Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has always been a show about triumphing over trauma, the stubborn way we elbow ourselves forward after calamity wrecks our world and leaves nothing but a path of rubble for us to follow. Kimmy emerged from the bunker and bulldozed directly into a new life: a new roommate, in capital DQ Drama Queen Titus, a new surrogate mother in Lillian, their mischievous, crotchety landlord, a new job as assistant to aristocratic airhead Jacqueline, a new boyfriend in Dong, the sweet Vietnamese immigrant who shares the GED class in which Kimmy’s embarking on a new education.
But the latter half of the first season takes a turn better explored in Season Two, when it becomes clear that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is also about the ways that trauma will always stay with us, the pieces of debris that hang onto us as we make our way through that path of destruction. Kimmy can bottle and bury and turn a blind eye (and burp) all she wants, but her painful past will always be a part of who she is – and that’s okay. She wouldn’t be half so tough and marvelously strange if she hadn’t spent her adolescence trapped in a bunker with three other women and a madman. Here she is, fifteen years later, and she’s still taking care of those other women, spending much of the second season tending to the bonkers needs of Cyndee and Gretchen. (Donna Maria seems to have it pretty well together.)
And Kimmy learns, thanks to therapy sessions with a drunken Uber passenger played by Kimmy Schmidt co-creator Tina Fey, that the day she hopped into that van was not the day her troubles began. Her mother – whom we meet in the final episode of the season, and is PERFECTLY cast – had Kimmy when she was 17, and she wasn’t ready for a child. She loved her and she did her best, but she was negligent and self-absorbed. She never even taught Kimmy to tie her shoes, leading to a chain of events that resulted in Kimmy’s being alone when The Reverend first drove by - but that doesn’t mean Kimmy’s mom is to blame for her abduction, no more than Kimmy herself. Sometimes, frankly, shit happens and life sucks, and the only person at fault for Kimmy’s time in the bunker is the man who imprisoned her there. This revelation is brought about beautifully through her interaction with Fey’s character, because even Kimmy’s therapist is screwed up and damaged, but no less able to give Kimmy the help she needs. Everyone is screwed up and damaged, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help each other through this mess, Kimmy Schmidt seems to be saying.
Season Two is also more transparent in its discussion of sexual abuse survival, though still through that cartoonish Kimmy filter. She doesn’t respond well to physical intimacy, and a damning reveal in the final moment of the season finale makes no bones about why. In some ways, Kimmy’s journey this season isn’t as cute and hopeful as it was when she first climbed out from underground, smiling at a sky she was seeing for the first time in a decade and a half. But don’t feel sorry for her, because Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t want your pity. She’s bolder and funnier and more open to adventure than ever, and if she’s angrier, too, well, that’s an emotion she’s entitled to have. More so than the rest of us, maybe.
It’s hard to imagine who could play this role other than Ellie Kemper, whose rage is still sort of charming even when it’s scary. She is a tempest as Kimmy Schmidt, powerful and unstoppable and, yes, unbreakable. She inspires belly laughs and broken hearts, but never pity. She’s too formidable for that.
And Season 2 works so well because it reveals the layers in every character surrounding Kimmy, as well, in a focused, coherent way that augments her story rather than detracting from it. Titus is no longer just the DQ of our hearts, but a man in love and a man who fears success as much as he fears failure. His burgeoning relationship with Mikey is one of Season Two’s most appealing plots, and Tituss Burgess continues to reign as the king of line (and song) delivery. Lillian is given a direction for all of her directionless rage, as moneyed hipsters begin to move into her beloved neighborhood, and she realizes that her malice is shrugged off as the adorable hijinks of a little old lady. Carol Kane is so, so good as Lillian. She is adorable, and she’s also terrifying, and she’s also convincingly in love with a bearded Robert Durst played by Fred Armisen. Jacqueline may be taking the biggest leaps this season, aside from Kimmy, as she’s returned to New York society to raise enough money to help her parents and her tribe. Jane Krakowski can still sell clueless blueblood better than anyone else in Hollywood, but she gives Jacqueline more humanity this season, particularly as she falls into a romance with David Cross’ Russ. These are no longer just supporting players for Kimmy, following her antics with amusement, but fully actualized people embarking on their own stories, while each arc supports hers thematically, helping every one of these characters grow in exponential ways.
Man, the story is SO good in Kimmy Schmidt, and that it’s told with such effortlessly hilarious jokes makes it all the more impressive. This is one of the funniest shows on television, dealing with some of the most profound topics in the most honest of ways. With a series as relentlessly funny as Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I’m always tempted to start listing my favorite jokes, but that’s never a useful endeavor in a review. (If you want to do so in the comments, however, I welcome it.) It’s also a beautiful series, visually precise and unique. And the entire show would be hobbled without Jeff Richmond’s music: his quirky, hopeful score, his brilliant songs. If a Best Of album of Richmond’s contributions here and on 30 Rock were ever made available, I would snap it up in seconds.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season One was a triumph, but Season Two has improved on it in every way. This is a hilarious show, a singular and impossibly fun show, and it’s also an important show, one with as much to say as any HBO or AMC drama. In short, thank fudging Christmas for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.