanted to focus more on the supporting characters this time out. I laughed a bunch — and, for note-taking purposes, empathized with Artie when he complained of Lillian’s friends, “I can’t follow any of this! Everybody talks too fast!” — but the season on the whole felt thinner than what the show’s done before. An outstanding joke-delivery system, but it’s been more than that in the past.
Now let’s go episode-by-episode:
Episode 1: Kimmy Gets Divorced?!
This is one of the season’s busiest episodes, as it has to set up various story arcs for the year — and start wrapping up old ones like Lillian’s affair with Robert Durst (who has a great comic moment where he offers genuine wisdom to Kimmy about her relationship with the Reverend, then casually pees his pants and exits) — work in a good amount of Jon Hamm (whom I’m assuming filmed all of his scenes this season in an afternoon), check in on recurring characters like Mimi, etc. But it also has one of the season’s single funniest — and, if you’re a child of a certain age, a parent of kids of a certain age, or both, most uncomfortable — scenes, where Titus’s Sesame Street audition takes a dark turn when his Muppet co-star Mr. Frumpus attempts to turn it into a casting couch situation.
Other strong jokes: the sports teams at Trump University are nicknamed the Pricks (while the mascots at Lillian’s SUNY school were the Jews), Titus interrupts Kimmy’s attempt to discuss streaming residuals, and Coriolanus laughing evilly while Dorf-walking away from Titus in his Matilda costume.
Episode 2: Kimmy’s Roomate Lemonades!
I’ve seen just enough of the real Lemonade to be able to recognize the parody, but not enough to appreciate it as much as some of Jeff Richmond’s other musical pastiche from this year or seasons past. Still, it set up a genuinely sweet scene between Titus and Mikey where Titus got to be mature and sensible in recognizing that Mikey has to go out into the world and date other men, because no good would come of Titus being his only gay relationship.
Lots of fun with the various fake colleges — Famous Ray’s Original College, SUNY The Sewer, Hudson University (As Seen on Law & Order) — before Kimmy appears to find the right spot at Robert Moses College for Whites Everyone alongside new pal Refrigerator Perry, played by Hamilton alum Daveed Diggs. And of course anyone talking about Columbia in front of Kimmy Schmidt would engender confusion with Columbia House and the tapes that she and Titus somehow still get.
Also good to see the return of the Yuko robots, which appear to have taken on more and more kinds of jobs this season.
Episode 3: Kimmy Can’t Help You!
First, I am calling my cable provider right now and demanding that they add Sad Sack TV (“Random stuff from the ’70s, and commercials for dog stairs!”).
This one brings back Russ and the rest of the fictionalized Snyder family (and it somehow just occurred to me this season that Josh Charles’ character is named Duke Snyder, a riff on Hall of Fame Dodgers center fielder Duke Snider), the primary purpose of which is to remind us that Jacqueline genuinely cares about both Russ and the cause of getting the team to change its racist name, which will both be important throughout the season.
It’s also nice to see Laura Dern doing a pretty straightforward comedy role as the Reverend’s would-be new bride. Dern can be really funny, and her recent credits haven’t lacked for opportunities to show that side, but usually in the context of something that’s primarily dramatic. This is mostly just her being silly, even as Wendy acknowledges that Richard Wayne Gary Wayne is just the best of a bad bunch of options.