The second season of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” ended on a starry high note. No, not the cliffhanger — that Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) needed to divorce his former cult captive, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) — but Lisa Kudrow as Kimmy’s mom, Lori-Anne. The Season 2 finale provided Kimmy much-needed emotional closure, as the two shouted out their feelings on an extended roller coaster ride, just as it progressed Kimmy’s personal story. Her character deepened in those moments of resolve and understanding, while pushing Kimmy to fresh psychological clarity.
The intimate story of Kimmy’s escape from and life in captivity has carried the first two seasons. Flashbacks filled Season 1, which also culminated in Reverend Dick’s trial, and they continued to fill out Season 2. We’d cut to Kimmy’s time in the bunker regularly, for both punchlines and narrative drive.
Through six episodes, Season 3 has shown far less reliance on the past and an invigorating interest in the future. It’s not that Kimmy’s time underground got stale so much as her rapid development into adulthood would inevitably require more time to be spent in the present. We’ve covered a lot of her arrested development, and now it’s time to see what kind of story an adult Kimmy has to tell.
So far, it’s a damn good one.
Creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock have signaled Kimmy’s growth with a number of classic markers. Most prominently, Kimmy wants to go to college. Widely seen as the time when a young adult ditches the descriptor, our heroine’s positive attitude goes far in a sea of excitable freshman and sophomores. But the series also deals with older adult issues like gentrification, career happiness, the FBI, the NFL, and, yes, divorce. Kimmy handles the latter while Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) and Lillian (Carol Kane) split up most of the former.
Many of these threads began in Season 2, if not sooner. Lillian’s war on the war on poverty is developed to hilarious ends, formed by comedically lively and intellectually combative contrasts. Her growing role in the community leads her down a sturdy standalone arc, and Kane takes full advantage of Lillian’s best storyline yet.
Jacqueline, meanwhile, is faced with the unenviable task of destroying a pillar of white male privilege from within: The NFL, where old, rich, and white owners pay young, poor, and largely black athletes to run head first into each other for the crowd’s enjoyment, isn’t a target many are eager to take on — too many networks are reliant on those ad dollars — but Netflix may be immune. Fey and Carlock charge full steam ahead at the Washington Redskins’ dated and (arguably) racist name and logo.
With Kimmy learning about feminism, Lillian fighting against the corporatization of Brooklyn culture, and Jacqueline plotting to overthrow a billion-dollar emblem of institutionalized racism, it’s safe to say these females are strong as hell — and stronger than ever. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” may be shifting away from its roots in Kimmy’s specific repression — and the intrigue in that story is hard to replicate — but the show is fighting even harder against the patriarchy as a whole. These women are flat-out exceptional, and not just the ones in front of the camera.
But before anyone gets worried about the message overwhelming the genre, let me remind you of how quick this comedy is with the jokes. Even after seven years of “30 Rock” and two seasons of “Kimmy,” it’s still remarkable to kick back and watch — really watch — how fast and furious the punchlines arrive in Fey and Carlock’s creation. It’s as if they identify the beat when an audience suspects the joke to come, and place it at least one line sooner. Combine this rapidity in structure with the sheer quantity of laughs overall, and “Kimmy Schmidt” remains one of the sharpest comedies out there.
Oh, and, though this probably isn’t important at all, an entire episode is devoted to Titus (Tituss Burgess) channeling Beyonce. With music videos. And a baseball bat. In case you were worried the man had nothing to do.
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” Season 3 premieres Friday, May 19 on Netflix.