Breaking Up Kimmy Schmidt
Indiana mole-woman Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) returns to Netflix in Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the entire second season handed to us on a plate so we can skip work for a day and binge our way through the show. Kimmy is still trying to make it big in the big city, more determined than ever to embrace life from her hole in the ground—that is, the closet of a basement-level apartment. This season continues to follow her trek through a world guided by the meanest stereotypes and staunch moral judgement. This is a highly class-conscious place, but there are only two classes: Kimmy’s hardly working poor who scrounge through the city dump for furniture; and Jacqueline White’s (Jane Krakowski) wealthy elite, for whom owning a football team is a family tradition and twelve million dollars barely earns enough for an apartment, a painting, and a seat at a charity auction.
White Midwestern Kimmy clings to her steadfast values while perceiving the world as a place full of joy, a joy as infectious as the mold on her walls. You want to hug her and squeeze her and call her Kimmy, as the show unflinchingly infantilizes its namesake. In the Fey world, young female heroines are smiling and sexless—even when they finally have sex off-screen—learning when to cry and get angry like slowly maturing babies. Kimmy Schmidt may be unbreakable, but she’s also unformed. Her delayed emotional growth from adult teenager to adult woman is the central conceit of the show, encouraging viewers to gaze at a manic pixie dream girl free from accusations of condescension. After all, if the show is overtly about a woman who acts like a girl, and the girl is intended to be a manic pixie living out her dream, then aren’t we simply participating in her journey of self-actualization if we stare at her when she learns that it’s OK to cry?
Meanwhile, Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), Kimmy’s over-the-top, swishy, dramatic, self-centered, flighty, superficial, gay black roommate bucks stereotypes and settles into a monogamous relationship while making it clear that this is in stark contrast to years of empty, uninterrupted promiscuity. Like Jacqueline, he also finds redemption in a man, the clueless and new-to-the-gay-world Mikey (Mike Carlsen)—for whom Titus suffers the slings and arrows of hedonistic gay disapproval when he is rejected from clubs due to the unfabulous dud by his side. The closest we get to true acceptance—of anyone—in this series is when the devoted couple visit Mikey’s family for his coming out. The devout Catholic parents embrace their son, because if it’s OK with the new gay pope, who are they to withhold their love? Thank goodness for religious parents.
White New Yorker Jacqueline grows the most this season, establishing herself as a fully-formed two-dimensional character. She spent the first season as a spoiled, entitled trophy wife with barely a sense of self, much less of others. We learned, though, that behind the blue contacts and bleached blond hair she hides her Native American roots. Now newly-divorced Jackie Lynn is back with her Lakota Sioux family, trying to embrace and reconnect with her heritage. However, she is barely able to take care of herself and unwittingly wreaks destruction. Exasperated, her loving parents send her off to perform a meaningless dance in the cornfields where she can’t harm anyone, before they finally ask her to leave altogether. Her good intentions—however chaotic—are ignored, and her family kicks her out. The Native American parents banish their privileged white child. My, how the poor little rich girl must suffer.
Jacqueline does try to do some good. When her plans backfire, she tries to return to her role as spoiled, entitled trophy wife. Jacqueline’s target is the obnoxious Russ Snyder (David Cross), attorney for the Jewish Art Reclamation Project. Russ is also loud, irascible, self-conscious, and whiny. Did I mention Russ is Jewish, or was that just assumed? Eventually, Jacqueline discovers Russ’s humanity, and in the process her own, thereby redeeming herself through a glimmer of maturity—and by falling in love with a man.
To sum it all up: gays and Native Americans—mean; poor people—irresponsible; Jews—obnoxious; devout Christians—tolerant; and women—more power to them as long as they act like little girls but learn to mimic a few adult traits. What seems like subversive satire on the surface is extracted from derogatory stereotypes and enforces a condescending moral code. I reluctantly confess I laughed through all thirteen episodes. I get the joke. Am I missing the metaphor?