Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is one of the hardest shows to describe to people who haven’t seen it. Try explaining to your friends how funny the show about a girl who was kept hostage for fifteen years is, or how you laugh at her adjustment to real world scenarios— like going to college and getting a job— without sounding insane. It’s not easy. The series ended in January 2019, after a four-season run on Netflix, and it has returned to us now in a time when we need it more than ever; when the world is so dominated by fear and everyone has to stay inside, who better to provide us with a slice of optimism than the girl who went through it all to an ever so slightly more traumatic extent.
So comes Kimmy vs The Reverend, an interactive special that sees the cast reunited to plan Kimmy’s (Ellie Kemper) wedding. A benefit to the format is that it’s not an episode you can just watch passively, as a lot of comedies can sometimes be reduced to. It forces you to sit down and appreciate every joke, pay attention to the story and be a part of it yourself, and that’s a really unique experience. We’ve followed these characters for four seasons previously, and now they’re acting under our control; do you make Titus (Tituss Burgess) nap— as is so in character for him, or go to the gym because you want to see him succeed? Daniel Radcliffe also shines as new character Frederick, Kimmy’s fiance. It’s a joy to sit through and a comfort to be reunited with.
However, relying so heavily on the motivation of the viewer is a dangerous thing. Only a smaller sub-section of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fans will likely watch this episode, because it requires an amount of time and effort to get through. While my first run of Kimmy vs The Reverend ended before the opening credits even began, it probably took me over and an hour and a half to ‘win’, and to be honest by the end I was exhausted; I pretty much wanted it to end.
That’s a fault of the format, not the story itself. It’s inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and Kimmy vs The Reverend. Netflix could not have picked two more different shows for their more prominent ‘choose your own adventure’ specials, but ultimately it feels like something is missing from both of them, and this comes down to the interactive nature. It’s clearly still not perfected, with certain inevitable obstacles —such as the awkward dialogue that occurs while the show waits for you to make a decision, the unavoidable rewinds that get you back on track after a ‘wrong’ decision, and the different timelines you create not really lining up continuity-wise.
However, Kimmy vs The Reverend is a step in the right direction. While too many meta references in the episode itself can take away from the immersion of the story— as they did in Bandersnatch, the fourth wall breaks and cameos in the ‘wrong’ endings are a delight; they make you want to explore all the options and see what you missed, you just need to have the motivation to do it.
The story itself is interesting, the characters are doing better than ever, and it’s a fun little piece of escapism. While there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense in Kimmy vs The Reverend, this is indeed a show that’s never really focused on making sense. Maybe the show’s return would have worked better if it took the form of a movie-length special, more like Sense8’s finale, but where would be the novelty in that? Overall, it’s an improvement on a format that still has a lot of faults, and it’s something to distract from the lack of agency we have in our own lives at the minute; when we can’t yet go outside, at least we can still go wedding dress shopping with our favourite mole woman.
Kimmy Vs. The Reverend is now available to stream on Netflix. All seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are also available to stream.
by Georgia Carroll
Georgia (she/her) is a Broadcast Journalist from Manchester. Her love for films stems from a passion for reading as a child and extends to a love for music through soundtracks, and her Manc roots. She’s a sucker for anything 80s or Sci-Fi, but won’t watch a horror movie if you pay her. Favourite films: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Coco, Back to the Future. Twitter: @georgiacarroll_ Letterboxd: @georgia_ Instagram: @georgia.carroll