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TV Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 4, Part 1)

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Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has returned for the first half of its fourth season, giving us six episodes instead of the usual 13. In a new move for the show, the fourth season will be made available in two parts this year rather than all in one.

Whilst the show usually combines zany comedy and dealing with social issues quite well, for me, it felt like it was a little heavy-handed in this first part of Kimmy Schmidt's fourth season and rather than the comedy being zany and cute, it just felt kind of awkward.

The season starts off digging heavily into the #MeToo movement, which is fair enough - it's been a massive part of the news cycle for the past year or so, and since Kimmy is a survivor of abuse, it makes sense that the show would want to tackle this. In the first episode, I thought this was handled pretty well; Kimmy is now working as head of HR at the tech start-up she got a job at in the last season finale, and when she has to fire a colleague, she acts in a typically Kimmy way, and tries to lighten the situation by dropping her trousers. This ends up with her being called out for sexual harrassment.

Although the show is a little heavy handed in trying to reframe all of Kimmy's overly exuberant actions as harrassment, it is an interesting piece of character development, to have a character who has been abused have to face up to the fact that she may have unintentionally made people feel uncomfortable with her overly friendly approach. However, as we go through the season, the #MeToo conversations become increasingly heavy-handed and don't land quite as well as I would have hoped. For instance, in the fifth episode, in an elementary school production of Beauty and The Beast, Kimmy takes to the stage to talk about the problems with fairytales and consent - again fair enough, these are things that need to be talked about - but it just came across as very obtuse and not at all nuanced to me.

The supposed men's rights activists were supposed to be funny, I assume, but honestly, I found their inclusion more irritating than funny. It's a good gear for Kimmy's character development, seeing that there are men out there who support her abuser, and seeing how she channels her anger about that is good, but I didn't really find much humour in that storyline. 

The third episode in particular, I found myself more confused than entertained. The episode is styled as the documentary about the Reverend that Kimmy and co start to watch at the end of episode two, so the whole episode takes on the show within a show format. I've seen other reviewers call it really clever and meta, but I honestly just felt confused? Why should I care about some guy's documentary about the cult leader who trapped Kimmy underground? I appreciated what it did for Kimmy's character development, but as an episode? I could have done without it.

The show also attempts to tackle white privilege, and this was something I was a little nervous of, given the history of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on this issue, but I have to admit, they did better this time. There were still times where I felt uncomfortable with the way the show handled this storyline, but the ultimate conclusion, with Kimmy using her privilege to help gain better working conditions for the workers in the nail salon, was handled far better than Jacqueline's Native American heritage and Titus' Geisha get-up.

I like that we constantly get to see how Kimmy is growing and changing, and adjusting to the world around her and how she can become an adult without leaving all of her childhood quirks behind but I feel that with that, some of the zany comedy of the show doesn't quite work as well as it used to when Kimmy had emerged fresh from the bunker.

For me, the show is starting to feel tired and I think perhaps it is a good thing that this fourth season is going to be the last one we get - I'm not sure how much it has left in it. I look forward to seeing Kimmy, Titus and co, return for the second half of the season, but I am hoping that the showrunners manage to better strike the balance of exploration of social issues and zany comedy in it, as the first half of the series is a rather jarring contrast of tones.

Kimmy deserves to go out with a bang and this first half of the season? More of a whimper.  

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 4, Part 1 is available to stream on Netflix now. Part 2 will arrive on 25th January 2019.

 

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