Adulthood is one of those things that sneaks up on you, gradually. You don’t know that it’s happening, but by the time you blink your eyes and awake first thing in the morning, you’re in your thirties with a mortgage and a (gulp) day job. And what you realize is that all the time you’ve had to make the mistakes of your twenties were very important to turning you into the grownup that you are.
So what about Kimmy Schmidt, who didn’t have any of those important life experiences and fumblings that make your thirties more manageable? Or at least whose formative years were spent in near-isolation under the impression that the world had ended? That is one of the central themes of this new sitcom and one that the writers have been doing a great job both mocking and handling tenderly. You can’t really have one without the other.
One of the more important aspects of growing up is trading in your actual family for a surrogate one, whether that is a bunch of co-workers, BFFs or a marriage of your own. Sometimes that’s just a matter of growing your network of loved ones, but in other instances, it is because you need to essentially replace the awful people that raised you.
The latter is certainly the case with Kimmy. Especially because, as we learn in “Birthday!,” her mom pretty much moved on. She remarried the lead detective in the missing persons case (played here with brio by Tim Blake Nelson) and they had a kid together, Kymmi (Kiernan Shipka, or Sally from Mad Men, in full on teen angst mode). With Titus and Lillian and Jacqueline in her life, why should she have any reason to look back and be reminded of the awfulness of the past 15 years? Well, another “fun” aspect of being an adult is truly understanding empathy, which leads to Kimmy embracing these family members she never knew and, in one of the show’s most heartfelt moments of the show, deciding to share her mother’s old heart pendant with her half-sister.
Adulthood also means adult romantic relationships. Without realizing it, Kimmy found herself in two of them. She’s got a boyfriend—the clueless trust fund baby Logan—and a platonic friend that she’s been unwittingly stringing along—study buddy Dong. Negotiating both of those relationships is what makes for much of the comedy in these two episodes, from the two men having one of the most pathetic fights ever filmed (while giving the world a new catchphrase: “Oh, so it’s pushy-shovesies, is it?”) to Logan attempting to win Kimmy back by bringing her a live dolphin.
It’s little surprise, though, that Kimmy chooses Dong (get your giggles out of the way now…I’ll wait). They are both such naive sweethearts, gamely trying to negotiate this brave new world they find themselves in, even as it kicks them down. Strength in numbers, am I right?
These episodes also let Tina Fey and Robert Carlock bring back one of the most fun parts of 30 Rock’s last few seasons: the perfectly cast guest star. As mentioned above, both Nelson and Shipka were fantastic, but I particularly loved the inclusion of veteran stage actress Christine Ebersole as Xanthippe’s birth mom who drags her daughter back to Connecticut after Jacqueline and Julian’s divorce, and Dean Norris (that’s Hank from Breaking Bad to you) as a coach trying to help Titus learn how to pass for straight.
The best, though, were the three other Broadway actors (Northern Exposure’s John Cullum, Jefferson Mays and Nic Rouleau) who were cast to act out a scene from a not-so-subtly gay-themed musical from the ‘20s called Daddy’s Boy, complete with an introduction from TCM’s Robert Osbourne. As much as I’ve laughed at this show, nothing has left me in hysterics more than the incongruity of that fake film clip appearing after a sweet moment of romance between Kimmy and Dong (again…snicker away…we’ll be here when you get back….).
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.