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.
Episode 4: Kimmy Goes to College!
For pure catchiness (albeit paired with crude and stupid lyrics), “Boobs in California” was my favorite of Jeff Richmond’s many song pastiches of this season, and it’s a great punchline that this is the bridge too far for Titus after we’ve heard all of the racist conspiracy theory lyrics of the other songs he’s performed for Judah Friedlander’s Gordie.
Peter Riegert, meanwhile, is a welcome addition to the recurring ensemble as gentrifying grocery chain owner Artie. His dry, unfazed New Yorker persona makes him a nice match for not only Lillian, but most of the show’s other very broad characters.
The bulk of the action, though, as the title suggests, involves Kimmy coming to Columbia, where she discovers Xan is a miserable freshman, where her privilege works against her with most of her ultra-woke classmates, and where it turns out her years turning the bunker crank has made her into a superhuman prospect for the crew team. I appreciated that Dean Koontz (who is actually the dean, as opposed to Dean Cain, who is just there to clean things up) pointed out that Ivy League schools don’t actually give out athletic scholarships, even if he was shouted down by the crew coach. I just wish we had gotten more of Kimmy as Tony Ravioli.
Episode 5: Kimmy Steps on a Crack!
The joke of Gretchen trying to do a gender-flipped version of the Reverend’s bunker, and her teenage boy captives running roughshod over her, was juuuust amusing enough to carry what’s otherwise one of the season’s thinner episodes. Though sending Gretchen to Litchfield to hang with Black Cindy means that Kimmy and Orange Is the New Black are now in the same fictional universe (even though CO Bell from Orange is the Columbia crew coach), which in turn makes Kimmy part of the Tommy Westphall Universe. So many possibilities…
Episode 6: Kimmy Is a Feminist!
This one is super-fun, from Titus pretending to have broken up with someone named D’Fwan, which was Tituss Burgess’ character on 30 Rock, to Titus pretending to be a straight guy called Cork Rockingham (albeit not practicing all the lessons Dean Norris taught him in season one), to Kimmy realizing how sheltered and childish so many of the Columbia kids are, and bonding with Perry as a fellow grown-up — at least until she’s horrified to learn he’s studying to be a reverend. Jacqueline and Titus didn’t have a lot of reason to interact in the first few seasons, so good on the writers for realizing Jane Krakowski and Burgess worked well enough together to justify finding reasons to pair them off.
Also, Kimmy doesn’t know what ghosting is, and tries telling Perry in a spooky voice: “Geeeettttt ouuuuuuut of my amuuuuuuuuusement park!” Perfect.
Episode 7: Kimmy Learns About the Weather!
Foul-mouthed NBC head censor Gaylord Felcher was one of my favorite minor 30 Rock characters, so I was glad to see Michael Torpey (who has also played an Orange guard) pop up as weatherman Drench Thunderman, who in turn is trying to scare everyone with the possibility that Hurricane Tammi-with-an-I could bring a Sharknado, or worse, to the area. The more prominent 30 Rock guest, of course, is Scott Adsit, as the impressionist who has copied Titus’ catchphrases for the sake of a Big Pharma ad campaign. It’s a cleverly broad way to push Titus into the realization that he’s usually a selfish jerk, and the bad guy in other people’s story, which is important for where his story goes in the season’s second half.
And Artie’s defense of Big Naturals to the construction workers made me realize just how many national chains also have dirty-sounding names.
Episode 8: Kimmy Does a Puzzle!
It’s hard to top a line like, “I did the worst thing any human can do: I ate Dionne Warwick!” — especially when it comes right at the start of the episode. But “Kimmy Does a Puzzle!” manages to find other pockets of absurdity, particularly in Maya Rudolph’s performance as a fictionalized Warwick, and the glimpses we get of her telethon for the people of Exits 1-82 on the Garden State Parkway. The episode probably could have gone a little further with the idea of Kimmy unwittingly acting like the Reverend the longer Titus and the others stayed in her “Funker,” but the repeated slow-mo high-fives were a nice comic and emotional payoff to Kimmy’s desire to be closer to Titus, and Titus realizing how much he needs Kimmy in order to be a better person.
Episode 9: Kimmy Goes to Church!
If the episode just had the church choir singing the show’s theme song, but about Jesus… dayenu. (Ditto Kimmy’s line about how “women really can be everything — except president and late-night host.”) Titus’ understanding of black church culture provided a good opportunity for him to be slightly more life-sized for once, and Jacqueline learning to enjoy dressing like Lillian was a good parallel. The episode’s only real disappointment was the return of Anna Camp as Deirdre Robespierre. Deirdre was such a terrific character last season because she was cheering Jacqueline on even as she was trying to destroy her. Here, she’s just the two-dimensional snob villainess, which is a shame.
Episode 10: Kimmy Pulls Off a Heist!
Titus backslides a bit here emotionally, but to good comic effect, as he pressures Kimmy to help him copy the bathroom key at the local gas station. It’s both an absurdly small-scale caper parody, and a great showcase for guest star Ray Liotta as gas station manager Paulie, a big friendly puppy dog of a man who turns bitter when he learns of Kimmy’s betrayal. Liotta reciting fake condom brand names alone was worth the price of admission for the episode.
Jacqueline crashing the NFL owners’ meeting brought in a few more 30 Rock/SNL alums, including Chris Parnell in a Mark Davis wig and Paula Pell with a dog, plus a running gag I couldn’t resist, despite being a Giants fan: Eli Manning keeps getting killed and replaced by a slightly stupider clone. (“Boyoga!”) Also, I hope that for as long as the show runs, we’ll hear background references to all the new NFL team names.
Lots of great one-liners in this one, including the aforementioned Trace Adkins joke, Jacqueline declaring, “And you and Duke are two of the worst people I ever met — and I once rode a ski lift with the Property Brothers!,” and the news report describing Duke as “a deranged individual who consistently replies ‘Maybe’ on Evites.”
Episode 11: Kimmy Googles the Internet!
The idea that Kimmy’s mole woman past can’t be easily hidden due to the internet is one I’m surprised it took the show this long to get around to, but Kimmy’s solution — wrapped in a meta Hamilton joke where Perry is really terrible at rapping about history — to pile up other embarrassing incidents so the bunker gets bumped to page 2 of her search results was a clever one. I briefly wondered whether Rachel Dratch was meant to really be playing two roles, or if the joke was that the professor was pretending to be her own wife, but there were eventually a few scenes where they were explicitly in the same room together. I wish this season could have had more Andrea in it, but at least Tina Fey got to give herself one of the season’s funnier lines: “To quote Elsa: Let it go! Elsa is my boyfriend’s wife. I grabbed her hair at a basketball game.” Still, Kimmy’s friendship — or possibly more — with Perry felt undercooked.
Titus being freaked out that his boyfriend’s baby daughter is named Linda — which he feels should only be given to adult women who work in HR — felt even more weirdly specific than the Mike Shoemaker reference in “Kimmy is a Feminist!” (Fox was developing a sitcom this year called Linda from HR with Lauren Graham, but it didn’t get picked up.) But the adult affectations of baby Linda, and the presence of Andrea Martin — doing double Fey duty as one of the stars of Great News — as one of the adult Lindas, was funny and sweet and weird enough to make it all work.
This one’s also definitely the Amy Sedaris highlight reel for the season, as Jacqueline decides to test out her caregiving skills on Mimi for a day, and quickly comes to regret it. (“Call Make-A-Wish! I want to meet Shaq!!!!”) And just as many Fey/Carlock punchlines make a point of going in the exact opposite direction from what the set-up suggests, so does the Russ story, as he emerges from the bandages not as a deformed freak, but as a somehow much younger, hotter guy now played by Billy Magnussen. Jacqueline declaring “Everybody leave!” when she wants to have sex with her transformed husband is basically an inverse “Shut it down!,” but it works.
Episode 12: Kimmy and the Trolley Problem!
The Good Place beat Kimmy to the punch with its own discussion of John Stuart Mill and utilitarianism — here taught to Kimmy by a professor played by Married… with Children alum David Garrison — but I suppose topical overlap is to be expected sometimes when we’re in (as this episode reminds us over and over) a golden age of television. Kimmy and Jacqueline’s stories work a bit in parallel this time, as each considers doing something they don’t want — Kimmy to tell her story on Xan’x badly-titled campus TV show, Jacqueline to join a Real Housewives cast — for the sake of others. Jacqueline’s refusal is the bigger sign of growth, as she realizes that a handsome Russ is also a shallow, fame-hungry Russ desperate for the love and approval of his terrible family.
Good to see Kenan Thompson return in flashback as Lillian’s late husband Roland, here playing at Seb’s terrible jazz club from La La Land.
Episode 13: Kimmy Bites an Onion!
A mixed bag of a finale. Kimmy flunking out of Columbia isn’t a shock, but the season spent so little time on her as a college student that it doesn’t feel like it was worth the bother. Similarly, her new job with Zach comes largely out of nowhere, albeit with a Back to the Future montage at the end. Kimmy losing her crossing guard job with Jim Gaffigan(*) because she’s married to a sex offender at least felt like a payoff to a story the season had tracked for a while.
(*) Another five-percenter joke: Gaffigan is excited Taye Diggs — who follows more people on social media than follow him — likes his sandwich photos.
Jacqueline deciding to be a talent agent also doesn’t entirely fit her character arc from the year — she breaks up with Russ because she wants to be a do-gooder, and he doesn’t — but it further cements her bond with Titus, and Titus’ continued pursuit of Mikey gives the show an obvious story for the fourth season.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at [email protected]
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