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When it was announced in May 2018 that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt would end after the fourth season, it came with the footnote that Netflix and producer Universal Television were already in talks for a movie that would bring the acclaimed Tina Fey-Robert Carlock comedy to an official conclusion. While it was easy to get excited at the slapstick potential of a Kimmy Schmidt film — 90 minutes of uninterrupted Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) and Titus (Tituss Burgess) shenanigans! — the final batch of episodes, which dropped Friday, didn’t do anything to further this cause; it only proved how unnecessary a film would be.
After delivering a handful of standout moments — and one of the series’ most memorable episodes — in the first half of the fourth and final season, which premiered in May 2018, the last seven episodes of the series proved to be the most lackluster installment of the comedy yet. In previous seasons, Fey and Carlock excelled at subtly building up seemingly disparate plots until they came together in surprising ways, delivering clever twists, well-earned closure and reminding viewers that they had a master plan all along. But while the one-liners were still on point in these final episodes, the narrative arcs felt uncommonly clumsy and aimless at times.
Having introduced Mr. Frumpus in the Season 3 premiere, when he sexually harassed Titus on the Sesame Street casting couch, the lecherous puppet was brought back in Season 4 on a quest to silence and discredit his victims. Following the resurgence of this storyline, which was melodramatically teased in the background during the first half of the season, suspense built as fans understandably waited to see where this all-too-realistic conspiracy would go and how Kimmy Schmidt would add to the ongoing conversations surrounding the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. However, this storyline quickly fizzled out in the first two episodes of Season 4’s back half, delivering little catharsis or anything coming close to the sharp commentary we’ve come to expect from Kimmy, especially for a storyline has been in the works for two years. Instead, all we got was a wasted cameo by Jon Bernthal and Titus’ regret over not coming forward because he didn’t get to attend the Tonys while wearing shorts.
The disappointing conclusion to the Mr. Frumpus storyline wasn’t a fluke, either. Kimmy has been rightfully celebrated over the course of its run for how the series smartly dealt with misogyny, sexual assault and rape culture, but all of its attempts to take on these topics in the final episodes — including the rushed redemption of men’s rights activist Fran Dodd (Bobby Moynihan) — felt hollow and uninspired, and this includes the treatment of Kimmy’s own trauma.
Photo: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix
At its heart, the series has always been about Kimmy’s journey of learning how to reconcile what she endured as one of the Indiana Mole Women with her steadfast optimism about the world. But this season saw Kimmy’s internal journey somewhat sidelined in favor of several calorie-free stories, including one of the show’s most forgettable B-plots in which Kimmy cheats on a guy by playing board games and eating stew with his parents. This relatively stagnant arc for the show’s lead may be in due to the fact that Kimmy already has come so far that there is simply not as fertile ground to explore with her at this point. It’s possible this was also somewhat influenced by Jon Hamm’s apparent unavailability (Hamm never appeared as the Reverend in these episodes, forcing the producers to get creative with workarounds when dealing with Kimmy’s past).
While Kimmy did have a few notable moments of self-realization and hardships this season (it will be a while before we get the image of Kimmy using a pumpkin basket as a toilet out of our heads), the lack of momentum regarding Kimmy’s emotional growth left the final episodes feeling overall more like a tangent than a continuation of what has driven the series thus far. Combine all this with the upsetting decrease in sight gags — which always elevated the show’s rewatchability — and this last installment felt like a superficial copy of the series that was once one of the best on TV.
This noticeable dip in quality does no favors when it comes to drumming up interest in a follow-up film, but these final episodes seem apathetic to the possibility anyway. The series finale sees each of the main characters get their happy ending: In a four-year flash-forward, we learn that Kimmy’s book, The Legends of Greemulax, has become such a smash sensation that it gets its own world inside Universal Studios. Titus not only achieves his lifelong dream of starring in The Lion King on Broadway and becoming a movie star, but he marries Mikey (Mike Carlsen) and they start a family together. Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) cements her status as a top talent agent and finds love with her co-worker Eli (Zachary Quinto), who we probably spent less time with than C.H.E.R.Y./L. this season. And after surviving her building’s demolition, Lillian (Carol Kane) becomes a New York legend and gets to mess with tourists and gentrifiers on a larger scale when she is named the new voice for the MTA.
With everything wrapped up so neatly, the episode created little urgency to learn what comes next. But with the deal for the film not secured before they wrote and shot the series finale, Fey and Carlock were put in the tricky position of wanting to give a satisfying end to the series knowing they may or may not have another two hours of story to tell. And so, quite reasonably, they opted to wrap up the most of the pressing matters in the series, telling The Hollywood Reporter in August that film would be a “stand-alone idea” featuring “threads and themes in the show best suited to the scale and scope of a feature.” But with so few main storylines left to tie up — what became of the Reverend and his fiancée (Laura Dern) as well as the ongoing Yuko domination are the more interesting threads left hanging — it’s hard to justify a return to Kimmy in any form.
Photo: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix
Even if Kimmy were to return for a follow-up film, it’d likely be drastically different than the show we fell in love with in the first place. With the apartment building Kimmy, Titus and Lillian shared nothing but rubble and each character in a drastically different place in their life after the time jump, not only would the central locations be changed, but the central motivations of each of our heroes too. Who is Titus now that he’s achieved his professional and personal goals and is no longer the poster child for desperate and delusional? And now that Kimmy has achieved her dream of making the world a better and safer place, what does she want from her own life? While these are fair questions, they aren’t necessarily ones we need to be answered by any means.
The current television landscape is already suffering under the burden of recycled properties, reboots and revivals. It’s time that we learn to let things lie and understand the power of a proper goodbye. Kimmy didn’t end on a high note, but it didn’t end on an unforgivable low, either. Throughout the final season, it already felt like the steam was running out for Kimmy, a series that was once was driven by exhilarating, madcap energy but suddenly felt sluggish and meandering. Kimmy is known for its heart, but that’s exactly what was missing. These past seven episodes felt labored, instilling a sense of exhaustion into the previously energetic comedy. While the actors still gave it their all, the show’s inherent Kimminess — an overwhelming enthusiasm for life itself — was startling muted, if not absent all together. Is it really worth bringing it back for a movie when these last episodes — and the last season as a whole — didn’t give us much faith in its ability to live up to the high standard the show’s early seasons set?
Kimmy Schmidt will always be cherished for the great things it gave us (especially Puppazza), but that doesn’t mean we need to bleed the property dry simply because we can. Would it be fun to see Kimmy and her friends fulfill her lifelong dream of going to London in a feature-length film? Maybe. But it’d also be fun to go back and watch “Kimmy Goes to a Party!” or that episode where Titus sings about how teeth are just “outside bones.” Can’t that be enough? Please, just let that be enough.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is available to stream on Netflix.