[Contains an antique cassette-storage cabinet and SPOILERS!!!]
It’s no secret that I absolutely adore 30 Rock, and was very sad to see it end… even more so when I watched the first season of Tina Fey‘s subsequent sitcom venture, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and found it vastly inferior to its predecessor, despite my abiding crush on the show’s spirited star, Ellie Kemper. Apparently Fey was asked to create the series specifically as a vehicle for Kemper, and went through several alternative ideas before finally settling on the premise of a woman re-adjusting to life in the outside world after being rescued from a bunker, where she’d been held captive for 15 years by a duplicitous preacher, as part of his bijou doomsday cult. Personally, I found that set-up left quite a sour taste in my brain, along with the fact that everyone Kimmy encountered after arriving in New York seemed to be either totally indifferent to her suffering, or actively seeking to hurt her. Although there were plenty good jokes and performances scattered throughout the 13-episode-run, overall the show just seemed too misanthropic and cynical for my tastes, despite (or perhaps as a reaction against?) the upbeat sweetness and naivety of its heroine.
Anyhoo, I’d pretty much given it up for dead until I read a recent article on the Observer website, in which a real psychotherapist was asked to assess his fictional on-screen counterparts, and he gave Fey’s character in the second season of this show an enthusiastic thumbs-up. That intrigued me enough to check out a couple new episodes, and I quickly became hooked, binge-watching this second batch as quickly as my limited Netflix access allowed me! No doubt my renewed appreciation for the series had much to do with the fact that Kimmy was finally starting to make some real progress towards self-sufficiency and solid mental/emotional health, with the help of supporting characters who actually went out of their way to support and understand her, rather than simply dismiss or screw her over. Chief among them, of course, was ‘Andrea Bayden’ (Fey), the troubled uptown therapist with clashing, “compartmentalised” Jekyll-and-Hyde-style personas, who Kimmy first met while working as an Uber driver, picking her up off the pavement, and receiving some unsolicited (and very slurred) “tough love” wisdom from the hot mess in her back-seat… who eventually helped our heroine to blackmail the more uptight day-time Andrea into treating Kimmy as an actual patient. Hurrah! Besides bringing some much needed compassion and positivity to the series, it also proved to be a knockout role for Fey herself, allowing her to play two distinctly different sides of the same woman, while stealing numerous scenes with her unruly drunken antics, and incisive barstool diagnoseseses (eps #2.9-10/12).
Meanwhile, both Kimmy’s landlady ‘Lillian’ (Carol Kane), and former employer ‘Jacqueline’ (Jane Krakowski), were given Quixotic season-spanning quests, which gave their characters a little more depth… even if it was rather hard to cheer either of them on, for various reasons. Horrified by the creeping gentrification of her rundown neighbourhood, Lillian set her mind to sabotaging any attempts to clean-up the urban squalor that she’d become accustomed to… even if it meant resorting to stabbing suspected “hipsters” before they could take root in her (extended) backyard! As for Jacqueline, well… in the previous season, the seemingly WASP-y socialite had been outed as a white-faced Native American, in a move that many critics and representative groups found very troubling and/or offensive. At the start of this season, she returned from an unsuccessful sojourn to her parents’ Lakota reservation, intent on raising money to help “her people”, and seek reparation for centuries of white oppression and abuse. Although I thought this subplot raised some interesting issues along the way, and also made Krakowski’s character far more interesting than the generic “oblivious rich bitch” she started out as, I’d have to agree with the BuzzFeed’s assessment that there’s something slightly problematic about how this show deals with race, generally… because I really don’t think Jacqueline is the ideal “poster girl” for this particular issue, even in an exaggerated comedic context.
Although Kemper, Kane, and Krakowski remain the main draws here, I also really enjoyed Amy Sedaris‘s twitchy turn as ‘Mimi Kanasis’, an extremely needy and insecure friend of Jacqueline’s (eps #2.1/3/6-8)… as well as Anna Camp‘s demented performance as ‘Deirdre Robespierre’, a dangerously unstable and self-loathing trophy wife whose suppressed intelligence and curtailed ambition kept cracking through her smiley, immaculately-styled veneer (eps #2.2/7). In fact, Deirdre might well be my fave new sitcom character of the last year or so… and I’m gutted that Camp hasn’t received any major award nominations for the incredible work she did here. For shame! On a one-and-done tip, Zosia Mamet made a very strong impression as ‘Sue’, the female half of a happy-go-lucky hipster couple who run afoul of Lillian (ep #2.6)… while Lisa Kudrow brought her finely-honed tragi-comic skills (and a satisfying sense of closure) to the season finale, in the role of Kimmy’s estranged, rollercoaster-lovin’ mother ‘Lori-Ann Schmidt’ (ep #2.13). Bless her.