To the very end, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has been a colorful burst of comedy and optimism. In their followup to “30 Rock,” Tina Fey and Robert Carlock dialed down the cynicism to create something that was equal parts unflappably charming and riotously funny.
The series’ premise was a gambit. A sitcom about a young woman trying to put her life together after spending 15 years imprisoned in a bunker by a cult leader. Even as it attempted to diffuse that darkness with jokes, the show never trivialized the situation or resisted acknowledging how traumatizing such an experience would be.
It was a precarious balancing act that was effortlessly executed. The show’s success owes a lot to the superlative ensemble cast of Ellie Kemper, Titus Burgess, Jane Krakowski and Carol Kane, who have consistently elevated the already great writing to hilarious heights.
The back half of the series’ fourth and final season, which was released on Netflix Jan. 25, is a bittersweet occasion. On one hand, I’ll miss spending time in this bright, cheerful and aggressively weird universe. On the other hand, I’m a firm believer on shows leaving on a high note. It was time for “Kimmy” to bow out gracefully. While the final season was enjoyable, it was beginning to enter that wheel-spinning stage shows fall into at around season four.
Politically, the show has always pushed a strong feminist message. That perspective remains mostly in tact this season. In addition to Titus’ #MeToo drama — which, of course, involves a lecherous “Sesame Street”-style puppet — the show jumps at the opportunity to demonstrate the double standard of society celebrating older men dating younger women but judging older women for doing the same thing.
In the episode, “Kimmy Meets an Old Friend,” Krakowski’s Jacqueline foray into hooking up with Millennial men at a home furnishings chain store quickly sours when she has the epiphany that she’s old enough to be their mother.
“Why do men do this?!” she asks in revulsion.
“Because we’ll put it anywhere,” a nearby man replies bluntly.
But overall, the show’s treatment of social issues has become glib and less sharp. Throwaway jokes about gender-neutral spaces and LGBTQ+ outrage felt lazy to the point that I wondered if the writers were deliberately trolling the audience.
Even the #MeToo stuff is less trenchant than in previous seasons. Part of it might be that the show doesn’t have anything new to say. Another reason might be that Fey and Carlock’s exasperation at being dragged for previous missteps, like jokes at the expense of Asians and Native Americans, has made them jaded.
Politics aside, the show manages to deliver a satisfying final frame of episodes. But, while each character gets a well-deserved happy ending, the pacing is too rushed as it races toward a tidy conclusion.
Interestingly, Kimmy is sidelined for most of the finale. True to her character, she is too caught up helping her friends to focus on herself. That includes helping to reunite Titus and Mikey (Mike Carlsen), talking Kane’s Lillian out of blowing herself up so she can become a ghost that haunts New York gentrifiers — Titus is right; she really would be great at it — and consoling Jacqueline after her talent agency implodes.
When Kimmy finally does turn to herself, she gets the happy ending she’s always deserved. Her children’s book, which encourages both boys and girls to be better, is a massive hit. For Kimmy, that success is fully realized in a touching scene where a young boy tells her the book makes him feel safe.
It’s a solid moment of genuine emotion that lands. For so much of the series, Kimmy has been attempting to reclaim the sense of safety she lost while imprisoned in the bunker. At times, she overcompensated, but she never lost her bearing. Being able to instill that feeling in others — especially in a generation of younger people who are as innocent as she strives to be — is a fitting reward.
While hurried, the finale ends on a sweet note that perfectly fits the series. It’s not a spoiler to say everyone gets a happy ending; this show was never going to go out any other way. Despite its occasional flaws, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has been an immense delight that hit a sweet spot of weird comedy unlike anything else on television. It will be missed. Damn it.