As we’ve come to expect from shows with Tina Fey as an executive producer, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” contains no shortage of fantastic deep callbacks to both existing and fictional media, from “Kimothy Olyphant, this is not ‘Justified'” to the return of “Gals on the Town,” the “Sex and the City”-esque drama that originated on “30 Rock” and asks if women “can be good at their jobs?”
But the premiere of Season 4’s first half (the show’s last full season, though discussion is in place for a wrap-up film) brought with it not just the show’s most in-depth cultural reference, but a game-changing installment for the series, one which broke the show out of its established format for an episode that deliberately mimicked the true crime format that Netflix has found major success with.
Well, success by the most quantifiable reference we have for Netflix shows: buzz. Even without exact numbers, though, there’s no question that shows like “Making a Murderer,” “The Keepers,” and upcoming continuation of “The Staircase” have proven their ability to captivate audiences, to the point where an entire series was created to mock the format. (“American Vandal,” you’re the best.)
“Kimmy Schmidt” is also in some ways offers up a parody with “Party Monster: Scratching the Surface,” in which DJ Fingablast (Derek Klena), the aspiring DJ who was initially introduced as a puppy-esque love interest for Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski), documents his quest to track down the DJ he loved at the age of 10 — who just so happens to be the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm), now in prison for that little thing where he kept four women imprisoned in a bunker for years.
“Party Monster,” as directed by Rhys Thomas (a proven mimic of various styles of television, most especially thanks to his work on the IFC series “Documentary Now”) is the first episode to eschew the show’s opening credit sequence. Instead, thanks to the lead-in from the previous episode, “Kimmy Has a Weekend!” it goes right into Fingablast’s documentary about how, really, Dick Wayne wasn’t all that bad.
He is bad, of course, as we see in another hilarious turn from Hamm, who deftly manipulates Fingablast into keeping the documentary going even after its initial cause for existence is gone. But the episode doesn’t short-change all of its regular cast: Bonus points to the writers for finding a way to include Tituss Burgess on screen as a “re-enactor” of key sequences.
Every joke connected to “Party Monster” is on point, right down to the streaming service that Kimmy uses to binge the documentary: HouseFlix. (It almost feels like a shame that HouseFlix was introduced this late into the series — while one of the most intriguing aspects of the show is how Kimmy and Titus are relatively technophobic, it feels like there is a lot of mileage to be considered here in poking at their patron network.)
As IndieWire said in its initial review, there’s definitely a sense with this season that despite the new elements that were introduced — Jacqueline’s new job as a talent agent, Kimmy working at a tech start-up — a sense of exhaustion was undeniable for everyone involved, to the point where it almost feels like a good thing, that the show has an end date… Actually, come to think of it, IndieWire suggested that an end date would be the best thing for the show in the long run last year after the show received its Season 4 renewal.
But it’s still exciting to see that the show remains capable of creative innovation on this level, engaged with today’s culture but still totally centered in its own point of view. There are other interesting elements that come in these first six episodes, especially the introduction of a mysterious figure (voiced by Jon Bernthal) who’s observing Kimmy… perhaps leading to a “Punisher” crossover? (It’s probably not leading to a “Punisher” crossover.) (Except what if it is?) But what’s most important is knowing that the talent in play here isn’t just coasting, and whatever they might move on to next, it will definitely be worth watching.
That includes the second half of “Kimmy Schmidt” Season 4, for the record. (Especially if that “Punisher” crossover happens.)