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‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Review: Netflix’s Interactive Special Works Best as Line-o-Rama Lawlessness

Tina Fey and Robert Carlock's "Kimmy vs. The Reverend" makes for a thin movie, but a satisfying labyrinth of hidden jokes, dead-ends, and easter eggs.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend Interactive Special Netflix Ellie Kemper

Ellie Kemper and Tituss Burgess in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend”

Courtesy of Netflix

Over four seasons, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” walked a daunting tightrope over its traumatic origin story, using an onslaught of jokes and unceasing chipperness to keep moving forward. No matter what creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock threw at Kimmy (an impossibly elastic Ellie Kemper) — including many-a-flashback to the years of abuse she suffered in an underground bunker — her broad smile served as a balancing pole for the whole series. This show was a comedy, not a dramedy (barf) like so many of its Emmy-nominated half-hour peers, and by the time “Kimmy” reached the end of its wire-walk in January 2019, all that zany energy helped the surviving “mole woman” work through her painful past to forge a future as bright as her candy-colored clothes.

“Kimmy vs. The Reverend,” the latest Netflix interactive special, does little to change Kimmy’s ultimate fate, sending the now-wealthy children’s book author to rescue a newly discovered bunker of kidnapped women on the eve of her wedding weekend. The resolution is as obvious as the set-up — save the women, save the wedding! — and the story can run roughshod over characters that deserved further development (and would’ve certainly gotten it in a full season or even a regular, feature-length film). But the hour-plus experience still hones in on what made “Kimmy” unbreakable: namely, the jokes.

Sure, seeing Kimmy take an active role in helping others heal old wounds mirrors the show’s satiric stabs at American misogyny, but this special survives on the silly flourishes provided by letting viewers choose their own adventure. It’s a diverting, often ludicrous romp through easter eggs and dead ends, relying on viewers’ devilish eagerness to throw a wrench in it obvious narrative arc as much as it asks them to give into Kimmy’s good-natured instincts. No matter what, you’ll wind up at one of two likely endings set in the same anticipated place with silly anticipated consequences, but the special’s design and ease-of-use should make you want to go back, make different decisions, and hear a few extra zingers. It’s what helped bring people back to “Kimmy” all-along and it’s what makes the interactive special a worthy bonus episode — for a series so damn good at having fun, why not have a little more?

“Kimmy vs. The Reverend” takes its sweet time getting to its central conflict, as the first choice viewers have to make is between unseen versions of Kimmy’s wedding dress: fun or fancy, whichever you choose will only determine the gown you see in the final scene. (So come on — give Kimmy the fun dress you know she craves). From there, we meet the groom-to-be, Prince Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe) and help Kimmy decide whether to make out with him (one of the first spirited dead-ends) or put the finishing touches on wedding plans.

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT KIMMY VS. THE REVEREND

Daniel Radcliffe and Carol Kane in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend”

Courtesy of Netflix

Each choice pops up as an option on the bottom of the screen and a narrowing purple line indicates how much time you have to choose. While you consider which path to take the characters might make goofy faces at each other, or they could toss a variety of casual witticisms into the fray. The former has a way of disrupting the show’s rapid comedic rhythms (especially as the choices stack up), while the latter is more in line with Fey and Carlock’s improv sensibilities (even if they aren’t appropriate for every scene). After you make a choice, “Kimmy” seamlessly pivots to the new path between cuts and you’re off!

“Kimmy vs. The Reverend” isn’t afraid to stop and start over, using doomsday scenes and direct-to-camera speeches to inform the viewer they made a bad choice and ask them to try again. For instance, when Kimmy and Titus (Tituss Burgess, who makes a meal out of many great gags) head out of state in search of another bunker filled with kidnapped women, you have to choose whether they wait 4,000 minutes for an Uber to pick them up from the airport or walk the 12 miles into town. The “right” choice is obvious, but if you make them wait, in spite of Kimmy’s pleas and Titus’ complaints, the scene cuts to their driver pulling up two months later next to two decomposing skeletons. Then you’re sent back to make the “right” choice, but in this instance if you choose to make them wait again, you’ll get a different scene set years in the future where a robot army discovers Kimmy and Titus’ bones as they wipe out the rest of humanity.

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT KIMMY VS. THE REVEREND (L TO R) TITUSS BURGESS as TITUS in UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT KIMMY VS. THE REVEREND Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2020

Tituss Burgess in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend”

Courtesy of Netflix

Other dead-ends simply see a random character walk into frame and explain why you have to go back, but no matter the explanation “Kimmy vs. The Reverend” quickly encourages bad choices. Not only do you get to see more of what Fey and Carlock created, but you get to see slight yet appreciated variations on scenes. Sometimes there are bonuses built into the cutbacks, like — after making the wrong choice as Kimmy talks to Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (an enthusiastic if slightly too rounded Jon Hamm) — when Hamm gives two different, both great impersonations of a stereotypical New Yorker. (Yes, it has to do with bagels.) Other gems come out of a series of wrong choices, most notably during the special’s climactic moment between Kimmy and the Reverend. (If you do your worst to Ol’ Wayne you’ll get more Hamm.)

To complain that parts of this special don’t make sense might seem beside the point — nothing about a special where you, the real person at home, gets to tell a fictional character what to do, carries any real logic — but when timelines don’t match up or potentially powerful moments are quickly disposed of, it undermines any substantial impact the special might otherwise carry. “Kimmy vs. The Reverend” isn’t “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmit: The Movie.” It’s too light, too silly, and too unconcerned with characters you once cared about to be taken as the actual ending to a vaunted series. But it’s not trying to be a movie, and it’s not trying to replace the ending Fey and Carlock already provided or reexamine Kimmy’s tragic past; it’s just offering a good time in a way few other TV shows can, matching its madcap creative spirit to a format that allows every joke to have a home.

Grade: B-

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend” is now streaming on Netflix.

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