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Josh Reviews the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Interactive Special!

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was one of very my favorite shows for the four seasons it was on Netflix.  The series was hilarious and joyous and pretty much wonderful in every way.  I was happy with the manner in which the fourth and final season wrapped up the series — but I am over-the-moon thrilled that wasn’t the end, and the series has returned for this amazing interactive special!

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Interactive Special: Kimmy vs. the Reverend is magnificent.  I could not be happier with how this came out.  Bravo to director Claire Scanlon and writers Robert Carlock, Tina Fey,  Sam Means, and Meredith Scardino.

The special utilizes the same choose-your-own adventure technology that made the Black Mirror special Bandersnatch so intriguing.  Every few minutes, the episode pauses and allows you, the audience, to choose among several possible actions for the characters to take next.  You make your choice with your remote control, and then the episode seamlessly moves forward down whatever path you’ve chosen.  The result is that there are a myriad different ways the events of Kimmy vs. the Reverend can play out.

This isn’t only fun and intriguing, it’s endlessly funny.  It turns out this interactive technology works even better with a comedy than it does with a drama, because the episode’s writers were able to mine incredible fun from the various possibilities, allowing the characters to do all sorts of crazy, funny, often fourth-wall-breaking activities.  Usually, “alts” to a joke will wind up on the cutting room floor.  Here, different jokes or ways to go with a scene have all be incorporated into the finished product.  It’s sort of genius!

Certain series of choices will take you all the way through to the “end” of the episode, though there are a variety of ways the events can wrap up.  Other choices lead you quickly to dead-ends.  In many ways, these dead ends are even funnier than the “right” choices.  (Often-times, characters will appear on-screen and berate you, the viewer, for the dumb choices you made.)  It’s clear the special’s writers mined maximum fun out of exploring all of these different avenues and dead-ends.

I had a ball playing out the episode the first time through, but I had even more fun going back and exploring some of the alternate paths I hadn’t taken on my first pass.  I have no idea how many total hours of footage were filmed, to create all of the many different paths and choices you can search out.  But I know my wife and I watched and laughed for at least an hour and a half, making our way through several different versions of the episode.

The second time through, … [continued]

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Josh Bids Farewell to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Tina Fey’s 30 Rock nearly as much as I did.  (That first season, it was Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip that was the “behind-the-scenes at an SNL-like show” that I was most interested in.  But Studio 60 was gone by the end of the year, whereas the joys of watching Jane Krakowski say “the Rural Juror” cemented my love for 30 Rock.)  When 30 Rock ended, I was eager to watch Ms. Fey and Robert Carlock’s follow-up series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  Right from the beginning I knew that Kimmy was something special.  I wish the series had run as long as 30 Rock.  Sadly, these final six episodes conclude Kimmy Schmidt’s fourth season and, it seems, the series.  (However, rumors of a follow-up Netflix movie persist, so hope springs eternal!)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a wonderfully endearing, original creation.  I feel like the show has been under-appreciated while it was around; I hope and expect that its renown will grow in the years ahead.  The show is hilarious.  It’s as stuffed-full with jokes as the very best TV comedies of the modern era, shows like The Simpsons, Arrested Development, and the previously-mentioned 30 Rock.  This is a show with gags piled upon gags piled upon gags.  (For one tiny example, just look at the fake titles of the kids’ books around Kimmy in the image above!)

At the same time, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is an unwaveringly positive, life-affirming show.  The show believes fully in its core messages of niceness and positivity.  Kimmy herself is one of the most positive, joyful lead characters on a TV series in recent memory, and the show has gotten a lot of mileage out of showing how Kimmy’s unbreakable core of moral strength and sunniness have positively affected every character with whom she interacts.  I love that about the show.

This season, the show has focused itself on the issues of how women are treated in today’s society.  This has always been an aspect of the show, as the premise is about how Kimmy and other women were kidnapped and half captive by the Reverend (Jon Hamm, in a hilarious and disturbing series of guest appearances).  So this show has always dealt with how women are (mis)treated by men.  But, energized by today’s #MeToo movement, the show has found a new energy in addressing those issues head-on.  This finale batch of episodes dealt with a number of stories that explored those issues in different ways.  Most primarily, there was Kimmy’s transition into becoming the J.K. Rowling-like author of a fantasy book series called “The Legends of Greemulax,” which was all about teaching boys how … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season Four Part One!

I’ve enjoyed Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt right from the get-go, and I’m bummed that this fourth season has been announced as the last.  (I am hoping that rumors of a concluding movie aren’t just wishful thinking!)  This fourth season so far shows that the show remains at the top of its comedic game.

Unlike the previous three seasons, this fourth season has been broken up by Netflix into two parts.  The first six episodes are available now, with the concluding episodes not coming until January, 2019.  On the one hand, I hate having to wait so many more months for the concluding episodes!!  On the other, though, I could get behind this sort of release pattern for more streaming shows.  The way so many shows work now, we get all 10 or 13-ish episodes of a season dropped on the same day, and for the shows I love I often wind up watching them all very quickly.  I’m not the type of person to binge a whole season in a day or two, but particularly if we’re only talking about half-hour episodes, I could easily get through a season in a week.  Then I have to wait a whole year (or more!!) for additional episodes.  That long wait between seasons is painful.  So I don’t think I would mind if more shows started breaking up their seasons into two or three smaller groups of episodes to drop at different points during the year.  But I digress…

These latest episodes of Kimmy Schmidt continue the style begun by Tina Fey’s great show 30 Rock of super-fast-paced comedy, with tons and tons of jokes crammed into every minute of every episode.  (I often have to go back and rewatch a scene because there were so many jokes on top of jokes that I missed many of them the first time through.)  Kimmy has also continued 30 Rock’s somewhat fantastical approach to reality, unafraid of bizarre and very silly digressions.  I loved those qualities in 30 Rock, and I love them in Kimmy.  

While Kimmy might not quite be able to match the comedic highs of 30 Rock (and no character on Kimmy can top the powerhouse comedic creation of Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy), I’ve come to love all of the Kimmy main characters more than I ever quite connected to any member of the 30 Rock ensemble.  Top of the list is Ellie Kemper’s Kimmy.  The indefatigably sunny Kimmy is not only an evergreen fountain of comedy, but also a character for whom it is impossible not to root.  She’s a wonderful anchor for the show, and she gives the whole enterprise an uplifting, good-for-the-soul feeling.  It’s easy to take Ms. Kemper’s … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season Three

I fell very quickly in love with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in its first season.  While the show shared a certain comedic rhythm with Tina Fey’s previous show 30 Rock, I loved Kimmy Schmidt for its unique premise, wonderful characters, and, most of all, for Kimmy herself, a wonderfully positive, upbeat female character.  (Click here for my review of season one.)  I enjoyed the second season as well, which was unafraid to dig deep and explore the darkness inherent in the show’s premise of Kimmy as a kidnapping survivor.  (Click here for my review.)

Kimmy Schmidt season three feels a little more scattershot than the previous two seasons.  There were times, particularly in the early-going, in which it felt as if the writers were straining somewhat to find new situations for the show’s characters.  But the season took off for me with episode six, “Kimmy is a Feminist!”, which culminates in an insane and hilarious farce in which Jacqueline attempts to keep Russ’ brother Duke (Josh Charles) attracted to her without actually cheating with him, while Titus pretends to be Jacqueline’s gay best friend Flouncey McGoo who also has a thing for her.  (It’s complicated!)  I am a sucker for those sorts of madcap farcical situations (Frasier in its best years was a master at this sort of thing), and that episode had me on the floor.

What this season might lack in narrative cohesion it made up for in the continuing joy of watching these crazy characters bounce from one nutty situation to the next.  The show’s fast-paced style is a virtue, as before one might begin to tire of one situation the show is already on to the next one.  And no other show television packs as many gags per second of screen time as does Kimmy Schmidt.

Ellie Kemper is, once again, brilliant in the lead role.  Kimmy Schmidt is a perfect melding of actor and role.  I enjoyed the way the show has allowed us to occasionally see the very human cracks in Kimmy — she hits a low point at the end of this season — while never losing sight of her inherent goodness and unbreakable, sunny core.

Tituss Burgess just gets better and better as Titus Andromedon, and I was pleased at all the wonderfully nutty stuff the writers gave Mr. Burgess to play this year.  His attempting to play a “bro” lusting after Jacqueline in episode six was a highlight for me, but I also enjoyed his battle of wits with a gas-station attendant (Ray Liotta) in “Kimmy Pulls Off a Heist!”, and the collapsing of his relationship with cruise-ship mentor-turned-rival Dionne Warwick (played to a T by Maya … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season Two!

I adored the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and so of course I was hugely excited for the second season.  Thankfully it does not disappoint!

Unbreakable-Kimmy-Schmidt-Season-2.cropped

The series was originally developed by Tina Fey for NBC, as a follow-up to her recently-completed show 30 Rock NBC however, demonstrating the great wisdom of broadcast networks, declined to air the show even after the first thirteen-episode season had been completed.  Fortunately Netflix came to the rescue, releasing the first season and commissioning a second.

For anyone not in the know, the series stars Ellie Kemper as Kimmy, a young woman who, at the start of the series, has just been rescued from 15 years of being held in captivity by a crazy Reverend.  Just as her unrelentingly positive attitude allowed her to survive for fifteen years as a “mole-woman,” Kimmy’s spirit drives her to move to New York to attempt to create a new life for herself.  There, she surrounds herself with a wonderful cadre of weirdos and wackos, all of whom at first find Kimmy’s naive positivity to be out of place in cynical New York, but who eventually find themselves touched and inspired by her good nature.

The show is a riot, a perfect continuation of the fast-paced, gag-a-second style that Ms. Fey and her team had developed on 30 Rock.  It’s a show that is willing to embrace actual character-based story-telling (this second season features a surprisingly in-depth examination of the psychological damage that even the eternally-positive Kimmy must have suffered during her captivity) while also being able to be very, very silly.  This balance of tone is why the show works, and it’s a testament to the incredible writing and the show’s tremendous cast.

Ms. Kemper continues to show that this is the part she was born to play.  She’s marvelous in the lead role, able to effortlessly show how Kimmy has become the center of gravity for all of her friends and acquaintances.  She brings such sweetness to Kimmy, and wow can she hit a joke out of the park.  Titus Burgess is equally as perfect and iconic as Titus Andromedon.  This is a character who could so easily be a one-note flamboyant gay joke, but Mr. Burgess plays the part with such sincerity that he’s able to give Titus tremendous depth and heart while continuing to behave terribly and, yes, to play up some very flamboyantly gay, somewhat stereotypical characteristics.  Possibly the best contribution that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has made to our society is it’s giving a regular platform to the great Carol Kane, who is so perfect and such endless fun as Kimmy and Titus’ brash, elderly landlady Lillian Kaushtupper.  Every moment Ms. Kane … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season One

Tina Fey and Robert Carlock have followed up the magnificent 30 Rock with another wonderfully unique, funny, sweet creation: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  The show was developed for NBC who, for some unfathomable-to-me decision, passed on the show after the entire thirteen-episode first season had been completed.  Thankfully Netflix rode to the rescue to release the first season (and commissioned a second one!).

Unbreakable-Kimmy-Schmidt-Titus-Lillian.cropped

Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids) stars as the titular Kimmy Schmidt who, when the show begins, has just been rescued from 15 years of captivity underground, where she was held along with three other women by an apocalyptic cult leader.  Ready to start a new life, she moves to New York City where she finds an apartment to share with the jovial, wannabe-Hollywood star Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and a job as a nanny for the wealthy, neurotic Jacqueline Vorhees (30 Rock veteran Jane Krakowski).

What’s so remarkable about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is its tone.  The show manages to pull off an unapologetically positive, upbeat vibe, something very rare in a post-Seinfeld era of snarky comedies.  Note: I am not criticizing all snarky comedies, and I think Seinfeld is one of the greatest TV shows ever made.  But what a refreshing delight it is to watch a comedy that manages to be very funny and also so life-affirming and upbeat.  As we get to know Kimmy over the course of these first thirteen episodes, we see that her positive outlook on life has made her spirit “unbreakable”, and the show shows us how her sunny disposition is able to positively affect those around her.  This is a very sweet idea for a show, and it’s impressive that Ms. Fey & Mr. Carlock and their team are able to pull this off so smoothly.  (I love that all of the show’s episode titles end with a jovial exclamation point!)

And make no mistake, the show is very funny.  Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt possesses the fast-paced loopiness and quotability that made 30 Rock so endearing, as well as that show’s ability to dive deeply into a gag.  As an example: Titus’ “Pinot Noir” music video from episode six, “Kimmy Goes to School!” is a triumph, and one of the best things I have seen on TV all year.

The show represents a star-making turn for Ellie Kemper.  Ms. Kemper has demonstrated her comedic chops on TV (The Office) and on film (Bridesmaids), but in Kimmy she has found her greatest role so far.  Ms. Kemper is tremendous in the role, able to sell both Kimmy’s toughness and her sweet innocence.  She’s able to play both the straight-woman (particularly in any scene with Tituss Burgess or Jane … [continued]

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Josh Reviews They Came Together

They Came Together was released to select theaters on June 27, but it never opened anywhere around me.  However, I was pleased to discover that the film is available to watch on VOD through iTunes and amazon.  Right now, from the comfort of your own home!  Just click here and watch!

You really should, too, because this send-up of romantic comedies by director David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, Wanderlust) is fantastic and boasts an extraordinary ensemble of comedic performers.  The film stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and also features Ed Helms, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Jason Mantzoukas, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Jack McBrayer, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Melanie Lynskey, and many other fantastic men and women who you’ll probably recognize.  I cannot believe this film is not getting a wide release!  (Is the I-can’t-believe-they-got-away-with-it dirty title holding the film back??)

They Came Together tells the story of the torturous path to romance followed by made-for-one-another couple Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler).  I really don’t want to tell you anything more than that, because the fun of the film is watching hapless Joel and Molly stumble through every single cliche romantic comedy plot-twist that you could possibly think of.

It’s really quite brilliant.  There are some very specific references (I myself was very taken by the film’s version of the trip to meet the wealthy Christian in-laws from Annie Hall) and also a lot of more generalized messing around with the types of scenes we have all seen a million times in romantic comedies.  (The way Joel and his brother each give a tender “thanks” to one another after a heart-felt moment had me in stitches.)  There’s some nerdy clever humor in the film and also some very low-brow, silly humor.  There are a few very literal scenes that would have felt at home in Airplane! (such as the moment in which Joel and his bartender go through a “you can say that again” routine about ten times).  There are also some extremely random digressions (such as a stunningly bizarre sequence in which Joel’s boss is unable to unzip his super-hero Halloween costume when he has to go to the bathroom).  Not every one of these jokes lands, but there are always about ten more jokes coming right on its heels, so I found myself laughing pretty consistently throughout.

The film has a playful, anything-for-a-laugh approach that at times can make the film’s narrative feel choppy, but which I found quite endearing.  There’s one moment when we suddenly discover that Molly has a young son, which provides a great opportunity to get this film’s silly version of the classic romantic comedy moment in which … [continued]

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Josh Bids Farewell to The Office

As a big-time fan of the British version of The Office, masterminded by Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant, I was, like many, extremely dubious at the prospect of an American interpretation of the show.  The Office was so magnificent, so brilliant and so unique, how could an American remake be anything other than a disappointment?

Mostly out of curiosity, I watched the six-episode first season of the American version of The Office, and I was not impressed.  The pilot was a direct remake of the first episode of the British version, and it was a real clunker, nothing more than a homogenized, watered-down version of what had been a great TV show.  The remaining five episodes, while featuring original stories, still felt highly derivative to me of the British original.

I didn’t watch the show when it returned for season two, but a few months later my sister convinced me that I had to give the show a second try.  I grudgingly agreed, and was immediately shocked by how great the show had become.  I was quickly hooked, and relished the chance to catch up on the beginning of season two when the DVD set was released.  I have been following the show ever since (with only one exception which I’ll get to in a minute).

The makers of The Office made two extremely canny changes, between seasons one and two, that in my mind were critical to the show’s longevity.  One, they shifted the show’s tone.  Season one had attempted to imitate the British version’s uncomfortability.  Ricky Gervais’ version of The Office was often absolutely unbearable to watch, in the very best possible way.  He made an art of mining the worst sorts of awkward, uncomfortable moments for the show.  Those terrible-to-watch moments are really what the British version were all about!  The first season of the American version did the same thing, but not as successfully.  But with the start of season two, the makers of the American version seemed to me to shift their focus, slightly, from the uncomfortable more towards the funny.  The show became a little gentler, the edges of the characters (especially Steve Carell’s Michael Scott) were softened just a little, and the show became a LOT funnier.  Not that the show didn’t continue to mine the awkward and the uncomfortable.  (I know some friends who detested season four’s “The Dinner Party,” but that episode’s depiction of a nightmarish dinner hosted by Michael and his then-girlfriend Jan is one of my very favorite episodes.)  But it seemed to me that the show regularly focused more squarely on just being funny, and my goodness were the show’s writers able to be successful at that.

The … [continued]