Monday, August 8, 2016

Character Progression, With Less Humor: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season Two Treads Surprisingly Dramatic.

The Good: Good character development, Moments of creativity, Tituss Burgess's performance
The Bad: Dramatic imbalance of both humor and characters, Some troubling plot and character conceits especially as the season progresses
The Basics: After an initial burst of humor consistent with the first season, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season Two treads toward the predictable and dramatic, undermining itself.

There are very few works that I review and then have a significant change of heart on later. What some people do not realize about reviewers is that most are attempting speed and accuracy when reviewing and, in order to stay current, early or timely reviews are always the most sought-after. When it comes to television reviews, there are very few reviewers, myself included, who usually view a television season or episode multiple times before reviewing it. As a result, there are, occasionally, works that I come to appreciate more over multiple viewings - if it is something that I enjoyed enough to ever put on again (life is too short for second chances, most reviewers will note!). One of the few works that I would probably have rated higher in retrospect now is the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (reviewed here!). After all, the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has become one of the most quoted shows of late around my home. My wife and I find reasons to quote it almost daily, which is saying something.

So, I decided not to rush my review of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2. The thirteen episode season has been out since April and I'm on my third viewing of it. My wife and I eagerly binge watched the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt the day it was released . . . and it took us another three months to come back to it. I was worried about reviewing the show right away, but the truth is, my first instinct with the second season was a pretty accurate one: the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is almost a completely different show than the first season. For sure, there are elements that are seeded into the first season, most notably Lillian's offhanded remarks about the neighborhood changing and gentrification, that play out in big ways in the second season. Viewers even learn what is up with Kimmy Schmidt and Velcro. But more than being zany and funny, with an incredible quotable quality, the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt goes for serious, moody, and more realistic the longer it goes on. The result is a season where the characters grow and develop in interesting ways, but their journeys are seldom funny.

Opening with Kimmy and her friends celebrating Christmas, which includes Jacqueline's friend Mimi and is crashed by Dong's wife Sonja, the show flashes back three months. Titus is stuck dealing with the woman he married almost twenty years ago when he was still Ronald Wilkerson, while Kimmy tries to help him. Jacqueline remains with her family in Sioux land, trying hard to return to her Native American roots, but annoying them instead. After Titus makes peace with his past, he makes the difficult decisions that come with cleaning out his closet. Kimmy helps Xanthippe move on from the townhouse after her father sells it and she is forced to move to Connecticutt.

As Jacqueline attempts to re-enter New York's social scene, Titus begins a serious relationship and Kimmy struggles to financially support herself without working for Jacqueline. When the Wi-Fi is set up in the neighborhood, Lillian becomes furious about the gentrification, but Titus and Kimmy use it to make money by renting their apartment out as a B and B. Kimmy becomes an Uber driver, which connects her with a therapist who encourages her to get closure by finding her mother.

The second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a season very much out of balance. After Jacqueline starts pursuing the lawyer, she is written out of the show for three episodes. When Tina Fey arrives in the season, she dominates every scene she is in. The show becomes experimental as it goes more dramatic; Kimmy sees her "happy place" as an animated Disney-like place and one of Mikey's family members is a puppet. But a Titus becomes more serious by mentoring a young man and becomes part of a serious relationship, the show tends to become more predictable and less funny. Mikey coming out to his family, predictably, goes very well for him and the episode plays droll as Titus has to force his way into being the center of attention. Similarly, while the whole Dr. Dave concept is delightfully satirical, the pop psychology entertainment idea is not funny.

Lillian's fight against developing the neighborhood is also good character development, but it is not really funny. Instead, it's sad to watch the woman whose best memories are tied to the neighborhood as it was, try desperately to save it from hipsters and developers. Jacqueline's arc, when they get back to her, seems like pretty much where she began the season. She wanted to help her family and so the idea that she might become interested in an ethical person, instead of just reverting to wanting a rich guy to get back into society, seemed pretty obvious, as opposed to audacious.

In the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the primary characters are:

Kimmy Schmidt - Still hung up on Dong, from her G.E.D. class, despite him being married and overrun with silverfish in his apartment, she becomes terrified that Titus will simply abandon her. She tries to act as an intermediary between Titus and Vonda. She gets a new job working at a year-round Christmas store while Jacqueline is out West. After chasing Dong, she falls asleep while taking the G.E.D. and she has to stand up to Jacqueline when her friend is not financially able to keep her on as an employee. They reach a compromise, which allows Kimmy to use Jacqueline's stolen cop car to be an Uber driver. Through that job, she meets Andrea - a crazed drunk woman by night, generally professional therapist by day - and starts to deal with the feelings she repressed since being abducted. That leads her on a quest to find her mother and figure out who her true family is,

Titus Andromedon - Struggling with the consequences of abandoning Vonda, he is forced to face Kimmy's fears that he will abandon her. When Kimmy confronts him, he starts to exhibit traits of someone suffering from multiple personality disorder. After launching a one-man play featuring his geisha personality, which earns the ire of the Asian-American community, he goes on a date with Mikey and starts his first serious relationship of his adult life. He becomes more moody when he realizes that he is happy and reverts to form when Mikey confesses he is not a big talker. When Mikey comes out to his family, he hijacks the experience,

Jacqueline White (formerly Voorhees) - After trying to reclaim her identity as Jackie Lynn, she becomes a pain in the ass to her family. She returns to New York City where she attempts to win over the snobby mothers at her son's private school. She tries to compete with Deirdre and that leads her to overbid at an art auction. She attempts to create a charity to raise money for the Sioux, but has a rough time attracting patrons. To deal with her son, Buckley, she turns to medicating him. After trying the medication herself, she takes her son off it. She knocks out her own tooth and, soon after, she and Kimmy fall out over her inability to pay Kimmy. She literally walks in another woman's shoes in order to get her tooth fixed and, in the process of trying to raise money for the First People, she thwarts Deirdre and realizes just how loathesome most of her old society "friends" actually are. When the family that rightfully owns the painting she bought sues her for it, she works with Lillian to swindle the insurance company for its value before meeting a lawyer who she starts to pursue to get back into upper class society,

Lillian Kaushtupper - Titus and Kimmy's addled slumlord, she encourages Kimmy to explore moral relativism after she runs into her old lover, Robert. She becomes convinced a new gang has moved into the neighborhood and is heartbroken to learn that the neighborhood is getting high-speed internet and attracting hipsters. She advises Kimmy to give up on pursuing Dong, when she sees how much pursuing the married man hurts Kimmy. She locks herself to a bulldozer to protest, even as she advises on Titus on his sudden inkling to have children,

Gretchen - She joins a new cult, the Church Of Cosmotology, which leads Kimmy to kidknap her to save her. Kimmy realizes she has never had to think for herself after a terrible night out together and Kimmy convinces her to form her own cult,

Cindy - She returns to New York to meet her "therapist" only to discover that he is a television personality who uses victims of disasters for his shows,

and Mikey - After coming out to Titus last season, he randomly takes Titus's donated clothes out of a dumpster, which starts off a new relationship. He is a construction worker, who is not out with his co-workers and he goes out on a limb to hit on Titus. He has an awkward first date with Titus, but has a lot of love for the much more experienced man. On his first date with Titus, he is so nervous that he talks quite a bit, which is very different from how he usually is. After coming out to his family, he gets ill and that tests his relationship with Titus.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2 starts with a lot of potential with "Kimmy Goes Roller Skating!" but by the end of the teaser to the fourth episode, almost all of the elements are in place for the more serious elements that come to dominate the season.

Titus Andromedon has the most significant and consistent character arc of the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the role finally gives Tituss Burgess something to play that viewers have not seen from the actor before. In the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Burgess starts to explore his character falling in love and committing to a serious relationship, instead of playing to the parody elements of his character.

Tina Fey, Ellie Kemper, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski each play their characters with consistency and well within the range they have exhibited in other projects. Amy Sedaris is especially distracting in her scenes as Mimi and every time she is on screen, the viewer is aware they are watching Sedaris, as opposed to the character she is supposed to be portraying.

The second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is not bad, but the genuine character development and moments of Tituss Burgess's exceptional performances are crammed between unfortunately canned plot conceits and dramatic moments that completely change the tone of the usually zany production.

For other works from the 2015 – 2016 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 1
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 4
Doctor Who - Season 9


For other television reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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