TV Review: ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Delivers Laughs But Doesn’t Raise The Bar

Lightning can’t strike thrice, but it can come close. Two years ago Tina Fey and Robert Carlock took a big risk in creating “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” a comedy about a woman starting over after being held captive by a cult leader. In finding the strength within lead Kimmy Schmidt’s (Ellie Kemper) unwavering positivity, the show did more than just work. The show thrived. One year later, the show delved deeper into the scars captivity had left on Kimmy. While the subject was treated with care, the show remained uproariously hilarious. After ending last season with Kimmy confronting her long lost mother, season three had a lot of serious elements to explore. Season three, however, has other things on its mind. The show remains uproariously funny, even if it seems to distance itself from the more serious and effecting insights it seemed to attack head on in the past.

Now that Kimmy has her GED, she has to figure out her next step. However, the devilish Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) is back. He’s demanding a divorce from Kimmy after forcing her to marry him in the bunker. However, our plucky heroine doesn’t let this deter her from pursuing her next step in education, college. Meanwhile, Kimmy’s roommate, Titus (Tituss Burgess) stumbles home from his cruise ship endeavor, only to find his boyfriend Mikey (Mike Carlson) may have moved on. More determined than error, a random TaskRabbit assignment could Tituss’ big break to stardom, but at what cost. Finally, now married into the Snyder family, Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) uses her new leverage to take down the family team, the Washington Redskins, from the inside.

Ellie Kemper remains an absolute delight and the driving force of energy for the show. She mobilizes her positivity and spunk, making her a terrific protagonist. While the show is less interested in going deeper into Kimmy’s trauma, something she has wonderfully depicted in seasons past, Kemper is game for many shenanigans as Kimmy heads off to college.

As Titus, Tituss Burgess manages to create some more instantly viral moments. One whole episode features the character recreating Beyonce’s “Lemonade” album with hilarious vigor. However, what’s even funnier is Titus possibly making it big on a bro-y song that rivals anything being played at tailgates today. There is still an element to the character that remains one note. However, Burgess knows how to hit that note and hit it well.

While the two principal cast members remain as interesting as ever, the sheen is starting to go on some of the other elements. Jane Krakowski is a consummate performer who has sold every moment she is on screen. Unfortunately, the writers shoehorn Jacqueline’s storyline into this season. In doing this, the character feels more like a distraction than an essential element in the show. Krakowski exists in this funny island built around a joke that maybe shouldn’t work. Likewise, Carol Kane gives it her all. Yet, Lillian’s antics in local government are a time suck more than anything else. With so many other interesting facets to explore with the show, these characters either need stronger writing or become more guest stars than full fledged headliners.

Much like in past seasons, the guest stars are plenty and on fire. Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Daveed Diggs, Judah Friedlander and Scott Adist all contribute to critical plot points and adapt well to the show’s zany tone. The highlights of the season, however, come from two SNL veterans. Maya Rudolph’s portrayal of Dionne Warwick is the stuff Guest Actress in a Comedy Emmys are made of. In a much smaller, and weirder, cameo, Rachel Dratch plays both halves of a Professor lesbian couple that hosts dinner for their students. Fey and Carlock have created this crazy wonderful playground for talented actors to stop by and flex their comedy muscles.

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” continues to occupy a unique space in the TV landscape. It’s funny, witty and zany, all while being grounded by a fairly dramatic concept. The talent involved on all levels are top notch. However, I fear the show may have peaked. If not peaked, it has lost interest in delving deeper into how the bunker affected Kimmy Schmidt. There are many struggles and layers to explore with this character. One hopes writers take a greater interest in that than extended “Lemonade” recreations or heists of gas station bathrooms.

All three seasons of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” are currently available on Netflix

Grade: (★★★)

Trailer Below:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwiVPkwY2ZE]

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