With so much great television on all of our to-watch lists, it can be hard to figure out how long we’re supposed to give to a show. Sure, if something’s a total garbage fire snoozefest, it’s easy to bail after one episode. But if you’ve been promised a show gets better, or if people whose opinions you respect keep recommending it, or— as in this case— if there’s a new season of a show you once loved, that seems to have lost its magic, when do we give up? I’m usually pretty quick to bail on a show that doesn’t seem worth my time, which saves me a lot of late night hate-watches, but I’ll also admit that I’m sure I miss out on some great stuff because of my choices.
I am very grateful to past Weekend Me for not bailing on season two of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I wouldn’t blame past me if she had. She had every reason to. If you haven’t started season two yet, it gets off to some real rocky beginnings. Each of the first three episodes has approximately one joke worth watching, and not much heart. If you settled in for a long binge watch, after the first episode, your lazy weekend probably started to look like an eternal boredom hellscape. But this is one show that is ready to reward those who choose to stick with it.
It takes four episodes for this show to fully get back into its groove. And it’s probably no coincidence that the episode that brings it there is the first one that is really focused on bunker-related issues. “Kimmy Kidnaps Gretchen!” finally falls back into that trademark Kimmy Schmidt line between peppy adorableness (There’s a bunny and a kitty and they’re FRIENDS!), truly great throwaway jokes (“Your legs are so strong.” “I have access to steps now!”), and actual, deep emotion. In this episode, Kimmy’s back doing what she does best, which we see whenever she interacts with the other Mole Women: that self-preservation and intense helpfulness, made up of equal parts repression and tenacity. This episode also moves Tituss into a beautiful romantic subplot that opens him up to surprising depth and growth throughout the season.
In fact, most of the characters experience huge growth over the course of the season, and they all do so through their relationships. One of the biggest strengths of the season is the new pairings it introduces. Kimmy and Tituss are still great together, but the new relationships— Tituss and his construction worker boyfriend, Jacqueline and her blonde alpha nemesis (Anna Camp), and Kimmy with her therapist/ alcoholic Uber passenger (played by Tina Fey)— are all deep, challenging pairings that force each character to do more self-reflection than any of them feel comfortable with. And while there is a lot of comedy in there, there’s also a surprising amount of darkness.
This show has always had a dark undercurrent, but in season one, it was shrouded in pep, guided by Kimmy’s unfaltering buoyancy. Sure, there were allusions to PTSD and “weird sex stuff” in the bunker, and Kimmy’s confidence frequently showed its tiny cracks, but overall, the tone of season one was as light and peppy as Kimmy herself. This new season has plenty of pep, and plenty of absurdity (a couple fantastic cameos, a dream sequence with puppies, Fred Armisen as Robert Durst, to name a few examples), but it also isn’t afraid to crack these characters open. And oh my god do they crack. Without getting into plot details, I was fully unprepared to handle the heartbreaking depth of the season finale.
This show stumbles over a lot this season. It takes way too long to actually get started, and I don’t know who thought increased runtimes were a good move, but that person was wrong. But there’s still enough great Kimmy Schmidt heart and laughs and truth to make it one of the best comedies you can watch today.