Saturday, May 20, 2017

Five Thoughts On...Kimmy Schmidt, Season 3

For those of you who, you know, have lives, this is probably an article that you're going to want to bookmark, but for the rest of you, yes I have spent most of the past 18 hours or so binge-watching Season 3 of Kimmy Schmidt, the only show on Netflix that I have ever liked enough to invest in the second season (sorry-I can't really stand some of their approaches to side characters, and I still insist that they don't gage audience reaction the same way that other cable networks like HBO or FX are able to).  As a result, I wanted to callout the five things that stood out to me while watching Kimmy Schimidt in one long run (for the first of probably several times).

(Spoilers Ahead if You Haven't Finished the Season)

1. Tituss Burgess is Gunning for that Emmy...and He'll Have Earned It

In past seasons one of the things that I have had trouble with was the treatment of Titus.  While his similarly-named real-life counterpart Burgess is consistently hilarious and vocally-magnificent, his character always felt like a cartoon (something the show in general has had a problem with), someone that couldn't exist in real-life and didn't have that much growth that felt authentic to his character.

This year, however, Burgess comes into his own.  We get to see Titus start to experience real emotional pulls, particularly with him breaking up with his lovable construction worker Mikey so that he can see if he still loves him outside the lens of being his "first boyfriend," and he experiences authentic success with a bro-happy California theme that is so horrendous it probably could be an actual hit.  By the end of the season, Titus is realizing that he treats Kimmy terribly and doesn't want to do so, and is willing to put himself out there and at-risk, pronouncing at a Mets Booze Cruise that he will win Mikey back.  Titus of the first season wouldn't have cared enough to put himself in a vulnerable position, instead just falling into a pit of indulgent self-despair, but Burgess has created a real person here-deeply flawed, selfish, but very authentic.  His story was the one that I left most hoping to see more of in a Season 4.

Plus, even when he does go into a cartoonish layer, it's done splendidly this year.  In what has to be my favorite moment of the entire series so far, his "Lemonading" episode, particularly the scene where he spoofs Beyonce's "Hold Up" was pure joy.  You'd think after everyone tried to spoof Queen Bey's album it'd be tired, but this becomes definitive.  Absolutely excellent.

2. The Guest Stars Are Uniformly Good

The show has become famous for its many nods to the television series 30 Rock, also created by Kimmy Schmidt co-creator Tina Fey, and which also co-starred Burgess and Jane Krakowski.  This year we saw more 30 Rock than ever, with everyone from Scott Adsit to Judah Friedlander making guest appearances (is anyone else surprised that they went with Billy Magnussen and not Cheyenne Jackson to play David Cross's new beautiful self, all things considered?).  The show also brought back some of the best characters from past seasons, particularly Anna Camp's Deidre, Tina Fey's Dr. Andrea, and of course Jon Hamm as the absurd Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne.

The show also, in my opinion, cut a few characters down that probably didn't need their time onscreen, principally David Cross, whose character never quite fit in in the Kimmy Schmidt world, and we saw two of Tina Fey's most frequent SNL costars Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch both make an appearance on the show.  All-in-all, I felt like the show did better in this regard than in past seasons, making guest appearances seem a little bit fuller.  Part of me is wondering if, should there be another season, Fey will shoot for the moon and have Alec Baldwin or Amy Poehler or perhaps Kemper's former Office costar Steve Carell come onto the series, but this is the first year where I don't feel like I need to complain about the budget making crowd scenes feel scarce or guest appearances taking away from the central storylines.

I will say, however, that it felt strange to not once have Kimmy Schmidt reference her on-again-off-again boyfriend Dong from the first two seasons of the show.  Unless I missed something, this never happened in the entirety of the third season, which felt odd, right?  Every other supporting character that had a reduced role either appeared in some capacity or was at least referenced.  Considering Daveed Diggs' Perry matches better with where Kimmy is going with her life, was this a "pretend it didn't happen" situation?

3. Carol Kane Continues to Be Wonderful

While I think Burgess takes MVP of this season, Carol Kane continues to find new and fascinating ways to make this season work.  In the first season of the show she felt vastly underwritten, a famous actress that might show up occasionally to give the series credibility in the beginning stages of Netflix, but we don't need that anymore (this is a big pop culture moment already), and instead the writers give her a wonderful arch throughout the season.

Though I will say she never quite had as brilliant of a moment as "are you now or have you ever been a member of Arcade Fire," seeing Lillian first seeing the ridiculousness of being a member of the minority party in her district council (becoming a politician), and then falling in love with a member of the elite that she's spent her whole life fighting, Kane brings her patented funny voice that somehow breaks your heart to great heights this year.  Her wrestling with whether she's betraying her ex-husband (whom, let us never forget, she killed, adding an extra level of absurdity to our tale) with this new man was both gut-busting and heart-warming.  No character on the show, not even Kimmy, quite captures the absurdist aspect of making a comedy about one of the most heinous of circumstances quite like Kane's Lillian.  I particularly liked the way that she brought out the best in costar Jane Krakowski (whose story arch was much-improved over a disappointing second season), and that she's seen genuine character growth as we continued this year.

4. Kimmy Remains a Conundrum

Perhaps the thing that is holding me back from loving this season unabashedly is that our central character of Kimmy becomes something of a question mark as the series progresses.  While Titus, Jacqueline, and Lillian all have clear growth and direction heading into a hypothetical fourth season, Kimmy's story felt very muddled.  This wasn't the case in past seasons, and actually was a problem more for Titus, but now it feels like Kimmy is the character it's hard to see where she's going.  She has a love interest, sometimes (Daveed Diggs' hot but underwritten Perry), but the show doesn't really seem interested in taking her in a romantic direction this year.  Her college experience is more about making fun of Millennials with cheap jokes than anything else, and she has clearly moved beyond the bunker this year (with the way that she dismisses a way of putting the Reverend out of her life to save another woman), but she hasn't gained enough of an identity outside of that situation.

After all, we don't get anyone having a real-world moment where we see, say, Kimmy clearly not being smart enough to go to Columbia (the college storyline felt cheap, quite frankly-it was the worst part of the season, particularly considering Kimmy usually tries so hard and we never even see her play crew, which is the whole reason for her scholarship), and then go to become a crossing guard?  What does Kimmy actually want out of life-what is going to make her happy?  It changes from episode-to-episode, and that after three seasons we don't know this yet, and it hasn't become a centrally-stated issue has become a problem for a show that has become so much about growth.

5. Where Do We Go From Here?

It's worth noting that panic alarms have started to set off for fans that the show hasn't been renewed for a fourth season, and no one really seems intent on talking about this that's connected with the series.  It's clearly still a critical and popular hit at this point, and it's hard to imagine that they would end it with a relatively lackluster finale (honestly, the final moments of the series I can't instantly remember and I just watched them about an hour ago).  But the fact that the increasingly famous Kemper and Burgess, not to mention the always-in-demand Fey, haven't signed up for a fourth season yet feels worrisome.

But let's assume that they do at least one more season (I personally think they need two to properly send us off, but that's just me), where exactly do we go from here?  I think, for example, that the series in a desperate move to get Kimmy away from the bunker storyline left too much on the table there.  For starters, she's still married to the reverend, and while her sunny disposition seems innate to herself, it does feel like she's never properly left that part of her life behind her.  Perhaps she'll realize that working for a startup, or perhaps that's just what the writers think all Millennials are bound to do at some point, but working in tech doesn't really feel authentic to her.  It's easy to see Jacqueline, Titus, and Lillian's journeys going forward (a successful agency, a budding romance, and heading off on the second avenue subway on a tugboat, respectively), but Kimmy still remains a mystery.  I am hopeful that the writers find a way to address this in future seasons as the show continues to be so very funny and have grown so much in this season.  But if this is the finale of the show, it was strangely anti-climactic after multiple moments of terrific.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  What'd you think of Season 3, and if they will continue?  Share your thoughts below!

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