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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Unfunny Kimmy Schmidt: My Review of Season 2

There was always something off about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. After all, the show is set in an off-kilter, goofy version of New York City about a kidnap victim finally living on her own after being trapped in an underground bunker for 15 years. But for some reason, that extremely dark concept worked in Season 1 of the Netflix comedy created by 30 Rock alums Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Yet, there is something off about Season 2 that just is not clicking the same way Season 1 did.

The entirety of Season 2 dropped recently and I have seen the first 7 episodes. While the episodes have gotten better as the show has gone along, the first half of the season has been underwhelming.

Season 2 of Kimmy Schmidt essentially takes place right where Season 1 left off (I say essentially because the very first scene of episode one is a flash forward). Kimmy (played perfectly by Office and Bridesmaids alum Ellie Kemper) is still living with Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), hanging out with her landlord Lillian (Carol King) and helping out her former boss, now going by Ms. White (played by 30 Rock alum Jane Krakowski) whose maiden surname was given to her Native American family back in the day as a joke by a sarcastic census taker.

The constant barrage of throw away jokes like the explanation of Ms. White's name is what made 30 Rock and the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt so wonderful, and the lack thereof seems to be the main reason why the show isn't clicking in its sophomore year. It is very unusual for a Fey and Carlock show to go through long stretches without a litany of subtle jabs and one-liners.

Another reason for the Season 2 downturn is that the chemistry between Burgess and Kemper just isn't there. Kemper's upbeat cluelessness played strongly off of Burgess's grounded flamboyancy in the show's rookie year and that spark is non-existent in these early goings. Kemper's high energy is still there, but Burgess seems lackadaisical and his character is frankly quite unlikable for long stretches of the show. The first episode pits Titus against his wife who showed up at the very end of Season 1 as she shows up to collect years of alimony after Titus' alter ego Ronald Wilkerson ran away on their wedding day. This seems like a funny premise that is ruined by having Titus/Ronald come across as an asshole for almost the entirety of the episode.

When the premise of this show was revealed last year, I was dumbfounded that a comedy like this existed and was created for a major broadcast network like NBC. As it turned out, the show worked thanks to the tireless optimism and ray of sunshine that Ellie Kemper played the titular character. Most of the humor in the first season was derived from Kimmy Schmidt's fish-out-of-water story and having her live as an adult in this modern time. The show fully embraced Kimmy's dark past and mined gold from it. However, now that Schmidt is fully entrenched back into this real world, the show needs to find a different avenue to find its treasure. From a narrative perspective, the show is smartly moving forward with Kimmy's past. It is not hiding it, but it still is very obviously a part of this young woman's life. From what I have seen so far, the show is treating what happened to Kimmy Schmidt very seriously, which it should, but it isn't successfully finding the humor that exists along this way.

With all of that being said, I am optimistic for the latter half of the season as well as this show going forward. Episodes 6 and 7 have far and away been the funniest episodes of this season so far, and Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are experts in drafting genius.biting, and hilarious comedy. I just wished they showed off their skills earlier.



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