Arrested Development‘s fourth season was a noble experiment that ultimately failed. One of the biggest problems with the 15 episodes is how long they felt; it’s hard watching an entire season, or even multiple episodes in a row, when they stretch to 29, 31, or even 37 minutes. Now, 22 or 23 minutes? That just feels right. It shouldn’t — someone arbitrarily decided that TV ought to run on half-hours and hours, and that comedies would be 30 minutes and dramas would be 60 minutes (with commercials) — but it does. We’ve just been trained that way. Timing is particularly important in joke-factory sitcoms, where, if 30 seconds goes by without a solid laugh, it can ruin the flow of the episode.
This brings me to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
The first season of the NBC-turned-Netflix series was probably my favorite thing not named Fargo on TV last year (this site’s, too). I knew it was going to be good, considering the pedigree involved (30 Rock‘s Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, and Jane Krakowski; The Office‘s Ellie Kemper; Taxi‘s Carol Kane; D’Fwan!), but I didn’t expect it to be the best live-action comedy since… Parks and Recreation? But it was, and it opened my vocabulary tremendously. Not a day goes by without a “that is definitely not Miss Piggy,” or “what white nonsense was that,” or “troll the respawn, Jeremy.” The way Kimmy Schmidt feels about the world is the way I feel about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
My expectations for season two, which premiered today, were unreasonably high, but through the first four episodes, most of them have been met. It’s still an incredibly funny show, the kind where if the person watching next to you sneezes during a scene, you have to rewind because you missed three punchlines. The pop-culture references, in particular, are second to none. What other show would dare to balance jokes about Chandler Bing, Tilda Swinton and Carlos Delgado while he was a New York Met? Besides 30 Rock, I mean. (I tried keeping track of my favorite quotes, but stopped right around the time a Hootie and the Blowfish joke made me literally laugh out loud.) The performances, too, are as strong as ever. Ellie Kemper is a ball of rainbows, sunshine and puppies, and Tituss Burgess, who looks like a pug (the show gets a lot of milage with this resemblance), can do no wrong. It’s also a crime that Jane Krakowski, despite five nominations, has never won an Emmy.
The show’s still terrific. I mean, come on:
But, and this pains me to say, something feels slightly off, and I think it partially has to do with the formatting. The average running length of the 13 episodes in season two is 27 minutes, which is longer than most of last season’s episodes. A two- or three-minute difference doesn’t sound like much, but it can distract from the great jokes (most of them) to the duds, like a lame runner in the premiere involving Fred Armisen as Robert Durst. But the bigger problem — and again, I should put “problem” in quotes, because it’s more of a nitpick than anything else — is that season two is messier. Kimmy Schmidt is no longer characterized by being a Mole Woman, which sounds good in theory, but it leaves her less grounded than she should be. She’s an unflagging optimist who yells that she has a bomb so she can get hired as a Christmas elf (it makes sense in context), but like most comedy, it’s the darkness that defines her. Without it, without the subtext that buried deep below the surface is someone who can’t make sense of the world she left behind for 15 years, Kimmy, both the show and person, can get aimless.
(Also, if nine out of every 10 jokes landed last season, it’s more like eight out of 10 in season two. The writers become enamored with certain subjects, which is usually good, like two Interstellar jokes in the same episode, but occasionally, they fall flat, like the aforementioned Robert Durst thing.)
But I’m probably overthinking things! It’s better just to sit back, and binge-watch a season’s worth of Kimmy’s raps, Tituss’ songs, Jacqueline’s descent into poverty (she only has $12 million after the divorce), Lillian’s gentrification worries, and hyper-specific jokes that you think are going to zig one way but zag the other, and not think about the show’s, I’ll admit, minor problems. (Especially don’t pay attention to how it’s #problematic — there’s an episode about how people on the internet complain about everything (oops), a direct response to the hot takes about Dong, and it’s hilarious.) Let Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt wash over you, then watch it again, and again, and again…