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Binge Mode: ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ (Season 4)

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For a series that only lasted 51 episodes, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt burns through an incredible amount of material, both comedic and dramatic. Ostensibly about characters constantly looking back on their past decisions, UKS‘s penchant for barreling through plot development, character explanation, and running gags always made it a comedy constantly at war with itself. Despite that, there was always a strong emotional undercurrent to the ridiculous antics of Kimmy, Titus, and the gang, grounding their outlandish stories and dialogues with a rather powerful portrayal of the difficult struggle to rebuild oneself in the wake of major traumas. At least, that’s what UKS was early on: by the time the twelfth and final episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season four ends with a disappointing whimper, what was once a quirky, willingly off putting comedy has morphed into an unrecognizable monster of wasted potential.

In fact, much of the final run of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt lacks the punch the first two seasons harnessed to wonderful effect: too focused on rehashing old plot lines, the first six episodes can barely find any room to breathe. The high-concept episode, “Party Monster: Scratching the Surface” is an abject disaster, an absolutely pointless Netflix true crime documentary satire that is questionably from frame one, the living epitome of the “what’s up fellow kids?” meme of Steve Buscemi on 30 Rock. Ludicrously staged and pointless, “Party Monster” sums up much of the first half of the final season: though it doesn’t feature a moment of Titus’ endless re-pursuit of Mikey or Lillian’s equally endless hatred of New York’s changing culture, “Party Monster” is a perfect distillation of the miscalculations that make this final season feel so dissonant with the first two seasons of the series.

What was once a quirky, willingly off putting comedy has morphed into an unrecognizable monster of wasted potential.

Even more strange is how inconsequential the first six episodes (which aired in May 2018) are to the final six hours of the series; about the only shared element of the two halves of the final season are their shared desperation to feel relevant. Like so many times in the show’s past, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ultimately found the fourth wall to be the most unbreakable: while I applaud the show relentlessly shitting on men’s right activists, the alt-right, and the endless parade of misogyny in Hollywood, there’s no indication UKS is telling these stories except for the purpose of self-importance.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 4

For fuck’s sake, they bring in Ronan Farrow to play himself at one point, a cameo so utterly pointless it reveals the entire masturbatory nature of the exercise. It’s not surprising: most Tina Fey-led series have historically struggled to engage with real-world politics and social dynamics (remember those godawful North Korea bits on 30 Rock?), but the show’s seeming exploitation of these stories in the final season is wildly disappointing. Did I mention they frame a lot of this story around a rape-y Muppet, while mimicking the same sexual harassment arc seen in BoJack Horseman four years ago? It’s really not good.

The third episode of the final half-season, however, is where the show really begins to fall apart: “Sliding Van Doors” is a remarkably awful hour of television, and a disappointing final chapter to the internal traumas Kimmy’s been slowly dealing with for the life of the series. “Sliding Van Doors” is an hour-long episode into an alternate world, exploring the lives of every character in a reality where Kimmy never becomes a mole woman. What happens during the first 52 minutes is not really all that important (but yes, it takes that long to get there), because the episode ends on the one of the weirdest notes imaginable, underhandedly suggesting that Kimmy and the other Mole Women getting kidnapped for 15 years was actually a good thing, that none of the characters would’ve ever grown and learned their necessary life lessons if the Mole Women hadn’t shit in a Halloween bucket for over a decade.

Once the never-ending head scratch of “Sliding Van Doors” is over, though, UKS enjoys a mini resurgence, if only for the running time of “Kimmy Finds A Liar!”. Kimmy writing a young adult book is a natural progression for her character (if a little on-the-nose), and seeing Lillian and Jacqueline struggle to adapt to their new roles in life is a hit of the good stuff, the times when UKS had a better grip on using comedy to channel tragic, difficult stories about human nature, even briefly revitalizing Titus’s endlessly selfless, Mad Libs-esque pursuit of happiness.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 4

It feels like somewhere between writing the end of “Kimmy Finds A Liar!” and the beginning of “Kimmy Is Rich!*” everyone suddenly realized there was only an hour left, because the final two episodes of the series are an absolute shit show. “Kimmy Is Rich!*” suddenly becomes obsessed with being plot driven, after the wandering first ten episodes of the season only had the thin connective tissue of Mikey’s engagement, Titus’s career pursuits, and Kimmy’s time working for a tech start up (once again proving UKS‘s reputation of its uncanny ability to be meta and relevant is wildly overrated). Out of nowhere, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt suddenly slams on the gas, leaving itself no room to give life to a series of lifeless resolutions (not to mention some seriously dated jokes about Cats. Yes, Cats the musical).

I could go through each and every plot of those final two episodes and why they feel so dissonant with the rest of the series, but they all suffer from the exact same problem: after a series of pushing characters to really, really search for the good in the shit piles life hands us, everyone is handed their lives on a golden platter. Kimmy gets rich and opens an amusement park, Jacqueline falls into success and starts fucking her rival (Zachary Quinto, in a role that is both mind numbingly unfunny and needlessly ignorant), and Titus turns Mikey into a self-serving, dramatic asshole like himself (I mean, who hires their ex-boyfriend to sing at their fucking wedding? Really, Mikey?).

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 4

In the last five minutes of the series, very single character sells the fuck out: Kimmy makes the grand gesture to get her mom to love her she always avoided (the final scene with her mother is just upsetting), Lillian sells out to become a branded NYC attraction (the new voice of the MTA), and Jacqueline… well, it’s pretty clear UKS has had no idea what to do with her character since Kimmy stopped working for her halfway through the series (even Jane Krakowski isn’t good enough to cover that up). For a series always putting its brash humor and big, optimistic heart on its sleeve, it’s strange how quiet and thoroughly inert “Kimmy Says Bye!” is. There isn’t even mention or appearance of any other Mole Women in the final episode (or most of the final half-season, save for the whole “maybe it was a good thing” subplot): to say the final half hour betrays the series before it is an understatement.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ends with a whisper of a whimper, in one of the strangest final half-seasons I can remember in recent memory. Part a byproduct of becoming The Titus Show 20 episodes into the series, and part a puzzling regression into two-dimensional storytelling in its final hours, it’s amazing what a warped, nonsensical show the final six episodes are, save for most of “Kimmy Finds A Liar!” (the return of Xanthippe in the final episode is a nice moment, too, really the only time the show taps into any of the early potential it once held). Instead of trying to change the world, everyone on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt instead just shrugged its shoulders and embraced things they way they were, a surprisingly empty, passive commentary on life for a show that was once so colorful and vibrant, it felt like a blast of fresh air to the single-camera comedy genre.

For me, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was always about laughing through tragedy, being resilient through change, and the struggle to find peace: most importantly, it was primarily framed around the stories of women, and their inherent, unspoken ability to withstand the bullshit of the universe. In the end, UKS just says to embrace the bullshit the way it is, and it will all work out for the best – an existential simplification that is just unforgivable, and one that forever taints the beautifully frustrating series that preceded it.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

  • one highlight: Busy Phillips as the entitled daughter of Lillian’s dead boyfriend.
  • There’s a whole side story about Titus pretending to date a straight dude, which just feels like a rehash of the Asian sex pillow episode of 30 Rock. I would’ve rather seen a lot more of him flirting with Jon Bernthal’s Ilan, whose character isn’t around nearly long enough.
  • Bobby Moynihan’s alt-right character swings wildly between savage satire and toothless, late era-SNL political humor. On the whole, it’s not great, Bob!
  • Am I the only one who thinks Anthony Atamanuik’s Donald Trump impression sucks? It sucks.
  • Take out the “Sliding Van Doors” episode and replace it with a half hour following around C.H.E.R.Y./L.
  • Can anyone explain the point of Tripp and Eli? At all?
  • Greg Kinnear plays himself for a couple episodes, because why the hell not?
  • There are aspects of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt I’ll undoubtedly miss, but none I don’t think could’ve been served better on different, more consistent shows.

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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Before the Internet

Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “A God Walks into Abar”

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Watchmen Podcast A God Walks into Abar

“A God Walks into Abar” is the deeply heartfelt episode we’ve been waiting for!

The wonderfully pun-titled penultimate episode—directed by Nicole Kassell, written by Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen— is a powerful love story that spans many years, and told in a disjointed fashion to explain just how the most powerful man in the world wound up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, married to Angel Abar and with his memory wiped out. It’s an amazing hour of television—able to carefully turn a seemingly indecipherable character, into something beautifully textured, human, and meaningful— and we have plenty to say about it.

Our Watchmen podcast will see Simon Howell and an assortment of guests tackle the entire series (or at least the first season). In this eight episode,  Simon Howell , Randy Dankievitch and guest Sean Collettin take a deep dive into “A God Walks Into Abar” and note some of the more astonishing facts of the episode you might have missed.

And for those of you wondering, in order to keep things simple, we’ve decided to upload each episode to the same feed as our other podcast, Before the Internet.

Listen here on iTunes or listen here on Stitcher. 

You can also catch our show on Pocketcast and on Spotify, or simply listen via the player embedded below.

Before the Internet Watchmen Podcast Special
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Watchmen Season One Episode 8 Review: “A God Walks into Abar”

Dr. Manhattan steps into frame in a breathtaking episode.

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Watchmen A God Walks Into Abar

The elevator pitch for Watchmen‘s eighth episode is relatively simple: what if Dr. Manhattan is to Watchmen, what Desmond was to LOST? A person unstuck in time, whose ability to move back and forth across the key moments of their lives, opening their minds to a wealth of experiences, perspectives – and of course, deep regrets for the moments and things that cannot be changed. LOST‘s 77th episode, “The Constant,” uses time as a thematic anchor for a love story, the absolute apex of science-fiction romance – a man who is only able to hold onto his identity by remembering the woman he loves.

“A God Walks into Abar,” and the love story that plays out within it, is among the most heartfelt entries of Lindelof’s career, able to carefully turn a seemingly indecipherable character, into something beautifully textured, human, and meaningful.

“A God Walks into Abar,” co-written by Damon Lindelof (who wrote “The Constant” with Carlton Cuse) and Jeff Jansen (a writer who once wrote LOST recaps for Entertainment Weekly), is pretty much a direct successor to “The Constant”; but though it is explicitly familiar in its structure, characters, and thematic explorations, is still a wildly successful, abundantly rewarding entry all to itself. Where “The Constant” served as an important fulcrum for the emotional journey of a mysterious character, “A God Walks into Abar” uses Dr. Manhattan’s gravity to pull in every loose thread of the series, while also telling a touching, tragic love story: it is a rather impressive feat, firmly establishing Watchmen‘s first (and only?) season in the pantheon of modern adaptations (and a gentle reminder of why Watchmen is so much fucking better than The Boys, I might add).

Watchmen A God Walks Into A Bar

Perhaps the most impressive thing “A God Walks into Abar” accomplishes is understanding Dr. Manhattan as a character, and how to effectively convey the paradox of his continued existence, in ways even the comic struggled to contend with. He is a man constantly living and reliving his past, present, and future, all at the same time, consistently able to needle the thread of his existence, in a way that allowed it to make sense. Or so he thought: the comic ends with him agreeing to the greatest conspiracy in human history, disconnecting from humanity and looking to the stars to satisfy the existential bounds of his mind (the meme of his disinterest in humanity is now iconic, after all).

Watchmen re-frames that idea ever so slightly, in a fascinating way: Dr. Manhattan did forget about his humanity… that is, until he fell in love with Angela, moments before he was sucked into a Kavalry-manned teleporter, which occurs exactly 10 years after he meets her. ” A God Walks Into Abar” opens with Dr. Manhattan putting on a mask (during the holiday celebrating his rampage to end the Vietnam War) and meeting Angela at a bar (Angela Abar… A-bar… Lindelof strikes again). It then proceeds to bounce around time, to capture life as Dr. Manhattan experiences it; an ever-evolving set of vignettes, an expanding world of knowledge, one he is not able to create and shape himself.

Watchmen A God Walks Into A Bar

The moment ” A God Walks into Abar” builds to is referenced in the first few minutes; after his strange introduction piques Angela’s curiosity, Dr. Manhattan notes that he is in love with her. We see that moment occur 50+ minutes later, as Angela turns into a one-woman assault squad, hell-bent on taking out every last Kavalry member outside their home. Infuriating as it may be to understand, he can see the beginning and the end of their short, beautiful life together at the same time, because he’s living it all at the same: Watchmen captures that idea poignantly in its unorthodox approach, smartly tethering each strange sequence together with a singular image, or color, to bring us from one moment to the next.

As we move through time, “A God Walks into Abar” casually begins to fill in the big holes of narrative created in last week’s slightly frustrating entry; we finally learn how Ozymandias ended up on Europa, and the history of the people and places we’ve seen on that world for eight episodes. We also learn how Will became involved in the process, which is, ironically, the moment it all falls apart for them: the moment Angela asks Dr. Manhattan to inquire about Judd’s identity (while Dr. Manhattan talks to him in 2009), she inevitably kicks the first domino down the path of Judd’s death, and the Kavalry’s impending attempt to turn themselves into racist deities.

Watchmen A God Walks Into A Bar

How “A God Walks into Abar” frames this is its true genius: Dr. Manhattan’s existence is the conundrum of the chicken and the egg. There was a moment in time where Jon existed, and Dr. Manhattan didn’t; but there also isn’t, since Dr. Manhattan’s creation allowed him to experience all of time in a cumulative fashion, rather than linear. Finally, the many, many images of eggs and yolks finally come together: as nature’s great paradox, a man literally capable of creating entire worlds and paths of evolution, finding his way back to the only immeasurable quantity in the universe, love.

“A God Walks into Abar” makes an important distinction between love and worship: love is able to be critical, to understand and accept flaws, to show empathy. Worship, or what Dr. Manhattan experiences when creating his own world (and people) on Europa, is disillusioning: there’s no older religious trope than the unsatisfied god who turned to humanity to find purpose, and that’s “A God Walks into Abar” to an absolute T. And it works: the love story that plays out is among the most heartfelt entries of Lindelof’s career, able to carefully turn a seemingly indecipherable character, into something beautifully textured, human, and meaningful.

Watchmen A God Walks Into A Bar

If there’s any noticeable flaw to “A God Walks into Abar,” it is strangely the episode’s construction as a romantic entry; it kind of sidesteps integrating Dr. Manhattan’s chosen identity to live as a black man in modern America. There are hints of it at various parts – the scenes of his childhood, in particular – but “A God Walks into Abar” strangely doesn’t contend, at least in this episode, with Angela’s decision to show Dr. Manhattan the original Cal’s body. Why did she just show him three white bodies first? What drew Dr. Manhattan to OG Cal’s appearance? For a series so deftly integrating explorations of race and identity into the Watchmen mythos, the lack of reflection in this episode feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

But that is a small complaint in what will be remembered as a signature episode of the series; and for good reason, because it is a phenomenal, breathtaking hour of television. “A God Walks into Abar” is also another bold reinterpretation of Watchmen itself, replacing the cold sensibilities of the comic’s anarchistic roots with a warm beating heart; as cheesy as that sounds, it is everything to making the high wire act of Watchmen the series work on a fundamental level. After all, love is the one universal element ensuring humanity’s continued existence; as Dr. Manhattan finally understands, even if the pursuit is an impossible one for us as a species, it at least makes the inevitable collapse of our world something worth fighting against.

Other thoughts/observations:

“By definition, doesn’t every relationship end in tragedy?” Fuck. Me. Up. Watchmen.

The Philips/Crookshanks origin story ends up being a rather touching detail: they are modeled after two lovers young Jon saw during his brief stay in England (the mansion the event happened in ends up being Ozymandias’ home).

Very interesting note that Ozymandias’ Plan A to defeat Dr. Manhattan was not to kill him, but to condemn him to being a mortal with amnesia.

Dr. Manhattan mentions his theory for being able to transfer his powers; would not be surprised to see that come up in next week’s episode.

Related to the previous note: Dr. Manhattan tells Angela he wanted her to see him outside by the pool. Does that mean we’ll see Will walk on water next week?

Lots of props given to Regina King throughout the series for her stunning performance – if Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is not nominated for a shitload of awards for his work in this episode, however, we riot.

A post-credits sequence finally reveals the use of Phillip’s infamous horseshoe – though it remains to be seen where this story is all heading, as Europa’s small world of clones desperately tries to keep another god from leaving them.

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‘Bojack Horseman’s Xmas Special Is the Height of Schmaltzy Satire

If you were lucky enough to grow up watching bad sitcoms with awful specials, then Bojack Horseman’s Christmas special is just for you.

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Bojack Horseman

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today we look back at Bojack Horseman‘s “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish”.


When it comes to sitcoms, the grand tradition of the holiday special is a long time staple of the genre. The schmaltzy corniness of the 80s and 90s made these specials all the more egregious, and it is this tradition that Bojack Horseman echoes back to with its brilliant Christmas special.

Ostensibly just a full episode of Horsin’ Around (the show that made Bojack famous), Bojack Horseman‘s Christmas special only uses the present day as a framing device before diving into the stupid fun of a very special episode of Horsin’ Around.

The central plot of the episode focuses on Bojack’s youngest adopted child, Sabrina, wishing for her parents to come back to life after Bojack assures her that Santa can give her anything she wants for Christmas. Of course, in typical sitcom fashion, rather than simply explaining to Sabrina that Santa can’t bring people back from the dead, Bojack instead opts to try and trick her into being naughty so Santa will have an excuse not to grant her wish.

Bojack Horseman

The absolute apex of this silliness comes when Bojack tries to get Sabrina to give in and eat some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. “I’ve heard of lookie-lookie don’t eat the cookie but this is ridiculous!” The use of lines like these in sitcoms is a classic cut to simpler and stupider times, where shows could really get away with lines as ham-fistedly ridiculous as these and actually call them jokes.

Ultimately this is the greatest strength of the Bojack Horseman Christmas special: calling back to the tropes of 80s and 90s sitcoms before satirizing and roasting them into oblivion.

All of the classics are here. From the annoying neighbor character, who is legitimately named Goober, to the absurd onslaught of character catchphrases that permeate the episode. The best of the latter comes from Ethan, the nerdy middle child, who espouses the line “Yowza-yowza-bo-bowsa!” to a few sparse claps and a cough from the unamused studio audience. That every character needed a catchphrase in these types of sitcoms is a given but to have one so bad that even the studio audience can’t be bothered to care is a beautiful bit of satire.

Bojack Horseman

Speaking of the studio audience, Bojack Horseman doesn’t stop using them for fodder there. Thanks to one very stupid audience member, some of the best moments of the episode come from reactions to classic sitcom tropes. For instance, when Bojack flirts with his secretary, while most of the audience opts for the classic whoops and cheers of yore, the idiot just yells “Kiss her!”. He also points out catchphrases (“She said the line!”) and lets out a confused “What!?!?” at the message of the episode.

If you were lucky (or unlucky) enough to grow up watching bad sitcoms with even worse Christmas specials every single year, then Bojack Horseman‘s Christmas special is just for you. Hearkening back to the nostalgia of the time before ripping it to shreds with endless glee, Bojack Horseman’s Christmas special isn’t just one of the funniest episodes of the show, it’s also one of its best.

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