Warning: This contains spoilers for the end of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Not seen Season 4 yet? Catch up with our review of Part 1 here.
“Can a bad person all of a sudden become a good person?” wonders Kimmy towards the end of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s final season. “This is the real world, people don’t change,” Lillian tells her. But she’s wrong, and the evidence is right in front of her.
Since Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) arrived in New York City, she’s made huge strides in moving on from her experiences in the bunker – getting her high school diploma, putting her captor behind bars, confronting her estranged mother and, more recently, finding a passion for writing children’s books. Meanwhile, in the time she’s known Kimmy, Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) has gone from spoiled trophy wife to determined career woman. In Season 4 Part 2, self-centred Titus (Tituss Burgess) chooses to come forward about an incident of sexual harassment, not to get his name in the news but because it’s the right thing to do. And although Lillian (Carol Kane) may not appear to have changed quite as much, she’s gotten close to her tenants to the point that they’ve become almost like a family to her. During the final batch of episodes, we also get to see some change in Lillian’s entitled sort-of-stepdaughter Sheba Goodman (Busy Philipps), and even hateful MRA Fran Dodd (Bobby Moynihan).
But, of course, change doesn’t happen overnight, and Tina Fey & Robert Carlock’s sharply written sitcom makes it clear that the trauma of what happened to our titular protagonist will never really leave her. In the first of Season 4 Part 2’s episodes, Kimmy runs into Donna Maria (Sol Miranda), who, since leaving the bunker, has become a successful restaurateur. She tries to avoid spending time with Kimmy, arguing that she doesn’t want to relive the past and “like Keanu says in Speed, relationships based on intense experiences never work”, but they ultimately bond when shared memories of the Reverend (Jon Hamm) terrorising them in the guise of a ‘fire monster’ are triggered.
Kimmy’s stunted development also comes into play in a plot that sees her date a co-worker, but end up feeling more of a connection to his parents. They offer the kind of comfort and attention that she never got from her own family, while she doesn’t feel embarrassed by them or roll her eyes at their jokes like their son does. Thus, in what is one of Season 4 Part 2’s most laugh-out-loud storylines, she embarks on an ‘emotional affair’ with the middle-aged married couple, sneaking around and meeting up with them for sordid games of golf and Scrabble behind their son’s back.
One of the best comedy characters created in recent years, Titus is as outrageous as ever in these final episodes – eating mayonnaise straight out of the jar, deludedly believing that people are recognising him from a one-line part in an episode of Daredevil, which we soon learn has not even aired yet, and getting a lot of the show’s most standout one-liners. (“I am a triple threat: I can sing, I can dance, and I found a gun.”) With news that a film adaptation of the 80s musical Cats is on the horizon, comedy writers have lately been seizing the opportunity to make fun of it. The currently airing fourth season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been taking digs at the musical’s nonsensical premise and lack of plot, and now Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt includes an episode in which Titus joins the cast. Thinking he would make a great cat (“I nap most of the day, I look cute in a cardboard box, I hate taking baths and most of my enemies are birds”), he puts on a costume and sneaks onto the stage, only to discover the real secret of Cats: that every cast member joined in this same way and they all simply make the show up as they go along (“We just do some poppers and say whatever comes to mind”). Expect to see lots of references to this when the movie is eventually released…
As has always been the case with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the plots can sometimes be a little hit-and-miss. For example, a #MeToo-related storyline with Jacqueline and Lillian discovering that young men are suddenly more interested in older women because they “don’t know how to Twitter about it” is an amusing concept, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, although it does win points for involving Mimi Kinasis, played by always brilliant guest star Amy Sedaris. Likewise, a double-length episode explores how things would have been different if Kimmy and Titus had been to see the film Sliding Doors when it came out. It turns out that Kimmy would have unwittingly avoided getting kidnapped and Titus would have missed his bus to New York, which subsequently has an impact on the lives of Lillian and Jacqueline. The episode has some fun moments, such as Titus joining the Church of ‘Cosmetology’ where he’s forced to don a mask and do Tom Cruise’s stunts, as well as a casual mention that The Purge is a real thing in this alternative reality, but altogether, it feels overlong and rather jarringly downbeat.
Much like 30 Rock, also created by Tina Fey, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt knows how to handle its guest stars. In Season 4 Part 2, Jon Bernthal and Zachary Quinto put in great performances as, respectively, a man trying to dig up dirt on Titus by feigning romantic interest in him and a ruthless talent agent competing with Jacqueline. Meanwhile, Greg Kinnear makes another appearance as a pitiable version of himself (this time he’s part of an improv group and wants to get a role in Stomp on Broadway) and Ronan Farrow shows up writing an exposé of perverted puppet Mr. Frumpus.
In its final batch of episodes, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt continues to adeptly mix the real with the surreal, while delivering an almost relentless stream of rapid-fire gags and pop culture references. The show may not always hit its mark, but just like its heroine, it’s difficult to not be won over by its peppy eccentricity.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 1 to 4 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.