Their fate is in your hands – Thoughts on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

It was a cold and terrible day in January 2019, the 25th to be exact, when the final six episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt dropped on Netflix and Titus (Tituss Burgess) barked his last defensive pun, Lillian (Carol Kane) had to forgo fighting the gentrification of her belovedly raggedy slice of New York City and Kimmy’s (Ellie Kemper) talking backpack, Jan S. Port talked her beguiling last.

We loved Kimmy, we had to say goodbye to her and while, yes, we knew we would have the Tina Fey and Robert Carlock-created character and her ensembles of cartoonishly-quirky characters with us for the duration, the idea of no new episodes was a cruel thing to have to bear.

But if Kimmy could climb out of a sealed bunker in the ground after fifteen years, locked in there with three other women by the evil Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm), and believe in the very best of life after having experienced the very worst of it, then we could cope with the loss of fresh adventures with a woman who stayed true to her candy-coloured kaleidoscopic view of the world without once feeling like sort of weirdly flimsy Pollyanna castoff.

If anything, Kimmy’s growth as a character over four seasons and 51 episodes from wide-eyes naive adult experiencing many of the things we take for granted for the first time to capable and assured woman about town – let’s be fair she still believes candy on a pink dress makes a beautiful bridemaid’s outfit so the sweetly, exuberantly daffy part of her is still very much in evidence – proved that you could still talk to your backpack and believe that putting one finger through the curled circle of another means “let’s get a milkshake” and not, you know, the other thing, and yet deal with life on its own, off less than magical terms.

That delightful balance between innocently wacky and knowingly wise is very much on display in the unexpected finish to Kimmy’s story – well, for now anyway, let’s hope and pray upon The Legends of GreemulaxUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs the Reverend, which bowed on Netflix almost 16 months after the supposed end to the series.

In this interactive special, where you get to choose one of a number of possible endings for Kimmy and her friends, and not let’s hope the end of the world in nuclear fire – haha kidding, it’s all just fun, assures C.H.E.R.Y./L. the Robot at the start of this extended episode – Kimmy has found love with Prince Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe) after the heartache and disappointment of splitting up with end-of-series rebound boyfriend Josh Broban and is all ready to walk down the aisle with her 12th in line to the throne who is every bit as idiosyncratic as his bride.

Theirs is a meeting of likeminded equals, two people who have faced some pretty nasty in life and who still believe that Silence of the Lambs, in a joke rendered with exquisite coming timing by Kemper, is about actual livestock slaughter and not a serial killer-law enforcement officer faceoff, and that a home should be decorated with luminously technicolour cupcakes and unicorn busts or not at all.

They are perfect for each other, two souls who have been scarred and burnt but emerged back to their respective surfaces, hers literal, his figurative, to find out that maybe life can be magical even with all the knowledge they have of its darker side.

So in love with each other are they that all there is left to do is get married in three days and live happily ever after in a world where as Titus observes rich people can do anything.

But wait, life is never that simple and so the discovery of an overlooked clue sends Kimmy off, with whomever you choose to send with her (remember, the happiness and endless joy of Kimmy sits firmly in your choose-her-own-adventure hands; no pressure then, right?), to right some wrongs that must be righted before everyone’s favourite grounded and yet delightfully not heroine gets to put her feet up and fly on private jets wherever they damn well please.

While the idea of an interactive special may seem particularly apt for characters who seemed to always teeter on the precipice of one Sliding Doors moment or another – in fact, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt addressed that existentaial either-or dynamic in the season 4, episode 9 story “Sliding Van Doors” to joyful goofy but heartbreakingly poignant effect – the reality is that there was always some pretty serious themes burbling away behind the rapidfire quips and garishly surreal moments.

For one thing, Kimmy had some pretty serious trauma to deal with; the Reverend, the very epitome of toxic, pedophilic humanity whose unbridled arrogance and sense of unfettered white privilege, had stolen years from her and while she did her best to run from him and the shadow he cast over her life, she had to continually confront the fact that she had lost years of her life and countless wonderful experiences to a man who thought nothing of kidnapping and locking away women.

Thankfully she found a family and damn good one in Titus, Lillian and Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) and of course her husband-to-be, Prince Frederick (who is scornfully dismissed at one point during the bachelorette party by Kimmy’s fellow “mole woman” Cyndee, played by Sarah Chase, as an immigrant British prince come to take work away from American princes) but time and again she has had to face up to the evils of the Reverend, and life in general, and do it with a bravery and fortitude that many of us would likely struggle to muster.

This seriousness of purpose in what is for all intents and appearance a soufflé-light piece of geniously-good comedic storytelling is what makes Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and in particular it’s new finale, Kimmy vs the Reverend just a joy to watch.

Using a brilliantly clever series of interlocking narrative puzzle pieces which rely as much on our knowledge of the characters and what they would and wouldn’t do in a given situation – half the fun, of course, of something interactive like this is making a choice that is way off the mark and seeing where it leads you – as your willingness to take a chance.

If you do get it wrong – yes “wrong” is a possibility and not all choices are created equal but that’s half the fun of it – one of the show’s many minor careers, from Titus’s old boyfriend Mikey (Mike Carlsen) to Cyndee will admonish for your carelessness and lack of understanding of what the characters would themselves would want or what they would do.

The key thing to keep in mind, and to reach the happy ending of the wedding to end all Kimmy weddings is to remember what drives Kimmy and what she would do in a given situation.

The interactive aspect of Kimmy vs the Reverend might be a gimmick but it’s a skillfully employed gimmick, one which amplifies how much of a grow up Kimmy has become, with a willingness to make the tough decisions and do what must be done while still retaining a woman-girl playfulness to many aspects of her life.

Developing a character like Kimmy could have been all kinds of problematic since too little development and she’s forever a naive girl while too much and everything we love about her and her antidoteness to the serious adultness of life is washed away and the show loses its soul.

But Fey and Carlock’s writing and Kemper’s tone-perfect delivery means that Kimmy sits astride the serious and the surreal with gleeful thoughtfulness, with Kimmy vs the Reverend the perfect fudging distillation of a show that is as apt to slip an IT Pennywise reference into the midst of a redneck West Virginian gas station as it is to contemplate why it is white men can somehow still get away with the most monstrous of things.

Kimmy is the very antithesis of all that is awful about our world, and the reason Kimmy vs the Reverend feels like such an authentic, ground joy and not a twee Hallmark moment is because the titular character has come through the worst of life and yet emerged as a fully-rounded, happy human being, and if that means she has a veil held aloft by helium balloons at a wedding, then who are to begrudge her?

Especially if it means, as it does, that the world, a better one for Kimmy in it, doesn’t end just yet.

Posted In TV

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