Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt review – weird, messy and funny to the very end

From millennials to sexual harassment, the Netflix sitcom’s last ever season takes aim at topical issues – and misses by a mile. Still, it’s as hilarious as ever

And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain … The last ever episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt have dropped, bringing to a close Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s tale of a 30-year-old Indiana woman building a new life in New York after she is released from the bunker in which a self-styled reverend kept her and three others imprisoned for 15 years. It should never have worked. That it did, and brilliantly so, is a testament to the writers. For four seasons, they wove straight and surreal plotlines, pure nonsense and just enough emotional truth to bind it all together, while maintaining a gag rate so high that you could be three rewatchings into an episode before you were sure you’d got all the jokes you missed laughing first time round.

And it is testament to the properly weird and wonderful talents of the actors they assembled for it. Ellie Kemper, with her boundless energy and gift for portraying happiness without it “writing white”, as Kimmy; Titus Burgess as gay (“Everybody’s gay, Kimmy, it’s the 90s”), chronically lazy (“But I already did something today!”), pathologically fearful (“I once saw him give his wallet to his own shadow”), aspiring actor Titus Andromedon, with his gift for … well, everything; Carol Kane as their violent landlady Lillian; and the magnificent Jane Krakowski as perennially self-centred divorcee-turned-agent Jacqueline White.

Add a slew of bit parts unerringly pitched and played by the likes of Martin Short (Doctor Franff), Maya Rudolph (Dionne Warwick, who ultimately remained uneaten by Titus as they drifted across the open sea after a shipwreck) and Amy Sedaris as desperate socialite Mimi Kanasis (“I smell a man!”) and every episode was a selection box of delights.

That said – if it had to end (and it probably did; none of the characters had much room for growth without losing the naivety that kept the whole thing afloat), these last half dozen episodes would not have been the way I’d have chosen.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s only real weakness has been occasionally concentrating its aim on timely topics, then hitting the wrong target. Its supposed takedown of the (primarily) racial oversensitivity of millennial snowflakes during the season two strand about Titus’s past life as a geisha didn’t work – it read as the lashing out of two older, privileged creators against previous mild criticism – but it was at least a small part embedded in a larger, endlessly impressive and rewarding whole.

Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) and Mimi (Amy Sedaris).
Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) and Mimi (Amy Sedaris). Photograph: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix

In the final half-season, the show reins in the surrealism and doesn’t stuff each scene so full to bursting with beautiful side-jokes. It goes in harder on the timely stuff instead. Jacqueline discovers that millennials are into older women because #MeToo and #Time’sUp has got them running scared from women their own age while “we know how to take a compliment”. Titus is torn between testifying about his sexual harassment by Mr Frumpus when news of the puppet’s proclivities becomes public, going to the Tonys as a Victim Guest of a star, and taking advantage of the opportunities that arise if he stays silent.

None of it’s wrongheaded enough to make you shout at the screen, but it’s a mess. It feels as though the creators haven’t understood enough about the mood and issues they’re tackling to run – if that was their intention – accurately counter to them.

But the jokes still come fast and funny. The double-length Sliding Doors episode is a treat. There are callbacks to a million highlights of earlier seasons to reward devotees, and the return of men’s rights activist Fran Dodd (Bobby Moynihan), possibly the show’s greatest supporting character. And – no spoilers, but – Kimmy gets an ending she deserves. Because that female is strong as hell.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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