Strong as Hell

Kimmy Schmidt Season Two arrived on Netflix earlier this month. MrMoth binged for us…
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Reality is tough. It breaks most of us; the longer we stay out there, the harder we become. So we lie to ourselves about how things are, about who we are. We stay in our happy place, away from the real world.

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This is not the Friends gang. This is much more dysfunctional; there are real neuroses here, not just "bit of a neat freak".

In this instance, that happy place is a small basement apartment in one of the grungier parts of New York. It is warm and welcoming, but even filled with daylight, it is a conscious rebuke to the opulence of Monica and Rachel’s apartment. A Friends reference? In 2016? But Friends haunts this season – a cultural touchstone that has come of age and now feels like cosy nostalgia. Back then, quirky coffee shops were embraced as beacons of charming civilisation in rough-and-tumble New York. Now the clientele of Central Perk would find themselves lampooned and despised as vanguards of a destructive force about to rip through a neighbourhood. In a move that seems almost inevitable, Lisa Kudrow shows up, in some sense the cosmological author of Kimmy’s demons.

In Season One, Carol Kane’s aggressively weird Lillian was mostly a punchline delivery vehicle, staggering on or off to make some remark or other about the scene that had gone before. In Season Two we see some of the source of her anger and despair. She’s watching her beloved city – and she truly loves it; her story IS a love story – being cleaned up, broken apart and sold off before her eyes. Her ramshackle tenement is Carl’s house in Up, slowly becoming surrounded by the unwelcoming towers of gentrification.

Sure, a lot of this plays out as simple jokes about hipsters – vape shops, underground speakeasys, Air bnb – but the throwaway jokes start to pile up and by the end her despair at the new highs being reached by her low-rent neighbourhood cannot be ignored. Especially when she inadvertently brings the attention of the internet down on the new development going up round the corner (again, another slow-burning realisation occurs there with an important character introduced as part of the crew actually putting this building together) by going viral on YouTube.

It’s not the vape shops, it’s not the artisan cheesemongers, it’s not the bearded fixie-riders. It’s what comes just after; the quick-buck developers knocking down playgrounds to build buy-to-let flats, the squeezing out of old “boring” local shopkeepers who don’t even have an email address ffs, the pricing out of locals when the lease comes up and the landlords get greedy. Those locals, by the way, were the ones who made the place what it is. Not the street artists, the craft beer microbrewers or the quirky estate agents with a 300% markup. They were the ones who made it not a buzzing suburb but home. Lillian’s terror is real, for all that she is played crazy.

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Ellie Kemper as Kimmy really does a lot of work in the series, her bulletproof naivety bending and shearing under incredible pressure but never once is she anything less than supremely likeable.

It’s good to have the happy place, then. It’s better to disappear into a cartoon world of bunnies and bluebirds. Titus finds love, finds respect, finds meaning and purpose in the world, even if he needs to fight imaginary battles, throw off imaginary shackles and break free bread with those whose dreams have already died (and to mourn those who died, dreams unbroken). His story wrenches open the façade of Titus Andromedon – we see him as Ronald Wilkerson much more and we see the inner Titus, the Titus that cares for Kimmy like she is a bird with a broken wing. The Titus that grieves for his past lives and can touch the hearts even of Internet Chandlers.

Kimmy Schmidt wrenches open the façade of Titus Andromedon. This is her role in the series, even without knowing it. Though the world tries its best, she is unbreakable and she gifts that strength to those around her. Some strange transference occurs if people stay in her orbit for too long. Lilian’s apathy is galvanised into action. Titus becomes character from caricature. Jacqueline… Oh, Jackie Lynn has the longest journey from Season One, Episode One to Season Two, Episode 13; from her ivory tower to the Reservation and, hand over hand, back.

Other, smaller stories unfold in a similar way. People find they are unable to lie to themselves any longer, cannot maintain the unhappy pantomimes they find themselves in. Over and over, self-made prisons are broken out of. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously, but, uh… well, there it is. Life finds a way. That seemed like a very long quote from Jurassic Park, but it’s both a) relevant and b) a sort of joke about a guest star.

By which I mean “Jeff Goldblum is in it, playing the Jeff Goldblumiest character imaginable”.

This all sounds like kind of a drag. Learning, sharing, growing, sharing, learning. It’s not a drag. It’s a delight; every episode sparkles with jokes, the whole series built on clusters of repeated gags… no, that sounds like catchphrases. Repeated leitmotifs of humour that work principally thanks to the writers knowing, this time round, that the whole series would appear on Netflix at once, like a pot of rainbows and sherbet. We grow accustomed to people being around – Mikey is a warm and genial presence it’s impossible not to want the best for. Deidre is a fantastical, beautiful horror, one of the finest creations of the second season. Andrea is Jekyll and Hyde in an Uber and you never know which one you’re going to get. Russ drifts from thoroughly unlikeable to wholly loveable. Mimi is… Mimi is Mimi. Nothing touches her, her exceptional nature proving the rule.

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Tina Fey gives a brilliant dual performance as Andrea. More of her seems unlikely, sadly, but the series is Fey's project so who knows?

It would be possible to simply end this review with jokes from the show. It’s effortlessly quotable, endlessly funny.  I’m not going to do that, because why spoil it? Why ruin the fun of thirteen short episodes? If you have Netflix, or you have a month’s free trial you can use, and you haven’t seen it yet, go! Binge. Run to the happy place.

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About Mr Moth

Mr Moth writes - mainly about pop music, videogames and other trivial nonsense - for Mostlyfilm dot com. He also writes poetry, short stories and personal waffle for his own site mothinabutterfly.net (and has even done a book). Known weaknesses: Strontium-232, electro-pop.

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