Oh, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I don’t know how to quite put this, so I’m just going to say it:
I think we should break up.
It’s not you, it’s me. But, like, it’s also totally you. When I binged your first season last year, I fell hopelessly in love. I was in shambles — still recovering from the end of 30 Rock — and you were the chipper, witty piece of comedy that I so deeply longed for, the one that pulled me from rock bottom, the one that made me think that the oxymoron of sardonic authenticity found in the great television age of yore (i.e. like, 2007) wasn’t actually over. You gave me hope, Kimmy Schmidt. After this season, though, I’m not so sure if I can still say the same.
The second season of Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt left me in between two worlds: One was a world of delightful witticisms and sharp, brilliant humor. The other was full of complete and utter crudity. Crudity isn’t bad, per se; 30 Rock did it ingeniously by dealing their crudest comedy to their most morally reprehensible characters. When Jenna Maroney and Tracy Jordan wore blackface and whiteface, respectively, it was certainly crude, but not distasteful. The characters were such awful, illogical people that the show’s message was not acceptability of racism, but rather alarm.
What’s puzzling about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, then, is that this same brand of humor (coming from the same co-creators, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock) is done so brashly, so thoughtlessly. Last season, the show received criticism for having a white woman (Jane Krakowski) play a Native American who left her family to make it big in New York City, and Fey famously remarked that she would not apologize and that her “new goal is not to explain jokes.” Despite this public attempt to be blasé, an episode in which the flamboyant Titus Andromedon dresses as a Japanese geisha for his one-man play seems to be the writers’ very non-blasé comeback to the aforementioned internet backlash. The show portrays the understandably upset Asian American community as irrational victims of the internet’s notorious mob mentality. The writing suggests that they judged the one-man play without seeing it, and therefore their feelings were wrong.
Of course, this is a common narrative in the contemporary debate surrounding political correctness, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has a right to feed into that narrative. But even aside from the notion that Kimmy Schmidt’s use of yellowface feeds into a long history of racist and exoticized portrayals of Asian Americans, it’s just not funny. Titus’s belief that he really was a geisha named Murasaki in a past life is done without the zest that Burgess generally brings to his character. Kimmy’s (Ellie Kemper) attempt to fix the situation through her cute naivete is boring and hackneyed. The entire plotline is lazy, vanilla and a total chore to watch.
Lazy comedy is a recurring pattern in the first half of the season. The season started off with multiple flat and unsavory Kim Kardashian impressions, the joke equivalent of fruit that hangs so low it grows from the ground. The jokes were off-beat and every absurd line was followed by a character reacting to it, reminding the viewer that what they just heard was, indeed, a joke. The beginning of the season was a tiny disaster, a combination of uneasy racism and half-hearted, poorly performed comedy, only barely mitigated by its finely-tuned puns and quick quips that have the viewer in stitches.
But to what extent can intricate wordplay (like a construction worker’s convention called Con-Con) and minute references to pop culture obscurities (“Relationships are hard; I don’t know how Jackie Onassis did it twice.”) entertain an audience? What’s the point of a joke if you have to remind everyone that you made it? Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt tries to replicate the balance that 30 Rock struck between all types of humor, but fails to do so, instead relying heavily on Kemper’s nuanced quasi-optimism and Burgess’s skill as a performer. The season, in terms of its comedy, just misses the mark and leaves something to be desired.
Despite the show’s disappointing comedy, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt somehow pulls through in its more dramatic plotlines, tackling Kimmy’s damaging niceness, Jacqueline’s (Jane Krakowski) superficiality, and Titus’s acting dream. The heartfelt moments throughout the season were charming and cute, and did more to entertain the audience than any Kim Kardashian joke ever would have.
But alas, the impending transition into dramedy land just isn’t enough for me. The racist jokes, the awkward timing, the lack of effort; all of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s shortcomings overshadow the show’s occasional laugh-out-loud line or its intriguing plotline. So, all in all, I’ve decided it’s time to break up with you, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It’s been a good run.