“Little girl, big city, this is the show now!” announces the upbeat song kicking off Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 4 – sung, of course, by Jane Krakowski. After getting kicked out of college for underachieving, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) is now working in HR at a tech start-up, where she has been specifically hired so that her socially awkward boss can avoid having to speak to his employees. The opening song, coupled with a montage of Kimmy travelling to work and high-fiving her co-workers as she arrives, sets up the idea that Season 4 might be more of a workplace comedy than before, perhaps with Kimmy trying to ‘have it all’, Liz Lemon-style.
But Kimmy’s bubble soon gets burst when she is tasked with firing someone, and a misunderstanding leads to her getting accused of sexual harassment and learning that she isn’t as popular in the office as she thought. Her attempt to have a weekend of brunch and beauty treatments, inspired by TV show ‘Gals on the Town’ (“Four ambitious young women juggle work, love, and friendship – written by a rich, mean gay man”), also goes badly when she detects a “bunker vibe” among the immigrant workers at a nail salon.
No matter how much Kimmy tries to move on with her life (and she has undoubtedly made progress since Season 1), reminders of the bunker still creep back to haunt her. And this time round, they’re more invasive than ever before, as streaming platform HouseFlix has produced a documentary in the vein of Making a Murderer about Kimmy’s abductor, Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm).
Episode 3 takes the form of this documentary, and much like the Queen of Jordan reality show episodes of 30 Rock, it proves to be both note-perfect as a parody and highly memorable due to its departure from the series’ usual format. ‘Party Monster: Scratching the Surface’ follows DJ Fingablast (Derek Klena), as he tries to track down his childhood hero, DJ Slizzard, to ask him to perform at his wedding. But when he discovers that DJ Slizzard is Rev. Dick Wayne and visits him in prison, he gets easily manipulated into making his documentary about the Reverend’s case, with a view to getting it reopened.
Jon Hamm puts in a wonderfully sleazy performance here, and equally great are Derek Klena as the documentary’s dumb, Connor4Real-esque host (“Dick Wayne must be DJ Slizzard’s real name, which explains the D… but where did the J come from?”) and Bobby Moynihan as Fran Dodd, a men’s right activist who thinks that the Reverend shouldn’t be locked up because kidnapping women shouldn’t be illegal. Throw into the mix some weirdly enthusiastic catfishing and some ridiculously specific stock footage featuring Titus, as well as some real footage of Jon Hamm as a contestant on a 90s dating show, and ‘Party Monster’ is a joy from start to finish.
The documentary is a real turning point for Kimmy, as it makes her aware that not only is the Reverend telling people that they’re married and she is a supportive wife to him, but also that there are awful men out there like Fran Dodd, who believe the bunker was “a return to traditional values”. Given Kimmy’s status as an abuse survivor, the show was perfectly positioned to tackle the #MeToo movement, so it seems only natural that it’s a theme running throughout Season 4. We follow Kimmy on a journey from getting accused of harassment herself to ultimately resolving to do something about the harmful messages that boys receive from society. It’s a theme that also comes up in non-Kimmy storylines, such as when Titus goes to a meeting with TV execs and there are children in the room because the men are “30 per cent less likely to commit sex crimes when their own children are present”. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt hasn’t always succeeded at dealing with hot-button issues (remember the infamous Geisha episode?), but in this case, it barely puts a foot wrong and manages to take on a serious matter without sacrificing humour.
Another good move from the writers this season is making Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski), who has previously been rather separate from Titus (Tituss Burgess) and Lillian (Carol Kane), more integrated into the group. In fact, her efforts to make it as a talent agent (with Titus as her only client), and her partnership with Lillian in various schemes, provide some of the season’s most enjoyable moments. Getting rid of Lillian’s Season 3 boyfriend was also a wise decision, as she’s now back to being her wild, uninhibited self – coming out with lines like “This is the most fun I’ve had disposing of a body since… oh, just don’t make me choose” and tagging along with Kimmy to a tech conference, where she ends up giving a TED Talk-style speech about the joys of sex.
But, as usual, it’s Titus who winds up stealing the show with his outrageous behaviour and hysterical one-liners. This season sees him, among other things, try to write a TV show starring himself, called ‘The Capist’, about a crime fighter who also runs a cape store, and direct a school play, but attempt to steal the lead role for himself.
In Part 1 of its final season (Part 2 is expected to air in early 2019 and a movie may follow), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt continues to shoot out gags at a breakneck pace and have faith in the pop culture savviness of its viewers, from Titus yelling “Kimothy Olyphant, this is not justified” to an upcoming movie being called “Katherine Heigl’s Second to Last Chance”. By thrusting Kimmy into a tech start-up environment, addressing #MeToo and mixing things up with a format-breaking episode, the show is still feeling fresh and sharp as it approaches its end.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 1 to 4 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.