After years and years of reusing this trope in the various strains of popular culture, we still hold true to this idea of the big city being a place of reinvention. The metropolis becomes a kind of Calvin & Hobbes-like transmogrification chamber that allows all who enter to shed the carapace of the past, thereby leaving them free to design their own dream version of themselves.
The trouble is that most of us can’t completely be free of those formative experiences, particularly the harrowing ones. They color our every step. And that’s certainly the case with Kimmy Schmidt as she comes to terms with the 15 years that she was locked away by a cult leader. She’s more deserving of a fresh start than anyone, but is still, obviously, haunted. Well, as haunted as anyone in a half-hour sitcom could be. This isn’t Don Draper we’re talking about.
Tina Fey and co. play this theme up wonderfully in these two episodes. As much as Kimmy tries to avoid being caught out by Jacqueline’s daughter and doesn’t feel like lingering under the judgmental gaze of Titus, she still wants someone to talk to about it all. That person winds up being a senile millionaire that her boss sets her up on a date with, but for a little while, it seems to help.
The character that has gone through the most dramatic reinvention turns out to be Jacqueline. In the same half-hour that Kimmy spills all of her inner thoughts out, we find out that her boss used to be known as Jackie Lynn and that her parents are Lakota. It’s the kind of perfectly ridiculous touch that only a show like this could provide, and they play it out like a Don Draper/Dick Whitman metamorphosis for Jacqueline. The subplot gave Jane Krakowski some lovely moments on camera too, experiencing those sweet pangs of regret and appreciation for her parents’ legacy.
The next installment was the flipside of the idea of a whole life makeover, all viewed through the lens of plastic surgery. Of course Jacqueline’s vapid character is a proponent of cosmetic enhancements (though, for her, it’s most often an attempt to please her absentee husband) and, of course, Kimmy gets swept up in the allure of looking better. The whole thing was, obviously, just a platform to re-emphasize the message of making life changes from the inside out, while also lobbing some barbed comments about Western society’s unnatural standards of beauty. But it was, as ever, tastefully and hilariously done. It was also a platform for the comic genius of Martin Short who plays Jacqueline’s plastic surgeon wearing a kind of inflated version of the same look that Rob Lowe sported in Behind The Candelabra.
Through these episodes we also got to follow the halting and stumbling journey of Titus toward hopeful Broadway stardom. The silliness of him getting caught up in a lie about going to a funeral that led to him singing Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You” to a bunch of horrified Korean mourners was great enough, but I adored his attempts to get cast in the sequel to the Spider-Man musical. It helped that it provided Titus with a small victory after seeing his acting nemesis begging for a shot at the same part, but his audition was the stuff comedy dreams are made of. Leave to Tina Fey to home in on the unique gift that Tituss Burgess had after his appearance in a bit part in one of 30 Rock’s reality show parodies. He’s poised to break out in a big way with Kimmy Schmidt and he appears more than ready for the limelight.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.