Six episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
No show has been so endearingly messy over the last few years as Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which ping pongs between sincere character arcs and Saturday morning cartoon-level slapstick faster than you can say “Columbia House.” That messiness has mostly weighed in creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s favor, because the two know how to form some semblance of bedrock familiarity – Kimmy is naive yet strong-willed, Titus is jaded yet optimistic – amid the high-flying insanity.
That’s maybe more evident than ever in the show’s third season, which feels more cohesively satisfying as a consistent story (or the six episodes I’ve seen of it) than anything that’s come before. Although season 1 remains the home of the best gags and season 2 had slightly more focused arcs, season 3 combines these two things into what feels like classic, bingeable, endlessly quotable Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Picking up from last year, season 3 of the show sees Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) dealing with a request by her former captor, Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm), to finally sign some divorce papers so they can both move on. Kimmy isn’t ready to jump the gun just yet, especially when Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) points out that Kimmy now has the upper hand and can pay the Reverend back for the 15 years he held her in the bunker.
Kimmy’s dilemma threads throughout the first half of the season, resonating in her decision to finally go to college as well as generating a few notably hilarious and surprising cameos. In one particular moment early on in the season, Kimmy remarks about how cleverly she has turned the tables on the Reverend, managing to finally hold power over him after all these years. And yet, the more she postpones signing the papers, the more stuck in the past she is. Or, as murderer Robert Durst (Fred Armisen) poignantly puts it, “But you’re still at the same table.”
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season 3 rides that feeling of being stuck between the past and future with a banging wit, and it’s satisfying as ever led by the delightful Ellie Kemper. Kimmy has grown up, ever so slightly, throughout her time in New York, but Kemper’s portrayal of the poorly informed and surprisingly muscular red head is never repetitive for a second. Kimmy resonates so deeply because she’s a character who’s easy to aspire to: she has actively chosen optimism and positivity over cynical, selfish tirades about the youth that was stolen from her, and it makes the show cathartic to watch on an emotional level on top of the obvious humor-filled one.
“Females are strong as hell” has become the show’s mantra, but season 3 delves into how hard it can be to make that so, with a few trenchant looks at women’s struggles both at home and at work. Of course, this is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, so “home” is a plot where Jacqueline’s controversial heritage surges back to the forefront as she cracks a plan with boyfriend Russ (David Cross) to get his family to change the name of the Redskins. “Work” involves Lillian (Carol Kane), shockingly, who has quite a bit to do thanks to her rise in the local bureaucracy, where she hopes her involvement will leave East Dogmouth as vile and disgusting as ever, and prevent any yuppity grocery chains from making their crunchy granola mark on the neighborhood.
A story later in the season tackles sexism head-on, with Kimmy yet again asked to talk bunkmate Gretchen (Lauren Adams) down from a particularly dangerous ledge. Gretchen is convinced that the world is treating her nascent cult with an unfair eye because it lacks male leadership, but Kimmy doesn’t see the reason in raging against the immovable opinions of the outside world. “It’s not your fault that boys don’t learn how to cook or that people are obsessed with how women look,” Kimmy says, encouraging Gretchen to deal with the hand she’s dealt in the best way she can. The show repeatedly finds and bedazzles the silver lining on every storm cloud, and it’s a jolt of enthusiasm to watch.
Over three years Kemper has lost none of her spark, and still has crackling chemistry with roommate Titus (Tituss Burgess), who’s back home after performing on a cruise for a few months, which may or may not have reached levels of emergency that would put Fyre Festival to shame. Like Kimmy, Titus has some major issues to deal with in season 3, mainly related to where he left things off with boyfriend Mikey (Mike Carlsen), and the personal lines he’s willing to cross to finally break big. And yes, that means there are more musical numbers than ever this time around, and they’re razor-sharp and excellently silly across the board.
Thankfully, the silliness has context in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and it’s in that connective tissue that Fey and Carlock’s wondrously weird world thrives. Kimmy and Titus berate one another, but their protectiveness over the other’s blind spots and fast-paced exchanges (the cold open of episode 4 is one of the funniest 60 seconds of TV so far this year) make their friendship feel natural and evolving. Even the callbacks and jokes are fresher and more cleverly laid out than ever, the best and deeply funniest sometimes only clicking together moments later. Like the characters themselves, the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt scripts are frenetic, sometimes to a fault, but that energy always feels like it’s being generated as a means to some kind of end.
For season 3, that exact end remains unclear, but not knowing where any of this will go is the best and most dizzying part about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It’s built on a solid foundation of logic, even logic as kooky as sentient robot maids are just a thing now, but it pivots into left-field turns with a feverish pace without ever feeling like any of its stories aren’t earned. The show’s dialogue only bolsters that pace and keeps you on your toes, with everyone talking like they have the inner monologue of some kind of weirdly intelligent middle schooler playing through their head, making it impossible to predict what’s going to come out of their mouths next.
That requires the usual capacity for gonzo humor on the viewer’s part, but its intelligence may surprise the uninitiated. “You all seem so smart,” Kimmy realizes about her new college friends later in the season. “But none of you know what you’re doing, like a monkey in a lab coat.” Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is sort of like that, but in reverse: its sparkly advertising and spastic, yet effective, humor belie a wit and poignancy that continues to resonate as largely peerless to this day.
Uniquely and proudly peculiar, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ramps up the zaniness to 11 in season 3, with a barrage of pause-to-laugh gags and resonant messages that make the show feel more essential than ever.