[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” Season 4, including the series finale.]
“Yay! That’s what we want,” Fey said.
Added Carlock, “I’m sorry to celebrate that, but yeah, that’s good.”
It honestly wasn’t the only time IndieWire got teary while discussing the end of the Netflix comedy, which came to an official end with the release of the second half of Season 4 on Friday. While there’s a possibility of revisiting this world down the line, the creators were clear about how the final episode represented the journey they wanted to take their titular heroine on.
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” started off as the story of how Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) was learning to cope with the modern world, after 15 years of entrapment inside a madman’s bunker. It ended with a moment of triumph for its heroine, one with great thematic resonance.
Below, Fey and Carlock reveal the thought process behind Kimmy’s happy ending, how they successfully wooed Lisa Kudrow for her role in the series, the one Easter egg they wish they’d been able to make, and why it only made sense to show Trump (as played by Anthony Atamanuik) when the show entered an alternate reality. An edited transcript follows.
When did you know that the fourth season was going to be the last?
Fey: We had already started breaking the season. So we had a clear idea of where we wanted Kimmy’s landing place to be, but I think we had imagined a little more ramp. But we were like, “That’s fine, we can handle this.”
When you say that you knew where you wanted her to land, how did that sense come to you?
Fey: I think it was when we were breaking Season 4, we started talking about the idea of her becoming an author. We talked about her childlike nature, and yet her dark experience — what two things could that lead her toward? And then there was this idea of becoming a very successful author, of these books that could actually help young people.
Carlock: Yeah, being able to speak to kids in a way that, you know, other people couldn’t.
That last line, the little boy… [chokes up] Oh my god. That’s not an act, I swear… That moment, was that always there?
Fey: Yeah, once we knew that we wanted her to follow this J.K. Rowling path — there’s no point in pretending it’s not a little bit inspired by J.K. Rowling, right? — that not only would these books happen, but they would become such a phenomenon that she would have her own theme parks… Kimmy’s conceived on a roller coaster in her mythology, right? And then the show had this moment with her mom at the end of Season 2. Theme parks are sort of very important in her universe. And that her to have one of those, that also was positive, putting good things into the world, that was… we figured that out pretty early on.
When were you saying, “Oh god, can we get Lisa Kudrow back?” [Kudrow played Lori-Ann, Kimmy’s absentee mother, in the Season 2 finale “Kimmy Finds Her Mom!” In the episode, Kimmy and Lori-Ann ride a roller coaster together, a scene which was shot against green screen.]
Fey: A couple weeks before. Just like, “Please, Lisa!” And then I think Lisa was so happy that she didn’t have to ride any real roller coasters, that she was like, “Okay, you got it.”
She’s not a fan of roller coasters?
Fey: It’s funny, because I wrote a letter the first time, to ask her, and I described the part, and was like, “And don’t worry, you don’t have to really ride the roller coaster.” And she did say to us later, “By the way, if you had not put in that line about making it clear that I would not have to actually ride the roller coaster, I would’ve said no.”
And Ellie was pregnant at that time, right?
Fey: Yeah. And only a couple of people knew. But honestly, having seen that, there’s no way they could’ve ever done that scene on the real coaster anyway, it would’ve been insane.
This season, you also have your “Sliding Doors” episode. Is that something you’d always wanted to do from the beginning?
Carlock: It came up as a joke, as something we thought would be funny in passing — which happens on occasion, where stories just boil down into jokes on this show. We just thought it’d be funny at some point for her to mention, “Oh, if only I had gone to see ‘Sliding Doors,’ I wonder what my life would be like.” And it turned into not just an episode, but a double episode. So I think it was just a joke in the room over the summer or something, before we shot, and we started to explore. I can’t remember, Tina, if it was when we realized that this would be the end, and well, if we don’t go for it now… There’s a little freedom in knowing that you’re running for the barn.
Fey: Yeah, don’t sit on a weird idea if you have one. Now’s the time to do it.
Carlock: Let those actors play different versions of themselves.
It feels like it’s an actually pretty significant statement, when it comes at the end of a series like this.
Carlock: Right. Yeah, I mean I guess people will ultimately be themselves.
Fey: But the impact [Kimmy’s] had on their lives, you get to see it another way.
Absolutely. Also, when it comes to negotiating with Netflix for a double episode versus NBC — I imagine it’s very different.
Carlock: Yeah, it was still not uncomplicated, but yes, I think it probably would’ve been all but impossible to kind of suddenly want to combine a couple of episodes, just given the way that their schedules have to mesh together. Whereas we’re just in our own little universe of streaming.
Speaking of Netflix, one of the things that’s been really fun is the way in which [the Netflix spoof platform] HouseFlix has been incorporated into the show. When you first started poking at the Netflix machine, what was the reaction?
Fey: Oh, fine. They don’t care.
Carlock: It was like when G.E. owned NBC [where “30 Rock” aired], and they would say, like, “We’re making jet engines and turbines over here, you guys go have your fun, and you can make fun of us on ’30 Rock.'” They didn’t notice.
Meanwhile, the “Making a Murderer” parody episode [“Party Monster: Scratching the Surface”] is also packaged separately on the site, under “true crime.”
Fey: Yeah, that was Netflix’s idea, as part of a cross-promotion for the series, just to put that under the documentaries. People probably fell asleep to that without even realizing they were watching “Kimmy Schmidt.”
Are there other Easter eggs like that that you would have liked to have planted?
Carlock: I would like everything that gets clicked on to be our show. I don’t know, was there anything else like that Tina?
Fey: Not yet. I mean, maybe we can come up with something else. Write a fake children’s show or something. I know one Easter egg we wish we had the time and money to make, would just be to finish the movie “Daddy’s Boy,” as a black and white 1930s musical, and just put it under classics.
Carlock: I mean, America’s clamoring for it. Let’s see if we can get $20 million for that. Great song.
Speaking of songs, you got to use “Circle of Life” at the end of the series, as you did in the pilot.
Carlock: We thought, yeah, talk about the circle of life, the end and the beginning kind of stuff — it felt like oh, Titus has to sing that for real at the end.
And he does a lovely job of it.
Carlock: Well, that guy can sing.
Fey: He is an incredible singer. His talent level, it is obscene that he doesn’t have an Emmy. It’s obscene. I can’t even. He’s doing more in 30 seconds than other people are doing in full seasons of television.
How do you feel about the fact that you are going to have one last run at the Emmys?
Fey: I feel like the great thing is, is that TV is really booming, and there is truly just a plethora of amazing things to watch, and movies remain kind of the opposite. Movies are a wasteland, right? So, you know, the fact that we got to go last year, I remember being really pleased and excited, because there’s so much out there, and there’s so much new stuff, and you know, I hope people take this in, and remember us, but at the same time, we’ll feel very good about the quality of the season, no matter what happens. But it’s obscene that Tituss Burgess doesn’t have an Emmy. If we can just fix that one problem.
Carlock: Yeah, I think we’d all be happy. I think it’d be a better world.
Looking back after four seasons, what have been the bigger lessons you’ve learned from making this show?
Fey: Well, I guess lessons… the world has sort of changed around us, with every passing year, making the show. And I think we’ve tried to remain agile and have our ears open, and listen to the world at large, without being kind of beaten into submission by the world at large, if that makes any sense. So, I mean, I’ll leave it to the Internet to say all the things that we did wrong, but–
Carlock: Do you think they will?
Fey: I think they already have.
Carlock: I don’t know, the internet’s nice.
Fey: I think it’s just that, yeah, trying to listen and learn, and continue, always, to diversify every room, every department in your show. But also, to keep making things, and not be scared to have–
Carlock: Keep making them funny.
Fey: Making things that are funny, yeah.
You talked about engaging with the real world — I feel like Trump has come up before, and this season you bring in Anthony Atamanuik, who’s made this cottage industry of just being a really great Trump impersonator.
Fey: Yeah, he’s great. He was forever a day player on “30 Rock.” Anthony was in every writer’s room scene.
Carlock: Yeah, one of the non-speaking writers.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to actually have a version of Trump on screen?
Fey: Once we’d done that “Sliding Doors” thing, we were just in a world of batshittery, so it seemed like that was the universe — we can bend it right up to the point of breaking. For that episode alone. I wouldn’t have put that in a regular episode, but that’s a crazy episode.
So Trump can only exist in a world that’s crazier than the status quo of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”?
Fey: Well, he was a New Yorker for a long time. We’ve all been in a room with him. That it’s a crazy episode that takes place in the late ’90s, that made that seem okay.
It is always really disconcerting to see him pop up in all those cameos from the ’90s.
Fey: Yeah, “Home Alone 2” and all that.
Carlock: “Fresh Prince.” Yeah.
To kind of wrap things up, what was the one thing you wish you could’ve done with a little more time? And do you feel like the chance of a movie is really there?
Fey: Yeah, we’re very hopeful about it. I guess we have to… we’ll hear from Netflix.
Carlock: They told us to be coy.
Fey: They told us to be coy. [With a little more time], I think we would’ve sort of spun out that ramp to her success a little more carefully. That said, we’ve never been able to move slowly, so who knows? Maybe this was exactly as much as room as we needed. We took off from La Guardia, not JFK.
Was there any debate about actually putting the words “The End” at the end, even with the “Damnit” coda?
Carlock: I don’t think so. No. I think we wanted — even if we do get to tell some more stories, and hopefully we will — to say that is an ending.
Fey: That is an ending — of that cycle of stories.
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” Season 4 is streaming now on Netflix.