Writers: Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Sam Means, Meredith Scardino
Director: Claire Scanton
Debuting on Netflix in 2015, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ran for four seasons before wrapping everything up happily last year. However fans of the comedy show rejoiced when a rather unconventional additional special episode landed on the streaming service this week, in the form of an interactive adventure. Netflix had already done this with the Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror in 2018, allowing viewers to make key decisions within the plot, altering the path and outcome of the story by using their remote control. The dark Bandersnatch was successful both artistically and critically, but arguably the interactive format works better within a comedy, and especially with a show that is already so meta and self-referencing.
The set-up of the series is that young, optimistic Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) is one of four women freed after 15 years trapped in an underground bunker by a doomsday cult Reverend (John Hamm). Determined not just to be labelled one of ‘The Indiana Mole Women’, she moves to New York where her overly sunny disposition and positive attitude are completely at odds with everyone she meets. Along the way she befriends acerbic diva Titus (Tituss Burgess), street-smart landlady Lillian (Carol Kane) and out-of-touch socialite Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski), and much of the show’s comedy comes from seeing Kimmy’s positivity rubbing against the cynicism of the other characters.
This newly released epilogue to season four’s happy ending sees Kimmy planning her marriage to her new fiancé Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe). However, she is pulled away from this when she discovers a book (a choose-your-own-adventure of course) that points to the fact that the Reverend may have some undiscovered secrets. Kimmy must travel across the country and face the Reverend once more to discover the truth.
As always, Kemper’s Kimmy is an absolute joy: her constant toothy smile and overly bubbly personality always remaining super-sweet without ever being sickly. Here she is allowed to go to some dark places as she confronts the Reverend (Hamm as always having a blast in the role), although the turns in the plot are never far away from a great punch line. Burgess is as hilarious as ever as the highly-strung Titus with a great running joke involving him hallucinating food being a highlight, and even in his smaller moments (his way of stealing a pair of gas station glasses for instance) are comedy gold. Kane’s Lillian gets to be as evil and batty as always, and although Krakowski’s Jacqueline is side-lined from the main plot, she too has some fun moments including (depending on your choices) inadvertently destroying the Me Too Movement in Hollywood. And despite this being his first appearance, Radcliffe fits in remarkably well, once again proving his versatility and excellent timing.
The interactivity of the show is used for maximum comic effect. Often whenever an option appears on screen, the characters awkwardly wait as you make your choice, or else they fill the time with useless babble – both equally amusing. Many choices lead to unexpected endings including several that result in the main characters being killed. However fear not, as this will lead to another character appearing (including Fred Armisen’s Robert Durst) on screen to address you directly with why you chose poorly and sending you back to make the choice again. These little nuggets are brilliant in themselves and further additional scenes can be found by making the same wrong choice twice, or making all of the wrong choices before finally picking the right one. There seem to be two slightly different finales to the show and whichever path you chose, you will eventually reach one. However some very subtle differences in which paths you pick can ultimately make the inevitable wedding less joyous for some of the supporting characters. All of this leads to Kimmy’s swansong being wonderfully re-watchable.
Even without the interactive element, this bonus episode would have been a great. Like many shows, the writing on some of the later episodes of Kimmy Schmidt wasn’t always as sharp as earlier seasons – although this show at its weakest is still far better than many in their prime. However here, the writers (including show creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock) are on top form. The overall plot is nicely set up to cap off the entire run and includes appearance by many fan-favourite supporting characters from the previous four seasons including the other three ‘Mole Women’, Chris Parnell’s Junior and sexual predator puppet Mr Frumpus – although many familiar faces will only appear if you make certain choices. We even get to hear the hit song Boobs in California again!
Of course none of this will mean anything to anyone who hasn’t watched the show, and this episode is certainly not the place to start. Kimmy vs. the Reverend is definitely recommended – but watching all 51 previous episodes is required as preparation for it.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend is streaming on Netflix now.