With savvy and heart, ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ begins its end

Tuesday, June 5, 2018 - 5:21pm

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

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Netflix

The jokes on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” come so quickly and so often that sometimes it’s easy to forget the weighty premise looming in the background: A kidnapping and assault victim is forced to come to terms with her trauma in a world that’s moved on without her. The show’s fourth and final season, the first half of which is now available on Netflix, approaches that ambitious undertaking with its signature blend of surreal humor and caustic zingers, offering up plenty of timely social commentary along the way.

When we last saw the cheery, cardigan-clad Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper, “The Office”), she just flunked out of Columbia and missed out on her dream job (being a crossing guard, naturally) only to land a different job managing HR at a tech startup run by a former classmate. The current season picks up right where we left her: She’s taking on her new role at Giztoob with gusto, “Kimmy style!” (Think t-shirt cannons and frequent singing.)

In some ways, she’s a natural; her antisocial boss Zach (Noah Robbins, “Younger”) has essentially hired her to do the sort of day-to-day interfacing with people she relishes. But mostly, her years trapped in an underground bunker have left her without the awareness of the sensitive social cues and boundary issues needed in workplaces.

In the season’s first episode, her attempts to comfort a male employee while firing him are unsurprisingly misread as sexual harassment. When he reports Kimmy, she’s horrified to learn of her widespread reputation as an office terror.

The gender-flipped harassment storyline isn’t especially novel; fellow Tina Fey vehicle “Great News” (alas, now cancelled) did it to much better effect earlier this year. As the season continues, though, the show begins to find something new and meaningful to say about workplace harassment and the #MeToo movement.

“Kimmy Schmidt” has always liked to wrestle with controversial social issues. Some of those efforts are more successful than others. Its send ups of the one percent and coverage of the Washington Redskins name controversy have been particularly satisfying, while last season’s episodes on cultural appropriation and college campus culture fell quite flat.

In “Kimmy Schmidt”’s underlying feminist bent and frequent musings on abuse and victimhood that accompany the premise, the show has already prepared itself well to seamlessly enter the ongoing cultural conversations about power imbalances in gender and toxic masculinity.

For example, the season’s third episode is a delicious mockumentary that follows small-time DJ Fingablast (Derek Klena, “Quantico”) as he tries to exonerate his hero: the disgraced DJ Slizzard, better known to us as the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”), Kimmy’s kidnapper. Unable to comprehend that DJ Slizzard could be guilty of such horrible crimes, DJ Fingablast figures he must be innocent. DJ Fingablast’s stubborn, frustrating defense of celebrity abusers feels poignant in this moment.

The show’s forays into difficult subject matters are, as usual, leavened by the colorful bunch of kooks Kimmy surrounds herself with. Her former boss Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski, “30 Rock”) has taken on aspiring actor Titus (Tituss Burgess, “30 Rock”) as the first client of her talent management firm and Lillian (Carol Kane, “Taxi”), the quirky landlady, is moving on after the death of her boyfriend.

The supporting characters are all joys to watch thanks to stellar performances, but their somewhat circular plotlines and limited development suggests that Netflix and showrunners Tina Fey and Robert Carlock were wise in making this the last season. “Kimmy Schmidt”’s goodbye is bittersweet, but like the rest of the show, perfectly-timed.